Defense Department Says It's Not Too Broke to Afford Replacement Fax Machine for FOIA Requests

FOIA officer says waiting for the next fiscal year is "not due to lack of funds."

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Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel speaks during a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2013, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel speaks during a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2013, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.

Despite receiving hundreds of billions of dollars in annual taxpayer funding, a surprising bit of news was reported about the Department of Defense on Thursday: one of its busiest Freedom of Information Act offices cannot afford to immediately replace a fax machine used to process information requests.

But the news, first reported by FOIA-specializing primary source publisher MuckRock, isn't so dire, according to the employee whose words prompted the Sept. 12 article that said the only fax machine in the Office of the Secretary of Defense/Joint Staff FOIA department is not currently functional, and might not be replaced until November.

"I simply said that if one (a new/replacement fax) was not currently available, we might have to wait until the start of the next fiscal year," Aaron Graves, the OSD/JS FOIA team chief, told U.S. News in a Monday email. "That is not due to lack of funds. ... [W]e were only made aware of the issue last week and are working to get it resolved as quickly as possible."

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Graves said less than 10 percent of requests are submitted by fax, meaning the machine's malfunction has not prevented most requests from being submitted.

"We only get a few requests via fax per month," Graves wrote, "and typically only from the same few organizations. And most of those organizations fax AND mail/email their requests to be sure that we receive it."

In addition to faxing requests, there's an online form that can be used. A notice on that page warns that financial hardship – if not hindering the purchase of a fax machine – may cause a sluggish response rate.

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"Due to civilian personnel furloughs in the Department of Defense beginning July 8, 2012, FOIA requesters will notice delays in the responses to FOIA requests," the message says. "We apologize for these delays; however, please be assured that our FOIA officers are committed to providing quality customer service during this time."

The Department of Defense will likely have a $475 billion budget for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, Bloomberg reports. That sum is calculated from mandated spending reductions in the Budget Control Act of 2011. The Pentagon will likely trim 12 percent of its operations, maintenance and construction costs.

MuckRock noted the Office of the Secretary of Defense/Joint Staff had a backlog of 1,148 FOIA requests at the end of the 2012 fiscal year.

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