*See Update at the end of this article.
Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once remarked that “sunlight is the best disinfectant.” As the storm clouds cleared from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, that sunlight illuminated many aspects of the failed federal government response to the storms and levee breaks.
- A Freedom of Information Act request by CBS News uncovered the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s prior knowledge of toxic levels of formaldehyde in trailers provided to nearly 150,000 hurricane-affected families.
- An earlier FOIA request revealed how the Bush Administration turned away nearly a billion dollars of international assistance.
- Thousands of e-mails illustrating the federal bureaucracy’s incompetence in the days following the catastrophe came to light only after journalists engaged FOIA’s requirements.
But such FOIA requests are met far too infrequently. Flawed decision-making is too often shrouded by an apparent philosophy that “what the public doesn’t know can’t hurt us.”
On October 5, 2005, Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Mark Schleifstein of the New Orleans Times-Picayune filed a FOIA request with FEMA regarding its disaster response operations and planning. Read more