American Oversight, a nonprofit watchdog organization that shares government information through public records requests, recently reached a settlement in a lawsuit with the CDC. The settlement’s terms will make it easier for anyone requesting CDC documents to get results.
Early in the pandemic, American Oversight filed a number of FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests to the CDC about the agency’s COVID-19 response. Some of those requests were rejected for being “overly broad,” which demonstrated “significant problems with the agency’s FOIA practices” and led to American Oversight filing a lawsuit in May 2020, the organization explains in a recent blog post.
The CDC and American Oversight have now reached a settlement about this records lawsuit—and its terms require the agency to instruct all CDC FOIA officers to be more considerate of “broad” requests. Rather than issuing blanket rejections, FOIA officers should look closely at request descriptions and consult with their supervisors “to ensure all angles of the request have been considered,” according to an email that CDC leadership has sent to staff, in consultation with American Oversight.
This settlement could have huge ramifications for other people requesting records from the CDC (including yours truly) as journalists and researchers continue to investigate how the U.S. handled COVID-19. Thank you to American Oversight for pushing on transparency!