Blackout Continues: USDA Now Delaying Record Releases

PETA Calls On Agency to Post Decisions in Animal Welfare Act–Enforcement Actions Promptly

For Immediate Release:
July 25, 2017

Contact:
David Perle 202-483-7382

Washington – In February, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) took down thousands of records pertaining to its enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), it assured the public that at least one category of records—decisions in administrative proceedings to enforce the AWA—would still be readily available. But as PETA points out in a letter sent to the USDA this morning, the agency is now taking months to post records, when this process previously took just weeks: The most recent AWA decision on its website is more than two months old.

“As though removing thousands of records from its website weren’t bad enough, the USDA is now dragging its feet in posting even the one category of records it promised to continue making available, impeding PETA’s ability to keep tabs on the roadside zoos and other businesses that exploit animals for profit—and on the USDA’s regulation of these entities,” says PETA Foundation Vice President of Captive Animal Law Enforcement Delcianna Winders. “PETA is calling on the USDA to do its duty under the law and post these records within days, not months.”

PETA—whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to use for entertainment or abuse in any other way”—has filed a lawsuit against the USDA to compel the agency to return to its website all records related to puppy mills, laboratories, roadside zoos, traveling animal shows, and other enterprises that use and exploit animals.

For more information, please visit PETA.org.

PETA’s letter to the USDA follows.

July 25, 2017

Malcom A. Shorter

Deputy Assistant Secretary for Administration

U.S. Department of Agriculture

Re:    Office of Administrative Law Judges’ Failure to Comply With Statutory Mandates Regarding Online Postings

Dear Mr. Shorter,

I’m writing on behalf of PETA to request that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Office of Administrative Law Judges (OALJ) resume promptly posting decisions from its Animal Welfare Act (AWA) adjudications online at https://www.oaljdecisions.dm.usda.gov, as required by law. Until recently, the OALJ routinely posted such decisions within a couple of weeks of issuance. Recently, however, the postings have slowed to a torpid pace: The office is now taking months to post these records. Indeed, the most recent AWA decision available on the website is from May 18x—more than two months ago.

The failure to post these decisions promptly deprives PETA and the public of timely access to information as required by the 1996 amendments to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Those amendments—which were enacted to address agency delays in making records available—require that agencies proactively and within a reasonable timeframe post certain records online, including, specifically, “final opinions, including concurring and dissenting opinions, as well as orders, made in the adjudication of cases.” 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(2)(A); accord 7 C.F.R. § 1.4(a)(1); see also id. § 1.23 (“Records in formal adjudication proceedings . . . and shall be made available to the public.”). Even when the USDA took down records from its website pertaining to its enforcement of the AWA this past February, it stressed that enforcement records would continue to be made available on the OALJ website.

The failure to provide timely access to these records violates the FOIA’s strong aversion to “secret law”—i.e., it deprives the public of a body of final decisions that reflect the manner in which the agency is implementing the AWA. See NLRB v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 421 U.S. 132, 153 (1975). This violation of the affirmative-disclosure requirements also harms PETA’s efforts to advocate on behalf of animals who are covered by the AWA.

May I please hear from you by the end of the day on Friday, July 28, that the OALJ will resume posting these decisions within a reasonable timeframe and with a date by which prompt posting will resume?

Thank you for your prompt attention to this important matter.

Very truly yours,

Delcianna J. Winders, Esq.

Vice President and Deputy General Counsel

Captive Animal Law Enforcement

PETA Foundation

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“Almost all of us grew up eating meat, wearing leather, and going to circuses and zoos. We never considered the impact of these actions on the animals involved. For whatever reason, you are now asking the question: Why should animals have rights?” READ MORE

— Ingrid E. Newkirk, PETA President and co-author of Animalkind