On March 23, 2012, I mailed out two FOIA requests, one under federal FOIA, and another under Utah’s, to the National Center of Hearing Assessment and Management at Utah State University. This was my letter below (without the letterhead containing my contact information). The only difference between the two letters were the citations of the applicable law that my requests were based upon.
National Center for Hearing Assessment and Management
Utah State University
2615 Old Main Hill,
Logan, Utah 84322
Dear FOIA Officer:
Please send me a copy of the following public records:
- The titles and abstracts of submitted proposals that were rejected by any authority working with and/or for the 2012 Early Hearing Detection and Intervention [EHDI] Annual Meeting;
- The list of the 2012 Abstract Review Committee members and whom the individual Abstract Review Committee members were representing;
- The list of places, publications, media, etc., in which EHDI placed advertisements for the 2012 EHDI Annual Meeting;
- The list of places, publications, media, etc., in which EHDI placed notices about call for papers to the 2012 EHDI Annual Meeting.
This request for information is made pursuant to the Utah Government Records Access and Management Act, UCA §§63-2-101 to -207, which requires you to respond in writing within ten (10) business days. Please advise me in writing of the estimated cost of this FOIA request, prior to filling this request, if it is estimated to be $20.00 or more.
If my request is denied in whole or part, I ask that you provide me with your written rationale for all deletions and/or exclusions, by reference to specific exemptions of the act. Please communicate with me by email, if you have questions regarding this request.
Thank you for your time and attention to this matter.
On April 6, 2012, Dr. Karl White emailed me, and responded with the following:
Dear Jeannette Johnson
In your letters of March 23, 2012 you requested information about how proposals for presentations and posters that were presented at the 2012 National EHDI Meeting in St. Louis were solicited, reviewed and selected. In those requests you cited the Freedom of Information Act and the Utah Government Records Access and Management Act. I don’t believe any of the information you requested is subject to the provisions of those statutes, but I am happy to provide you with answers to most of your questions anyway because we want the procedures associated with the National EHDI Meeting to be open and transparent. We are always interested in finding ways to improve the EHDI Meeting and invite your suggestions.
Attached is information about the process for soliciting, reviewing and selecting presentations and posters at the EHDI Meeting that is based on a recent response to someone who made a similar request.
You also requested information about the the titles and abstracts of rejected proposals and the names of people who reviewed the abstracts. In the attached material I have indicated where you can find the names and affiliations of the members of the Planning Committee for the 2012 National EHDI Meeting (which is a different group of people from those who reviewed proposals). The names of the people who reviewed the proposals have not been published since this is a “blind” review process and I think it would be inappropriate for me to publish those names. If people who were on the review committee want to disclose their own names, they are certainly free to do that.
I am providing you with the titles of the rejected proposals because I believe this information was sent to you by CDC in response to your FOIA request to them. I hope you will not publish this information because it may be embarrassing to people whose proposals were rejected.
Please let me know if you have additional questions or suggestions.
I quickly responded to him with the following:
Dear Dr. White:
Are you the FOIA officer for Utah State University? From my experience with prior FOIA requests to a variety of public institutions across the country, it is my understanding that if you are not, you are obligated to forward my FOIA request to the Utah State University’s FOIA officer.
However, given your response, particularly your refusal to quote the applicable part of the statue on why this is being denied, please provide me with the name of the FOIA officer so I can send my request to the officer directly. Thank you for your time and attention to this matter.
Dr. White replied shortly after this with the following:
Dear Ms Johnson
I am not the FOIA Officer at Utah State University. A far as I know, Utah State University has not designated an FOIA Officer. I suggest you contact the University’s legal office or the office of the Utah State Attorney General if you would like additional information . Because your initial letter was sent to me, I did my best to answer your questions.
At that point, I decided do several things, and among one was to contact the Utah State University’s Provost and ask for the FOIA officer’s contact information. The Provost, after inquiring with the university’s attorney, replied within several hours with the information. And so, I sent Craig Simper, the university’s FOIA officer, my request. Since it was sent on April 6, the results of that FOIA request is still pending.
I have to point out several things here regarding Dr. White’s responses. I did not address the FOIA request to Dr. Karl White. If you read my letter carefully (and it was on the envelope as well), it was addressed to ‘FOIA officer’.
And it appears to me that Dr. White did not forward my FOIA letter to the appropriate officials, or even inquire with his employers whether there was a FOIA officer. Otherwise, why would he claim that to his knowledge, there was no FOIA officer at Utah State University? Given all of this, I find this to be quite a bit unusual, especially when one considers the seriousness of FOIA requests.
Furthermore, one should note that despite Dr. White’s claims of cooperation and willingness to answer questions in his initial email, I had to contact the provost in order to obtain the FOIA officer’s contact information, after his refusal to to my request for said information.
I also find it very interesting that that except for one item which I FOIA’ed both him and the CDC for (which I might add, haven’t gotten yet from the CDC. And nor is it the only thing I asked the CDC about), Dr. White gave me information that I did not ask for. So, why did Dr. White do this? This makes me wonder whether Dr. White would have been as “helpful” to every single person who made a similar request.
Then one has to contend with how Dr. White’s response to my FOIA was done. I have had my requests both approved and denied elsewhere in the past, and his email is not how you respond to a FOIA request in any shape or form. Why was the response done in this manner? Would have he responded in a similar manner to a hearing person?
(Edited to add: If you’re curious to see one of the 3 typical response to a FOIA request is, check out http://www.ita.doc.gov/ooms/FOIASampleLtr3.pdf and compare that to Dr. White’s response to me).
And last of all, what I find to be the most intriguing is Dr. White’s second to last line in his initial email. “I hope you will not publish this information because it may be embarrassing to people whose proposals were rejected.”
Would he make this kind of statement to a hearing person making a similar request? Would he even dream of making this kind of statement to a hearing blogger or reporter?
Given Dr. White’s overall conduct, I suspect that at the very least, he has something to hide. Especially when one notes that he’s essentially filibustering by giving me what I did not ask for. I wonder what the people at the CDC, the Health Resources Service Administration and our Congresspersons has to say about all of this, if they knew. Perhaps we all should go and find out, hmm?
At any rate, we should see within a few weeks, whether my suspicions are accurate.
To be continued…
Note: I’m not publishing the rejected titles until I get an official response (either a denial or approval with applicable information) from NCHAM and/or CDC on the entire content of my FOIA requests.