The myth and reality of the overbroad request

Some panelists from agencies at a recent transparency event (the March 16 Freedom of Information Day Celebration (pdf), put on by the Collaboration on Government Secrecy) flagged overbroad FOIA requests as a substantial source of inefficiency in processing FOIA requests. While this analysis is neither new nor controversial, it did make us wonder: What percentage of requests do agencies seek to narrow?

What percentage of requesters agree to modify their requests? How much time do breadth-related communications and negotiations consume? How much does agreeing to modify one’s request increase one’s odds of receiving information – or at least being satisfied by the eventual response? (Coincidentally, we’d guess about 25-30% of requests processed in a given year are neither granted nor denied, but simply cannot be handled for various reasons.)

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