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FAST's Adventures In FOIAland - Part 2

Ever Meet a VMO You Didn't Like?

Editor's Note - The following article was submitted by a subscriber regarding their experience with the FOIA process and unwillingness of USDA to give requested information.  The article is the second in a series to be submitted describing their experiences.  Click here to read the first article.
FAST is back again.  Maybe someday he’ll have received everything he’s requested from the USDA and finally understands why the USDA seems to want to stop people showing (or even owning, if the PAST Act becomes law) walking horses. (And then maybe he'll sit down to a steak dinner with the Humane Society’s vegan Wayne Pacelle.)   If he does, he’ll explain it all to you, and then you’ll have heard the last of FAST, or at least the last of his FOIA columns. But that day hasn’t happened, so why don’t we all spend some time thinking about those much-maligned government servants, the VMOs.  Let’s not worry ourselves about whether they like or even hate horses (as they say to each other) or horse owners or even if they know anything about horses.  Let’s concentrate on the reality that lots of us who like walking horses don’t like VMOs.  Many of us even may even say so to our friends and families.  There are even some of us horse lovers who are brave (or foolish) enough to actually file complaints with the USDA about  VMOs acting inappropriately.

FAST submitted a FOIA request for the complaints against VMOs – and what the USDA did about them – that were made during the last twelve years. Then, he sat down and tried to figure out how much room he needed to hold all this material.  Maybe he could just move his car out of the garage and have the mailman fill it up when all those complaints and thorough investigations of them by the USDA came in.  Since the FOIA law requires that the government respond to a request within 20 working days, FAST moved the car out of the garage, sat down in his rocker and waited on his porch.  Good thing he lives where it’s warm, since he waited from December 9 to the next March 25 to receive the complaints, all two of them - a four whole pages, including the USDA’s investigations of the complaints.  

While he wasn’t surprised that the USDA didn’t find any VMO wrongdoing, since he knows that no USDA employee has or ever will treat a horse lover unfairly, he was a bit surprised that both of the complaints were about a dead man. [Response - VMO complaints] Go figure.  Being a bit cynical, he wondered that if someone (accidently, of course) ran down another VMO, would a couple of more complaints be delivered to help fill that mighty empty garage?  Since the USDA’s cover letter stated, “[t]he remaining pages (37) originated at the USDA's Office of Inspector General (OIG) and were referred to their FOIA Office for their review and direct response to you,” [VMO complaints response letter] he figured he might eventually receive a complaint or two about a live VMO.  This was in late March.  Considering the USDA’s tortoise-like pace, FAST figured these 37 pages might take a few weeks to make it from one building in Washington (actually APHIS is a couple of miles north of DC in Maryland) to another and finally join their four buddies in his almost empty garage.

FAST finally received the OIG pages on August 29 – more than five months later.  Maybe APHIS should have used the hare, but doubtless Wayne Pacelle wouldn’t have liked that.  Due to duplications (if one takes OIG’s word for it), the 37 pages had become 27.  [VMO complaint response letter - OIG – 1]  Big deal, but have a look at what they did to the 27 pages. [VMO complaints response- OIG – 1]  It’s nice to know that our tax dollars are being used wisely in Washington, where these highly paid government employees practice their redaction skills.  So far as FAST can figure, maybe these other 27 pages were all about the late, lamented Ernest Johnson, but only the USDA knows for sure.  Anyhow, a week later, they sent him another 94 pages, most of which was an unredacted audit report, so at least he could read that and not get a sore head. [VMO complaints response- OIG - 2]  As to who these offending VMOs were, once again the redaction gods made sure that it’s still the USDA’s secret.

If the reader thinks that this tale of woe is over, how wrong he is.  Some tortoises in DC needed some exercise, so “we determined that 76 pages in this file originated with USDA's APHIS. Under FOIA, the agency that created the record is responsible for processing. Therefore, we have referred these pages to APHIS for processing and direct response to you.” [VMO complaints response letter - OIG – 2]  After FAST finished crying or laughing, he’s not sure which, he contacted APHIS, which was unaware of the travels of that busy tortoise.  After a few arguments, APHIS finally agreed to look at whatever was coming their way from their pals at the OIG.  Anyone want to bet on the likelihood of FAST receiving a complaint actually showing the name of a VMO who is still alive?

IF ANYONE HAS SUBMITTED OR KNOWS OF ANYONE WHO HAS SUBMITTED A COMPLAINT AGAINST A VMO AT ANY TIME SINCE JANUARY 1, 2002, COULD THEY PLEASE PROVIDE THE EDITOR OF THIS JOURNAL WITH AS MUCH INFORMATION AS POSSIBLE?  FAST wants to send that material back to the USDA to see if he could fill his garage with some documents showing complaints against VMOs who still reside above the ground.  Anyhow, that tortoise probably needs some more exercise.  

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