The National Archives Passes the Buck on Spanberger

By Scott R. Anderson, Benjamin Wittes
Thursday, November 1, 2018, 2:37 PM

Late on Friday, we received the first set of responsive documents to our “meta-FOIA request” regarding the release of congressional candidate—and former postal inspector and CIA officer—Abigail Spanberger’s unredacted SF-86 form. It came from the National Archives and Records Administration, whose National Personnel Records Center is reported to have initially received the Freedom of Information Act request from the conservative group America Rising. The personnel records center then claims to have forwarded Spanberger’s personnel record, including her SF-86, to her former employer, the U.S. Postal Service, for processing. USPS then made what it claims was a mistake in releasing the SF-86 form to America Rising unredacted.

The documents we received largely confirm the National Archives’ version of events. The most directly relevant portion—which the National Archives has also posted in its electronic reading room—shows America Rising’s original July 9, 2018, FOIA request and confirms reports that it included her Social Security number (which was, thankfully, redacted in the responsive documents). Subsequent processing documents appear to show that the National Archives received the request, processed it and handed it off to USPS on or about July 16. The reply that the National Archives provided to America Rising indicating that it had forwarded the file to USPS includes a note stating that FOIA “does allow certain information to be released without the written consent of the individual” but that it only identifies specific categories—such as “past and present positions” and “past and present agencies and locations”—that clearly do not encompass the entire SF-86.

Other documents provide useful context. A 2017 interagency agreement between the National Personnel Records Center and USPS spells out their respective responsibilities but does not specifically address the processing of FOIA requests. A 2019 interagency agreement, meanwhile, is included but entirely redacted, perhaps because it is still being finalized. The National Archives also included an Aug. 30, 2018, request from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee seeking similar information on Spanberger.

The remainder of the approximately 200 pages of documents that we received actually reflect the period after the story broke about Spanberger’s SF-86 and show how the National Archives reacted. They provide an interesting window into how public servants respond to congressional oversight and media inquiries when there is a high-profile incident. But for the purposes of determining what exactly happened with Spanberger’s SF-86, this material does little more than confirm that the National Archives’ account of events—that it passed Spanberger’s SF-86 to USPS for processing in line with standard operating procedures—has remained consistent from the outset.

And so the National Archives appears to have passed the buck on to USPS, from whom we still await a response. We will be sure to post the results when we hear back and to keep readers informed of other developments.

Here is the complete production from the National Archives and Records Administration: