CEI Sues Social Security Administration for Ignoring FOIA Request

It’s not just the Environmental Protection Agency that doesn’t seem to be able to respond to a Freedom of Information Act request.

Today, the Competitive Enterprise Institute filed suit in D.C. Circuit Court against the Social Security Administration (SSA) for ignoring a CEI FOIA request that sought records on the use of “official time” by SSA employees.

“Official time” is the time employees devote to union duties performed on government time. Official time is part of the negotiated agreements under which members of public-sector unions work. Employees spend time during their working day recruiting members, managing the union, handling and even encouraging employee complaints and processing new members.

CEI Labor Policy Analyst Trey Kovacs filed the FOIA request with SSA on Mar. 4. Having received no response during the 20 business days the agency has under law to act, he began to contact officials at SSA to find out if they were working on his request. With no action—not even a tracking number assigned to the request—by early June, CEI sued.

“This clearly is a matter of public interest. CEI is clearly right to make the request, and the request clearly was made in the proper legal way,” Kovacs said. “But this administration does not want Americans to know how cozy it has become with federal employee unions or how much of their tax dollars go to union organizing.”

Kovacs requested the names of SSA employees who conducted union activities on official time in 2011. He requested the number of hours each employee spent, cost in salary and benefits of that time, the names and number of employees who spent 100 percent of their time on union duties, the costs of travel, per diem and arbitration associated with those union activities and the costs of office space, telephones and supplies provided by taxpayers to support union activities.

CEI has asked for the court to order the agency to turn over the documents and to waive fees for producing them as it is supposed to do, by statute, for all non-profit requesters who plan to disseminate the information widely.

Legislation has been introduced in both houses of Congress—by Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky in the Senate, and Phil Gingrey, Republican of Georgia, in the House—to simply eliminate official time for federal workers.

“One would think a country as deeply in debt in ours at least could ask union organizers to do their union business on their own time,” Kovacs said. “The fact this agency refuses to release this information tells us those employees and their bosses know they’re doing something Americans would not approve.”

>> Read the June 6 complaint here.