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Interior Creates New Legal Team To Tackle Mounting FOIA Backlog

Photo of Daniel Jorjani.
Courtesy of the Interior Department
Daniel Jorjani, solicitor of the U.S. Department of the Interior, says the new team will help the agency process public records requests more efficiently, tackling a mounting backlog.

The Interior Department has been trying to tackle a growing backlog of public records requests under the Trump administration, and now the agency is creating a new legal team to help with the effort. 

Interior says the team will help with training, coordination and employ new technology to more efficiently process requests under the Freedom of Information Act. 

Daniel Jorjani, the agency’s top lawyer and chief FOIA officer, says the new team will be led by a non-partisan official, Rachel Spector, whom Jorjani describes as “a career lawyer with about 20 years experience in the executive branch.”

The agency has faced intense criticism over how it’s tried to address the FOIA backlog in the past. In December 2018, it proposed controversial new rules that lawmakers and media advocates said were attempts to restrict public access to government emails and documents. The agency eventually walked back many of the most controversial changes. 

“We listened to the concerns — whether that was from both sides of the aisle on Capitol Hill, as well as from concerned stakeholder groups — and ended up with a rule that’s gotten strong bipartisan support,” Jorjani said.

While Spector will lead the new legal team, Jorjani will remain in charge of the agency’s public records request program as a whole. That rankles critics of the Trump administration in part because Jorjani, a political appointee, is being investigated by the Interior Department’s Office of Inspector General for his role in implementing a FOIA policy that allows agency officials to review and potentially withhold documents from the public.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada, the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado. Follow Nate Hegyi on Twitter @natehegyi.

Nate Hegyi is the Utah reporter for the Mountain West News Bureau, based at KUER. He covers federal land management agencies, indigenous issues, and the environment. Before arriving in Salt Lake City, Nate worked at Yellowstone Public Radio, Montana Public Radio, and was an intern with NPR's Morning Edition. He received a master's in journalism from the University of Montana.
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