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NASA Government

Getting NASA To Comply With Simple FOIA Requests Is a Nightmare (vice.com) 103

From a report on Motherboard: Freedom of Information Act requests are used by journalists, private citizens, and government watchdogs to acquire public documents from government agencies. FOIAing NASA, however, can be an exercise in futility. In one recent case, Motherboard requested all emails from a specific NASA email address with a specific subject line. Other government agencies have completed similar requests with no problems. NASA, however, said it was "unclear what specific NASA records you are requesting." Possibly the only way to be more specific is to knock on NASA's door and show them a printout of what an email is. JPat Brown, executive editor of public records platform MuckRock, explained similarly frustrating experiences with NASA. "Even in cases where we've requested specific contracts by name and number, NASA has claimed that our request was too broad, and added insult to injury with a form letter rejection that includes the sentence 'we are not required to hunt for needles in bureaucratic haystacks,'" Brown told Motherboard in an email. Brown added that NASA has refused to process records unless presented with a requester's home address, something that is not included in the relevant code; and makes it more difficult for requests to obtain 'media' status.
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Getting NASA To Comply With Simple FOIA Requests Is a Nightmare

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  • by Frosty Piss ( 770223 ) * on Tuesday August 22, 2017 @04:45PM (#55065871)

    NASA, like many federal agencies, is in violation of the law, Not just the intent of the law, but the law itself. As I posted in a previous "article" here today, where if the EFF?

    • by El Cubano ( 631386 ) on Tuesday August 22, 2017 @05:02PM (#55065981)

      NASA, like many federal agencies, is in violation of the law, Not just the intent of the law, but the law itself. As I posted in a previous "article" here today, where if the EFF?

      It is actually not that surprising. These sorts of things happen for the same reason that you occasionally find caches of undelivered junk mail, permit applications sometimes take too long or get "lost," and someone occasionally gets a ticket for going just one mile over the speed limit: government employees, at all levels, are regular people who hate their jobs as much as anybody else and who sometimes have bad days and take out on the public they are there to serve. It sucks, and it is wrong, but some government jobs suck more than others.

      FOIA requests are particularly sucky because most federal agencies have rather poor records retention. All the problems that people talk about related to big data are the same sorts of problems that exist with FOIA. In addition to that, agencies who wish to undertake certain activities and ensure that those activities escape official notice by the public can engage in strategies that result in records being misclassified, improperly destroyed, or even never kept in the first place (Hillary Clinton's home email server was a good example of this). So, if you are the person tasked with going around to a bunch of people and departments who think they are too busy to keep proper records (because none of these records are stored in a central, properly indexed, easy to access repository) then the suck factor will make your every day rather miserable.

      That said, nobody forces people to work for the government and if they don't like the job they should quit and let someone else do the job who takes the responsibility seriously enough to it properly. The proper application of lawsuits by the EFF and other watchdogs is sadly a necessary component to ensure that the government remains compliant with the law.

      • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

        FOIA requests are particularly sucky because most federal agencies have rather poor records retention. All the problems that people talk about related to big data are the same sorts of problems that exist with FOIA. In addition to that, agencies who wish to undertake certain activities and ensure that those activities escape official notice by the public can engage in strategies that result in records being misclassified, improperly destroyed, or even never kept in the first place (Hillary Clinton's home em

        • by Teancum ( 67324 )

          As one of the first agencies to move to electronic documents in the federal government and even having one of the first e-mail systems, it is sort of a joke that NASA can't find documents. While the formats and nature of the documents have changed considerably over the years (that sort of happens with pioneers in technology) it isn't all that hard.

          > Add to it that NASA is full of geeks and all that who probably don't really give a hoot about filing or other bureaucratic issues

          That isn't the NASA I'm fam

    • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Tuesday August 22, 2017 @05:03PM (#55065991)

      NASA, like many federal agencies, is in violation of the law,

      That means nothing if there are no penalties for violation. There are some sanctions for violating FOIA [justice.gov], but I am unaware of them every being applied, and I don't think any bureaucrat has ever been fired for denying or ignoring a FOIA request. So why should they care?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Oh noes, NASA isn't a priority, because um, they don't have enough to deal with due to the incessant demands from the denialist brigade trying to make them prove the moon landing wasn't faked.

    • where if the EFF?

      Together with ACLU, EFF are busy #RESIST(ing) the imaginary "Nazism" [slashdot.org]...

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Listen, they're not going to show you proof that the moon landings were "staged."

    CAP === 'category'

    • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Tuesday August 22, 2017 @05:19PM (#55066109)

      Listen, they're not going to show you proof that the moon landings were "staged."

      Private investigators have already found proof. The evidence, including film reels of deleted scenes and "extra takes", and affidavits from "astronauts" (really actors), was held in a storage room on the 57th floor of the World Trade Center. This is why GWB had the towers destroyed, using his ties to the Bin Laden family [truth-out.org].

      Also, if you look at the film of the landing, you can clearly see the flag flutter and cast a shadow. That is where they screwed up, because as any idiot can tell you, shadows don't form in a vacuum.

      What other proof do you need?

  • Some local govt's require the requester to pay for the cost of searching. This reduces frivolous requests, but also favors wealthy requesters.

    • Re:Reimbursement (Score:4, Insightful)

      by spire3661 ( 1038968 ) on Tuesday August 22, 2017 @04:58PM (#55065959) Journal
      All government records should be in searchable and in easily accessed formats. Hiding behind 'it costs too much too look' needs to die, now. Things like traffic cams shouldnt even allowed to be installed until a pathway for the public to access its records at any time is made available. All government agencies should be required to submit ALL their records to an open repository, unless otherwise marked as sensitive or classified. FOIA should be the unfettered access to any record not marked classified. EVERY citizen should be able to access this data, en masse.

      We are deep into an Information Age, its time to remind the government pervasive surveillance goes both ways.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        All government agencies should be required to submit ALL their records to an open repository, unless otherwise marked as sensitive or classified.

        As a taxpayer, I strongly object to this. I certainly don't want to pay the kind of money that would require.

        • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

          Plus, a lot of time would be wasted explaining & investigating things that "look suspicious". We learned that already from the DNC leak fiasco: people with agendas add some creative context to ordinary work lingo, requiring investigation and/or formal explaining and other time-consuming endeavors.

          • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

            Not an investigation, a cover up, a pretend investigation. Yep, the pretend ones often take much longer that, ohh look top secrets on a server in your bathroom, well, that's a slam dunk, off to jail you go. The bullshit version takes months and months with the backing of main stream media and a flood of bullshit to drown out the reality. Politics for sale, perverting democracy, criminal negligence with state secrets, even more perverted stuff, and instead basically hundreds of millions of dollars spent on R

            • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

              The laws are vague and the verification systems fucked up. Hillary is only partly to blame.

              • by OhPlz ( 168413 )

                Leaders should own up to their mistakes. Hillary is not a leader.

                • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

                  She admitted she made poor decisions with regard to email. What more do you want?

                  • by OhPlz ( 168413 )

                    "What difference does it make now anyway?"

                    Considering the epic lengths her and her cronies went to lie about it, there needs to be punitive action.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          All government agencies should be required to submit ALL their records to an open repository, unless otherwise marked as sensitive or classified.

          As a taxpayer, I strongly object to this. I certainly don't want to pay the kind of money that would require.

          As a taxpayer I strongly support this. I'm happy to pay the kind of money that would require.


          Now what?

        • As a citizen, i dont give a shit about your tax payments, they certainly dont entitle you to anything. It has no bearing on your citizenship or political view. Why do you use the term taxpayer? Its a meaningless status.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        Drivers' licenses, birth certificates, tax information, and passport info, are all government records.
        They are also pretty much all you need to steal someone's identity.

      • At least in my area, this is available. http://chart.maryland.gov/map/ [maryland.gov] Allows you look at all the traffic cameras live. I do not agree however, that all data should be public. For example, the government has access to people's fingerprints. Allowing public access to that data would make it quite easy to frame whoever you wanted for a crime.
    • Some local govt's require the requester to pay for the cost of searching.

      This is why government records should be public by default, and available on-line. Then private citizens can do their own searches. Government records should only be withheld from the public if there is a court order requiring them to be sealed, and even then only till a specific date.

  • Last time I checked, FOIA requests were not exactly rocket science.

    • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

      Last time I checked, FOIA requests were not exactly rocket science.

      It's more like brain surgery: the patient keeps squirming.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Like most any other government agency, they don't want anybody digging up any dirt so they find any reason to reject any request.
    Any questions?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Space is fake. Earth is flat.

    There, no FOIA necessary.

  • by Virtucon ( 127420 ) on Tuesday August 22, 2017 @06:02PM (#55066403)

    "Simple FOIA Request?" There's no such thing.

    I've worked with a few Federal agencies and watched how much time is spent on FOIA requests. It takes a lot of effort to get some of the data together and along with the approval process, i.e., "Will this compromise any ongoing operations? Does it need redaction based on PII and other rules? Where is the data?" Then there's the approval of the response which always has to be reviewed by Lawyers, discussed in triplicate and then dispatched to the requester. Some agencies have huge departments just dedicated to handling FOIA requests and even with that I've seen them impact day to day operations where front line management has to deal with data collection and validation as well.

    To a point, FOIA is a great law and I think it's definitely opened up the inner workings of gov't. A lot of this would go away if the gov't was more transparent to begin with especially in matters not dealing in PII/4th amendment issues (Tax Returns for individuals) or national security. I do think some FOIA requests are fishing expeditions and in all cases the costs should be paid for by the requester. It's also not applied uniformly across all agencies and while the National Park Service may respond quickly, the DoD or DOJ may take years or in the case of the IRS or State Department might get derailed altogether [pbs.org].

    • If they set up arbitrary procedures, review boards etc. to handle FOIA requests, thats not our fault. Its the fault of the agencies. The fact is most of this information is NOT readily available to the public because these agencies all have something to hide. PII is to often used as an excuse to redact information that makes a bureaucrat look bad personally. Heck, even if it does violate 4th admendment, they should release the information. That will make people wake up and realize just how much info the gov
      • I'm not sure I agree with all you've indicated. If I'm an employee for a Federal Agency, doing my job and not at a senate confirmation level then my information should be redacted in FOIA. If there's criminal issues, the DOJ and Judicial process has ways of extracting that. The current Judicial Watch lawsuits are showing how that works. Are agencies deliberately blocking FOIA? I think in a lot of cases, yes especially when it deals with some high profile political issues, IRS, State Dept. but that's why we

  • by shentino ( 1139071 ) <shentino@gmail.com> on Tuesday August 22, 2017 @06:05PM (#55066433)

    I think NASA is just... ...spacing out.

  • I've dealt with several offices in NASA before, and to be honest, in my opinion, they tend to cooperate with each other like male beta fighting fish in the same glass of water. Often I would attribute failure to comply with something like a FoIA request to such issues, but after reading the article, it really looks like somebody is being stonewalled.
    Note, it might not just be the writer, it may be a global stonewall everyone thing going on.
  • We can all say this is *Crazy* but it also most certainly true that if NASA has observed or had contact with ET's (or unknown technology) then Nasa must record and safeguard this data. In this way the National security apparatus is directly at odds with laws like FOA.
  • Having been the IT guy assigned to help people fulfill these roles. First off, I would assume the request got mangled and by time it reached the person that needed to do the work, it is probably confused if not unintelligible. See, they talk to their lawyers, their lawyers talk to NASA's lawyers who talk to the administration who send the request down to lower administration who send it to who they think need to do the work who eventually talks to somebody who knows what email is. All the way, there is a bi

    • by gurps_npc ( 621217 ) on Tuesday August 22, 2017 @07:26PM (#55066889) Homepage

      The thing is, this kind of thing is not just a government request. There is this thing called "Discovery" that law firms do all the time.

      I used do this job also. But instead of working for the government, I worked for a law firm.

      We routinely had to gather all emails from/to a specified email account. We would do it both for our own emails and for clients.

      We routinely did it in WEEKS, not years. We had similar issues of privacy, and routinely restricted the searches to certain dates, as well as even doing very complex searches. For example, if it was a sexual harassment law suit, we would search the emails for a whole bunch of dirty words, all the while excluding any email that was sent to, cc'd, or bcc'd to us - as that counted as 'privilege communication with your attorney'.

      Private industry does this kind of thing all the time, and we do it on time, for relatively small amounts of money.

      The government however has decided that since there are no effective punishments, they can ignore the law.

      • This is some actual reality here. Wish I had 'em: mod parent up!

      • by GNious ( 953874 )

        Heh

        Last employer had a simple solution: Don't keep emails for more than a few weeks, to avoid them being subjected to a Discovery.
        (yup, that was an official email that went out to everyone)

        • We had several clients that tried this. Note the word tried.

          Emails are like cockroaches. They hide in places you don't expect. Back up files, CCers, BCCers, senders, receivers. One of our major jobs was de-duplication - and we only considered something a duplicate if it was an exact duplicate.

          One person ccing someone outside the company and you get screwed so darn fast.

          If you do not want a judge to ever see something, do NOT put it in an email.

  • by brennz ( 715237 ) on Tuesday August 22, 2017 @07:53PM (#55066999)
    tldr; Motherboard made several poorly worded FOIA requests, did not actually request records, or was not requesting it from an IG

    Record Definition:
    "Records include all books, papers, maps, photographs, machine-readable materials, or other documentary materials, regardless of physical form or characteristics, made or received by an agency of the United States Government under Federal law or in connection with the transaction of public business and preserved or appropriate for preservation by that agency or its legitimate successor as evidence of the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, operations, or other activities of the Government or because of the informational value of the data in them (44 U.S.C. 3301)". from https://www.archives.gov/recor... [archives.gov]

    Asking for someone's email, the budget for a simple calendar or graphic, or trying to fish for information doesn't meet that criteria.
    • by DRJlaw ( 946416 )

      Asking for someone's email, the budget for a simple calendar or graphic, or trying to fish for information doesn't meet that criteria.

      Whew. For a second I thought that people could simply request thousands of Hillary Clinton's emails while serving as Sec. of State in an attempt to fish for information prior to an election. Good to know that they don't meet 3301s criteria.

      Oh wait, they did [thehill.com], and a Federal judge even ordered the State Department to supply thousands of emails concerning disparate subjects in

      • by brennz ( 715237 )

        Point missed completely...

        There is a vast chasm of difference between a Secretary of State's emails, and those of a consulting graphics artist, a few lower level budget analysts, or even some engineers.

        The assumption for a Senior Executive directing an organization of > 60,000 personnel, with a > $40,000,000,000 budget is that much, or most of that email are records because it contains "organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, operations, or other activities of the Government or becau

        • by Whibla ( 210729 )

          Point missed completely...

          Lower level flunkies at the working level lack direct reports, do not supervise anything, control nothing, and have little impact. They don't have the decision material, don't control resources, and don't dictate policy, and therefore would have little to no federal records.

          Not missing the point, just disagreeing with it.

          Any e-mail to or from a governmental e-mail address is government 'property'. As such they are also a record. When presented with a FOIA request, whether the government agency, in this case NASA, thinks it's a useful record or not is irrelevant.

          In the specific case given in the summary where "Motherboard requested all emails from a specific NASA email address with a specific subject line" responding with "There were no emails found matching this search criteri

        • by DRJlaw ( 946416 )

          There is a vast chasm of difference between a Secretary of State's emails, and those of a consulting graphics artist, a few lower level budget analysts, or even some engineers.

          That's why I included Holdren. No answer to that one, eh?

  • What did you expect from the department of LIES? As we all know, Nasa is Hebrew for "to deceive".

    Clearly they have so many SECRETS and LIES that they can't risk getting out to the general public.

    Now excuse me while I go and finish my thesis on the impenetrable deadly Van Halen belt.

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