Watchdog: FOIA backlog ‘undermines’ open government goals

By Kevin Bogardus | 03/13/2024 04:21 PM EDT

The Government Accountability Office found that 22 percent of requests were backlogged in fiscal 2022, compared to 14 percent in fiscal 2013.

A pile of folders.

The Government Accountability Office issued a new report on the federal Freedom of Information Act backlog. Lisa Nottingham/Flickr

The federal government’s backlog of unanswered Freedom of Information Act requests has climbed over the last decade, shortchanging the public of transparency and accountability, a congressional watchdog office said.

The Government Accountability Office said in a report released Wednesday that agencies face “persistent challenges” in processing requests within the required 20 business days of receipt. Sparse staffing, coupled with rising litigation and requests becoming more complex, have led to the FOIA backlog growing year after year.

GAO’s report noted FOIA is “a critical tool” for the public to uncover the actions of their government, but said that “the persistent and growing government-wide request backlog undermines transparency and accountability.”


There were 95,564 backlogged FOIA requests in fiscal 2013, but that figure grew to 206,720 by the end of fiscal 2022, according to the report.