The Department of the Army is still having issues when it comes to providing information to the media.
In a most recent case, a month prior to Sunshine Week — which celebrates transparency in government — the Army responded by email that it had received a Herald request made in June of 2018, more than four years ago.
The response from the Army read in part:
“We sincerely regret there is a substantial delay in processing requests, and we solicit your patience and understanding as we diligently work to respond to your request as quickly and efficiently as possible.”
The 2018 Herald request was to obtain information on the status of burn pit usage by the military, to include the most updated instruction manual used by the Department of Defense concerning the use of burn pits, known as DOD Instruction Number 4715.19.
According to the email, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for information on burn pits used by the Army was originally received by the Defense Health Agency on June 26, 2018. The notification from the Army to the Herald was received on Jan. 26, 2023.
The Defense Health Agency stated in the email that it had not been able to respond to the request within the FOIA’s 20-day statutory time period due to unusual circumstances. Those unusual circumstances, according to the email, could include any of the following reasons: (a) the need to search for and collect records from a facility geographically separated from this office; (b) the potential volume of records responsive to your request; (c) the need for consultation with one or more agencies which have substantial interest in either the determination or the subject matter of the records; and (d) an unusually high volume of FOIA requests.
The Army has a history of taking lengthy periods of times to furnish responses to media requests. It took more than three years for the Army to decide it would not publicly release information on the investigation into the June 2, 2016, military vehicle accident at Fort Hood that killed eight soldiers and one U.S. Military Academy at West Point cadet.
Another case investigated by the Herald looked into the Nov. 6, 2019, death of Spc. Nicholas C. Panipinto, who died from injuries sustained in a Bradley Fighting Vehicle rollover at Camp Humphreys in South Korea while deployed with the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division.
An open-records request for the investigation was sent to Fort Hood on March 6, 2020. The Herald has still not received the requested information.
Army investigations the Herald does get back are often heavily redacted.
In 2016, the Army released a heavily redacted official report on a November 2015 Black Hawk crash that killed four soldiers at Fort Hood.
Whole pages of the report were redacted, including the answer to the big question: What caused the crash?
“After analyzing the human, materiel, and environmental data collected during the investigation, the CAI Board concluded the accident was caused by (the rest of the sentence was blacked out),” according to the report.
The CAI board is a Centralized Accident Investigation team whose work was part of the 345-page official Army document released to the Herald.
At the time it was released, Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Farnsworth, the commander of U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center, said in a letter to the Herald that the redacted portions of the report are exempt from public release through a FOIA request.
“U.S. Army accident reports are closely protected and controlled in order to increase the effectiveness of the Army Accident Prevention Program,” he said. “The materials, which are used for safety purposes only, are exempt from disclosure so that individuals involved may freely and openly provide uninhibited opinions and recommendations.”
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