GAO Criticizes Labor Department Over Failed FOIA Process

WASHINGTON — On Thursday the Government Accountability Office issued a report, requested by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, on the Labor Department’s failure to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests. The report notes that the department failed to respond to 24 percent of requests within 20 days, as required by law, in fiscal year 2014.

“The Freedom of Information Act is a hallmark for openness in our government.  As the GAO report shows, the Labor Department is failing in its duty of transparency and accountability to the American people,” said Johnson. “Especially given the Labor Department’s recent onslaught of burdensome regulations, I urge Secretary Perez to improve the department’s compliance with FOIA so that the public fully knows what the department is doing.”


  • For FY2014, in 24% of FOIA requests, the department failed to respond to the requester within 20 days as required by law.  More significantly, the department did not document the rationale for the delays or notify requesters there would be a delay as is recommended by its best practices.  
    • The Office of the Secretary and the Office of Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs are two of the worst actors when it comes to the department’s FOIA compliance.
    • The Office of the Secretary responded to FOIA requesters within the time required by law only 30% of the time. In one instance, it took the department 67 days to respond to a requester.
    • The Office of Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs also responded to FOIA requesters within the time required by law only 30% of the time. In one example, it took the department 154 days to provide the requester with a response. 
  • From 2005-2014, 68 lawsuits were brought against the department for not complying with FOIA.  In 44 of these lawsuits, the department and the requesters established settlement agreements that awarded attorneys’ fees and other costs to the requesters or resulted in the department potentially releasing more information.  In one example, a requester asked for records about the secretary’s travel.  Nine months after the request, the requester had not received any response from the department and filed a lawsuit in March 2013.  The department provided information to the requester after the lawsuit was filed, and the case was settled in September 2013. 
  • Despite instructions from the Department of Justice, the Department of Labor has failed to notify FOIA requesters that if there is a dispute over documents between the department and the requester, the requester may access mediation services through the National Archives to try to resolve the dispute instead of having to sue the department. 

Read the GAO report here.