The Center for Public Integrity filed a Freedom of Information request to get a copy of the Foreign Agent Registration database, which includes information on activities by registered lobbyists on behalf on foreign governments.
The Justice Department said that it couldn't provide a copy of the entire database because doing so could destroy the database.
Meanwhile, you can go to the appropriate office in Washington DC and pay fifty cents a page to make copies of documents. The information is available in (expensive) page-by-page drips, but not as a whole.
I am curious to learn about the quantum database software in use that could subject the data to changes by reading it. Or perhaps the 8 inch floppies that the data is stored on would get too hot and melt if they had to spin so fast to copy entire files?
has been allowed to decay to a point they cannot even make a copy of its contents.
Responding to a recent Freedom of Information request from the Center for Public Integrity, the Justice Department's Foreign Agent Registration Unit said it was unable to copy its records electronically because their computer system was "so fragile." In a letter, the head of the unit's Freedom of Information office said that simply attempting to make an electronic copy of the database "could result in a major loss of data, which would be devastating."
The database details millions of dollars spent on lobbying activities by foreign governments, companies, and foundations.
Those activities include everything from wining and dining lawmakers to broadcasting issue ads on American television and radio stations.
Unlike foreign governments and political parties, foreign companies can file their lobby forms with the Senate Office of Public Records on Capitol Hill. Under the 1995 Lobbying Disclosure Act, private companies based outside the United States need only to fill out much shorter forms for Congress instead of the substantial information required by FARA.
As the primary collecting point of information on foreign lobbying, the database is vital to tracking the actions of foreign governments in Washington. Yet the system remains susceptible to "a crash that cannot be fixed" if its files were to be copied, according to Justice's Criminal Division Freedom of Information/Privacy Act office.
"The information itself still is very accessible," said Bryan Sierra at the Department of Justice's Office of Public Affairs. "The basic mandate of the office is to provide information to the public."
Sierra and other officials at the Justice Department public affairs office refused to answer follow-up questions on the state of the FARA database. Sierra, through his receptionist, said he would not discuss the subject any further.
It's true that the information contained in the database can be obtained, as long as those seeking it know the precise files they want and have a substantial copying budget.
The Justice Department's Foreign Agent Registration Unit, which is responsible for the records, has a public documents room located in a windowless office on New York Avenue in downtown Washington.
Congress's investigative branch, the General Accounting Office, has looked into the FARA office over several decades, culminating in their last report in 1998. More than once, the GAO has found that FARA lacks the resources to fulfill its responsibilities. As a result, several former high-level federal officials lobbying for foreign interests have not adequately disclosed their activities.
The ancient computers the public and staff use often break down, however, and the printers malfunction. The system's document handling software, itself an antique, operates on Microsoft Windows 95.
Copying charges are also incomprehensibly high—50 cents a page for documents that can easily include hundreds of pages each.
Further, none of the actual filings are available online, although a bare-bones index of registrants does appear on the office's website. However, the most current index posted on the site is 18 months old.
Asked why the database had been allowed to deteriorate so badly, Sierra did not provide an explanation.
"I do know every effort is being made to improve it," he said. "That office is dealing with a large amount of data."
One Freedom of Information Act expert called the situation with the FARA database unprecedented and baffling.
"I have never heard of anything like this," said Rebecca Daugherty at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press in Washington. "It sounds crazy. They have an obligation to give you this information. It's as simple as that."
So, the data is available, as long as you don't ask for too much of it and are willing to pay an exorbitant price for it, but otherwise it's not available because accessing it could destroy it.
(Although to be fair -- even if I'm under no particular obligation to do so, considering the record of abuse of Democrats, progressives and liberals coming from the GOP and its cronies in the past 20 years -- this is probably an administrative and bureaucratic screw-up as much as anything else. I've sure that the unit really is underfunded -- after all, you won't find many people lobbying to fund a database which tracks lobbyists, and Senators and Representatives don't have a lot of reason to pour money into a unit which is apt to come up with information which could, potentially, turn off the tap of money flowing into their campaign coffers -- and needs to charge an arm and a leg for its data just to keep afloat, and I'm sure routine maintenance has been deferred for too long for lack of funds as well, but the fact that its coming from Ashcroft's Justice Department is enough to put reasonableness aside and bitch loudly about it. There's plenty of money around to build carpeted platforms for Bush, so his poor tired feet will never have to touch the hard, cold, ground when he makes a speech -- he might stumble, after all, if everything's not completely level -- but none to maintain mandated government services.)
hostile to science
lacking in empathy
lacking in public spirit
out of control
Thanks to: Breeze, Chuck, Ivan Raikov, Kaiju, Kathy, Roger, Shirley, S.M. Dixon
i've got a little list...
Steven Abrams (Kansas BofE)
Howard Fieldstead Ahmanson
Roger Ailes (FNC)
Alan Bonsell (Dover BofE)
Bill Buckingham (Dover BofE)
George W. Bush
Bruce Chapman (DI)
The Coors Family
William A. Dembski
Leonard Downie (WaPo)
John Gibson (FNC)
Fred Hiatt (WaPo)
James F. Inhofe
Philip E. Johnson
by Joel Pelletier
(click on image for more info)
Stephen C. Meyer (DI)
Judith Miller (ex-NYT)
Sun Myung Moon
Elspeth Reeve (TNR)
Martin Peretz (TNR)
Richard Mellon Scaife
Susan Schmidt (WaPo)
John Solomon (WaPo)
Richard Thompson (TMLC)
Bob Woodward (WaPo)
All the fine sites I've
Be sure to visit them all!!
Arthur C. Clarke
Daniel C. Dennett
Philip K. Dick
Stephen Jay Gould
"The Harder They Come"
Ursula K. LeGuin
The Marx Brothers
Michael C. Penta
Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger
"The Red Shoes"
"Singin' in the Rain"
Talking Heads/David Byrne
Hunter S. Thompson
"2001: A Space Odyssey"
If you read unfutz at least once a week, without fail, your teeth will be whiter and your love life more satisfying.
If you read it daily, I will come to your house, kiss you on the forehead, bathe your feet, and cook pancakes for you, with yummy syrup and everything.
(You might want to keep a watch on me, though, just to avoid the syrup ending up on your feet and the pancakes on your forehead.)
Finally, on a more mundane level, since I don't believe that anyone actually reads this stuff, I make this offer: I'll give five bucks to the first person who contacts me and asks for it -- and, believe me, right now five bucks might as well be five hundred, so this is no trivial offer.