CONTACT: Jordan Libowitz
202-408-5565 | [email protected]
Washington — The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) appears to have a pattern and practice of purposefully denying fee waivers to non-profit public interest groups in a flagrant violation of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), according to a lawsuit filed today by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) and Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF).
In response to reports of HUD Secretary Ben Carson’s family taking a “visible role in the department,” CREW requested documents that would show the level of their influence on HUD priorities and policy decisions. CREW also sought a fee waiver based on the clear public interest in the matter, which HUD summarily denied.
“These records should be a part of the public record, and HUD is making it much more difficult to obtain and publish them,” CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder said. “The American public deserves to know who is influencing decisions that will affect them.”
CREW filed another FOIA request seeking information regarding Secretary Carson’s use of non-commercial aircraft for official travel. Again, the fee waiver was denied with no legitimate rationale, with HUD concluding there was no significant public interest even amidst a wave of allegations — which received massive press coverage — that other cabinet officials had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on non-commercial flights to travel for agency business. A number of other public interest groups, including FFRF, have received the same treatment, with HUD denying fee waivers despite clear evidence of a significant public interest.
“Putting the American people first means making information about its agencies available for consumption,” Bookbinder said. “We have been fighting for government transparency for 15 years, and this kind of resistance will only make us fight harder.”