As part of NAVS’ mission to end the exploitation of animals used in science, we strive to provide accurate information on animal use to our supporters, policymakers and members of the general public. NAVS, and other groups interested in animal protection, use this data to determine which areas of research to prioritize for the development of alternatives and to learn more about research institutions that violate the Animal Welfare Act.
Obtaining this information continues to be a challenge, a fact supported by the most recent Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Annual Report released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
As you may recall, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) branch of the USDA used to feature on its website something called the Animal Care Search Tool, an interactive database that gave the public (in the USDA’s words) “free, on-demand access to accurate, searchable, exportable data regarding individuals and facilities regulated under the Animal Welfare Act.” Unfortunately, many of the features that enabled customized searches and instantly-accessible data on this database were disabled a few years ago. Since then, the public has been asked to submit FOIA requests to obtain this information.
Has this approach been effective?
APHIS began Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 with 1628 pending FOIA requests, up from 652 the previous year. Over the course of the year, they received an additional 882 requests and processed 1,371 requests, ending the year with 1,139 requests still pending.
As a result of this backlog of FOIA requests, it is taking longer than ever for the public to receive the information that they have requested. On average, it took 181 days to receive a response to a simple FOIA request in FY18, up from 124 days in FY17. Simple requests are those that the agency places in its “fastest track” based on the low volume and/or simplicity of records requested. Six months is a long time to wait for data that used to literally be available in minutes.
For more complex record requests, APHIS response time also increased, from 266 days on average in FY17 to 302 days in FY18.
Because of these lengthy delays, the public is not able to obtain information on animal use and abuse in a timely fashion, making much of the information outdated by the time it is eventually obtained.
You can help restore transparency to USDA records on animal use. Please TAKE ACTION on this important issue by contacting U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. Let him know that the public needs a functional, user-friendly searchable database to access animal use data on demand, one that allows customized searches like the previous Animal Care Search Tool.
Such a tool would save government agencies time and money by greatly reducing the necessity of responding to most FOIA requests by making the information available to the public without the need for additional time, resources or human intervention—and it would assist NAVS in accurately and effectively speaking about animal issues and advocate for animals in a timely fashion.