Why does the Postal Service treat basic spending data as top secret?

Ensuring transparency and receiving even basic information about how the government is spending taxpayers’ money is very important and should be one of the government’s top priorities. Unfortunately, this process is difficult and time consuming.

The Freedom of Information Act is intended to give Americans a glimpse into the inner workings of Washington, D.C., but the process has become more complicated.according to March 2024 Report According to the Government Accountability Office, the number of outstanding FOIA requests has increased from less than 100,000 in fiscal year 2013 to more than 200,000 in fiscal year 2022. Federal agencies must address this backlog immediately and strive to communicate more consistently with the American people. Bureaucrats should not be in the business of hoarding secrets and hiding the truth from taxpayers.

The United States Postal Service may like to think of itself as a spy agency, but as long as its core mission is to deliver the mail, it needs to be more transparent with the American public.

Writing a FOIA is not easy. Specific questions are required, and misunderstood wording can be grounds for rejection or administrative purgatory. But when worded correctly, Americans can receive specific information about federal government activities and communications.

Government agencies that receive a FOIA request typically take 20 business days to process the request. If the agency expects it to take longer due to unusual circumstances, it must still communicate this to the filer and (eventually) allow the filer to modify the request. However, this process does not work if FOIA requests are simply added to a pile of unprocessed documents.

Gao found in the report More than 20% of all requests received remain unprocessed by government agencies beyond the legally allowed deadlines. “The Department of Justice (DOJ), Department of Homeland Security, Department of Defense, and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) account for 80% of all outstanding requests” and receive approximately 80% of all new requests.

The Department of Justice’s Office of Information Policy helps implement FOIA and directs agencies struggling to respond to requests to develop backlog reduction plans. However, “OIP does not specify what these plans should include, so most agencies have not included the key elements.” Of the 14 agencies directed to develop plans for 2023, 2 Agencies included goals, but none included timelines for implementing actions.”

In addition to chronically underserved agencies like HHS and the Department of Justice, some agencies are all too eager to deny any reasonable requests that come to their desks. In fiscal year 2023, the United States Postal Service will It has been processed An astonishing 4,104 requests for information were received, the vast majority of which were denied. The agency provided a complete response to only 447 of his requests and only partially responded to an additional 749 requests. Nearly 3,000 of his requests, representing about 70% of his processed FOIA submissions to the agency, were rejected outright by the agency.

If the USPS holds national secrets similar to the Central Intelligence Agency, such a high rejection rate might make You might want to think it’s a spy agency.But as long as its core mission is to deliver the mail, it needs to be more transparent with the American people.

The Taxpayer Protection Alliance Foundation has worked hard to keep secret agencies like the USPS in the dark. On February 2, TPAF filed a FOIA with the Postal Service seeking basic information about the agency’s electric vehicle procurement costs and policies.

On March 8, USPS issued a (non-)response. TPAF received the contract for the procurement of EV chargers, but with significant redactions that concealed all relevant numbers.

In addition to citing numerous court cases supporting its confidentiality, the USPS states:[39 U.S.C. § 410(c)(2)] “Information of a commercial nature, including trade secrets, whether obtained from a person outside the Postal Service or not and which is not publicly disclosed based on good business practices,” is exempt from FOIA disclosure requirements. stipulated.

In other words, the USPS can claim broad discretion to hide anything related to its business, even if taxpayers are paying for it.

The USPS could insist that this information be made public if it wished. Taxpayers are regularly informed about contract costs in other situations across government, and we do not believe that information has a material impact on commercial interests. The small amount of hassle that companies face in having to make this information public is certainly outweighed by the taxpayer-funded salaries. However, the USPS appears to enjoy pretending to be the CIA and hiding basic information from the public.

Lawmakers and the Biden administration should insist that all agencies, especially secretive ones like the USPS, focus on transparency and make basic financial information available to taxpayers. It should also require backlogged agencies to publish specific plans (including timelines) for processing backlogged FOIA requests. There is no excuse for government agencies to continue withholding information from the American people.