This is a detailed article by Expose, starting off with some of the excuses reporters hear:
In 2005, the Associated Press collected and published a list of novel excuses government officials used to deny FOIA requests, many of which failed the “my dog ate my homework” test. The list included, in perhaps a first-of-its-kind denial, a Texas National Guard spokesperson refusing an FOIA request for some of former pilot George W. Bush’s flight records because of the difficulty of searching boxes full of dirt, dead bugs, and rat excrement.
How does the Act really work?
[T]hough the law states that requests be answered within 20 days, there’s a lot of drudgery involved with trying to obtain information through FOIA. Nelson, who was with the investigative units at the LOS ANGELES TIMES and THE WASHINGTON POST before taking her current post at the University of Maryland School of Journalism, describes the process this way: “On paper, you put in a request for documents and wait 20 days for the response. In practice, a request for even simple info can take months or even years.” How can this be? “You’ll get a response in 20 days. It’ll be a one-page letter that predicts how many months it will be until the FOIA office has time to get around to your request. When you finally get the long-awaited envelope, there will be a page or two of non-responsive documents, the rest being withheld under an exemption that you have to spend months fighting.”
Are there any fixes in the works? Thank goodness for Henry Waxman:
The House bill, championed by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), intends to strengthen FOIA by, among other things, making it easier for requesters to recoup legal fees when they win FOIA cases in court (thus giving agencies less incentive to hold back information they know they’re eventually going to have to give up anyway); penalizing those who don’t respond to FOIA requests within the required 20 days; and “hold[ing] agencies accountable for their decisions by enhancing the authority of the Office of Special Counsel to take disciplinary action against government officials who arbitrarily and capriciously deny disclosure.”