Thursday, February 04, 2010

CEI requests a significant percent of all records produced by NASA

Yes, I think that's a little unreasonable of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and of Chris Horner at CEI (via Dot Earth).  As I've mentioned before, I've both filed FOIA-type requests (the California law equivalents) and responded to them.  The two major requests that I filed were attempts to demonstrate legal violations by the agencies.  We were right both times, and neither required this type of abusive fishing expeditions.

Here's just one part of the request:

1. of all records, documents, internal communications, and other relevant covered
material created by, provided to, received, and or sent by an official or employee
of NASA including but not limited to NASSA GISS, that in any way relate to the,
receipt, handling, processing, or disposition of “Freedom of Information Act,” or
“FOIA” requests;

This request doesn't just mean "give us any FOIA request NASA has received" (since Jan 2000, a slight limitation put on it later in the letter), it means give every document that was ever copied and produced in response to any FOIA request that was previously received.  For every FOIA request in the past ten years that produced thousands of documents and tens of thousands of pages of response, they just asked for each one of those searches to be repeated and copied and given to them.

NASA doesn't really have to give all the records requested by this piece of dreck, if I'm remembering my somewhat dated FOIA law correctly, but it shows the lack of care for taxpayer resources by the makers of the request, and total abuse of taxpayer dollars for other parts of the request that fall, barely, within the legal limit.

The quoted excerpt above is part 1 of a seven-part request.  Parts 2 and possibly 7 are also abusive.  Parts 3 through 6 may be okay, but will require extensive review by scientists and by FOIA officers.  I don't know how many more of these are coming from CEI, but at a certain point, enough is enough.

Might also be worthwhile to mention that once, to avoid a similar fishing expedition and waste of California taxpayer money, we contacted a California agency outside of the FOIA-type process we have here and went through voluntarily-provided documents and information that helped us limit our ultimate request.  I've generally followed a similar practice of asking for information informally first, or offering to negotiate ways to limit the burden of an information request.

CEI just wants to spend taxpayer money.

UPDATE:  Eli points out in the comments that copying costs shouldn't be waived.  CEI's claim to be a scientific organization is a sad joke, and as an educational institution it's just ironic.  CEI should have to pay for anything it gets.

Bonus blogging:  take the Risk Intelligence Test, which estimates whether you can accurately predict the likelihood that you're right or wrong about a factual issue.  I scored 85, apparently "very high", slightly underconfident in my answers.


  1. The solution is simple, for abusive FOIAs like this, don't waive the costs and charge the actual costs. Waiving the costs is optional for the agencies, and give them credit they almost always do.

  2. That's amusingly "meta". It's pretty clear what they're getting at - they have a sneaking suspicion that the GISS group has been just as non-responsive as CRU was to reasonable requests - but it's kind of clumsily worded. *If* the organization has been reasonably responsive then (1) is a lot of material. On the other hand, if they've been like CRU, it isn't so much.

  3. Note that if CRU had been responsive to the initial requests for "raw data" from skeptics, they wouldn't now be in a position of having "lost" the raw data, because they could get it back from those who had requested it. So you might think of CEI as doing NASA a favor here, offering to store a backup of all their most-requested data! :-)

    In other news, your comments section is working more reliably for me now. Possibly because I switched to FireFox...

  4. Eli - good point. I think they can only charge copying costs though, not costs of compilation and time spent screening material (not 100% sure about this, but I think it's right). These other costs are much greater than copying costs.

    Glen, by "the organization", you know you're referring to NASA - all of it, for every FOIA request for the last ten years. Responding to a single FOIA request with several thousand pages of documents isn't unusual. I would guess that all of NASA has had between a 500 and several thousand FOIA requests in ten years. CEI wants every document ever produced.

    As for CRU, the "lost" data was paper records from the 1980s that were destroyed/recycled long before the FOI requests arrived (there are apparently some later electronic records that they should've turned over, that's not the "lost" data that still exists at national weather centers).

    Glad comments are working a little better....

  5. Nope, CEI fits into the none of the above category

    5) Other Requesters - Requesters who do not fit into any of the above categories. These requesters are persons who are not commercial, news media, scientific or educational requesters and are required to pay search costs for more than 2 hours and duplication costs for more than 100 pages.

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