DCOGC wins release under FOIA of Gray appointees’ résumés

The D.C. Open Government Coalition (DCOGC) obtained résumés of more than 60 top political appointees in Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s administration the D.C. Department of Human Resources (DHR) previously withheld under the Freedom of Information Act, claiming they contained private personnel information.

In response to DCOGC’s administrative appeal under the FOI Act, the agency reversed course August 26 and released more than 170 pages of résumés, including those of the attorney general, the chief of staff, and other top appointees.

Washington Post reporter Mike DeBonis, who had been denied access to the records earlier this year, said "The city’s transparency laws are only as strong as the people willing to fight for them, and thanks to the DCOGC, citizens trying to get public information from the government have a powerful ally." Click here to read DeBonis's blog post

DCOGC Legal Committee Chair James McLaughlin said “The public has a legitimate interest in the backgrounds and qualifications of those who are appointed to high-ranking government positions,” he said. “We’re glad the agency eventually came to the right decision.”

DCOGC’s founder and president, Thomas Susman, added:  “These kinds of delays and missteps are not at all unusual in the District’s administration of the Freedom of Information Act.  Our organization is pressing the Attorney General and Mayor to strengthen the District’s training, guidance, procedures, and infrastructure surrounding FOIA administration, so that the public’s right to know will be better served. The D.C. government’s history in this area is abysmal, so we hope the new administration will not delay improving information dissemination for the benefit of all our residents.”

In this case, the release of the records took more than four months. DCOGC submitted its FOIA request in April in the midst of public controversy over Mayor Gray’s early hiring decisions.  Although the request was limited to Excepted Service (“political”) appointees, not civil servants, DHR asserted that the “personal privacy” exemption of the District’s FOIA statute barred disclosure of the resumes.  The agency also denied media requests for the records.

In a written appeal to the Mayor’s Office, DCOGC argued that the records were not within the scope of the FOIA privacy exemption, and had to be released.  The appeal was still pending when DHR reconsidered its decision and notified DCOGC that it would turn over the résumés with only slight redactions of personal contact information.  The agency also said in a letter that it was continuing to conduct a “thorough and diligent search” for any additional responsive materials.

The records are posted on DCOGC’s website for inspection by the public.  Please contact Geralda Jean at [email protected] if you have questions or want further information about this case.