By Hannah Johnson ’11
Bismarck, North Dakota
The fact that I was able to pursue Freedom of Information research in D.C. is a testament to Macalester, my professor, and the dedication to academic pursuits at Mac.
I am intrigued by the complex nature of disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the different ways in which it is enforced—or not. Last summer I researched the FOIA in Washington, D.C. in collaboration with my political science professor Patrick Schmidt. He is writing a book about FOIA disclosure, campaign finance, and securities. My interest all started in his course The Information Society.
Midway through the semester, Professor Schmidt approached me about continuing disclosure research over the summer. Together we successfully applied for a research grant through Macalester. Our plan was to conduct and transcribe interviews in Washington, D.C. with FOIA officials, interest group representatives, lawyers and members of the media.
I had interned in the Senate the previous summer. It was good to be back and the interviews were fascinating. I learned so much not just about disclosure, but also about bureaucracy—the inner workings of our government. And sometimes, it’s not so pretty.
Generally, FOIA officers are a pro-disclosure bunch; they genuinely try to help people find information. However, sometimes politics becomes involved. This intersection of politics and disclosure I found particularly provocative. My interest was piqued even further by an AP article about political considerations and FOIA requests to the Department of Homeland Security. Several interviewees told me that the same thing happens in their departments.
I chose this issue intersection for further research as my senior capstone project, which I plan to submit to an academic journal. The fact that I was able to pursue Freedom of Information research in D.C. is a testament to Macalester, my professor, and the dedication to academic pursuits at Mac.