State Department officials requested a major increase in their record-keeping budget this year after facing a surge of Freedom of Information Act requests in the wake of controversy over Hillary Clinton's private email use.
Heather Higginbottom, deputy secretary of state for management and resources, said Tuesday in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the State Department received 22,000 FOIA requests in 2015. That was a significant uptick from the 19,625 requests the agency received in 2014.
Agency officials have frequently complained of the strain Clinton's email imbroglio placed on its FOIA resources over the past year. From June 2015 to Feb. 2016, State Department officials were forced to release thousands of Clinton's private emails at the end of each month through a FOIA lawsuit filed by Jason Leopold of Vice News.
"While the volume of FOIA requests has tripled since 2008, our resources to respond have not kept pace," Higginbottom said in his testimony Tuesday. "Thus, we've requested a 70 percent increase in fiscal year 2017 funding for FOIA processing and electronic record archiving."
However, the State Department's 2017 budget justification indicates it requested a modest $5 million hike over its $29 million FOIA budget from 2016, a 17 percent increase.
A portion of the additional $5 million in funding will go toward fighting FOIA lawsuits in court, the State Department said.
"The recent growth in FOIA requests put the Department on pace for a 30 percent increase in its FOIA response backlog in FY 2015," the budget justification noted. "The Department will use the requested $5 million increase over the FY 2016 funding level of $29 million to reduce this backlog, minimize vulnerability in litigation, and make further improvements to the FOIA program."
The number of lawsuits over FOIA requests that have been stalled or ignored spiked last year, nearly doubling over the year before. State Department officials fought 30 lawsuits in 2014, but saw that number jump to 54 lawsuits in 2015.