As essential as your FOIA requests may be to you, it is not considered essential by most of federal agencies and department. Most federal agencies have been forced to put their FOIA operations on pause while the federal government is closed. Even those agencies that are still operating as essential have closed their FOIA offices. For example, the NSA continues to do many of its functions, but the FOIA/PA Office will not be addressing FOIA/PA requests while the government is shut down. A few independently funded or partial corporation federal agencies that are unaffected by the shutdown will continue to process FOIAs; however the vast majority of FOIA work will be suspended until the shutdown is resolved.
So how will this affect your FOIA or Privacy Act request?
If your request is bound for, or is already with, a federal FOIA/PA office it will be affected by the shutdown. If you already have a FOIA request that is being processed, be prepared for its processing to discontinue and do not expect to receive any information requests until after the government has reopened. If you are planning on submitting a FOIA request while the government is shut down, feel free to do so; however do not expect it to be processed until after the shutdown concludes. Many federal agencies have online submission portals that will continue to accept requests, but there will not be anyone in the FOIA/PA offices to process those requests. In other words, do not expect much out of federal FOIA/PA offices during the shutdown in regards to processing.
Additionally, do not be surprised if FOIA/PA offices experience a “shutdown hangover” if the government is closed for an extended period of time. With new requests coming in and no one there to process them, the work will be piling up and it may take FOIA/PA offices time to catch up.
Also, a major question remains unanswered with the government shutdown; will the FOIA clock keep going? FOIA/PA offices have various guidelines regarding response times for FOIA request; whether it be how quickly they must acknowledge a new FOIA or the twenty-day time allotted to provide information, the FOIA has many rules and regulations regarding processing times. Here is the dilemma: although the FOIA/PA offices are closed, days lost to shutdown are still considered workdays; so, is the FOIA clock stopped or will it keep going? A question that will need to be answered as the shutdown continues and as many of the nation’s FOIA requests sit in limbo.