Back in October of 2009, I wrote a blog about a reporter at CBS, Sharyl Attkisson, who was trying to get information from the CDC about the pandemic.
She’s still waiting.
From CBS News, July 30, 2010 [hat-tip, Pixie]
About a year late, and long after swine flu has ceased to become an urgent national story, the federal government appears to be getting around to answering my “expedited” swine flu Freedom of Information request.
The short back-story to all of this is as follows: last fall I was made aware of the fact that Centers for Disease Control (CDC) had advised states to stop testing and tracking H1N1 or “swine flu.”
Sources indicated they felt this decision was hasty and ill-though-out, and could be designed to skew the public’s view of how widespread swine flu really was – or in this case, was not.
Getting statistics and answers would have been easy, if the CDC had provided the public documents I requested. The documents should have been provided quickly, as they were clearly public in nature, they were readily accessible (requiring no special search), and my request was very specific as to what I needed to see. When the CDC balked at providing the information and quit communicating with me, I submitted a Freedom of Information (FOI) request for the materials. Under FOI law, my request was entitled to expedited processing because–among other reasons– it about an issue of public safety, and an issue of widespread public interest.
At the time, CDC denied my request for expedited processing denying – laughably – that swine flu was of widespread interest to the public. That meant my request, dated August 27, 2009, went at the end of a long, mysterious cue where it might be fulfilled in weeks, months… or someday.
… the slowly-grinding government FOI wheels have been turning for nearly a year, and I finally received a letter of response from the government. The letter is dated July 15, 2010, approximately eleven months after my request. It’s from Health and Human Services (HHS). It states that it has a certain document responsive to my FOI request. The letter says HHS will try really hard to provide the document soon, but that the folks there are very busy so it may take awhile. It says that if I want expedited processing – something I had already applied for a year ago – I should let them know. A phone number was provided in case I had any questions.
Of course the investigative report I was working on is long over, as the bureaucrats must have known it would be by now.
Nonetheless, I called the number provided on the HHS letter, and got an out-of-office recording. I told the recording on the other end that this FOI request was almost a year old, and I had requested expedited processing all along. I asked someone to call me back.
That was a few weeks ago.
Why is the CDC hiding this information? Because it would reveal their incompetence at testing for influenza? Because it would reveal that fewer people were infected than they claimed but that more of those that were died?
Is this what Transparency and Open Government looks like?