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FOIA Update: FOIA Focus: William Edward Bordley

FOIA Update
Vol. XIII, No. 3

FOIA Focus: William Edward Bordley

In meeting the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act, federal departments and agencies maintain sizable staffs to handle the administration of the Act. As a result, large numbers of federal employees with a broad diversity of backgrounds have become specialists in this field. In many instances, someone becomes involved in FOIA work at an agency only indirectly or by happenstance and then develops the skills and experience in FOIA matters that are essential to the Act's sound administration. FOIA expertise can be found in a diverse spectrum of agency personnel.

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"I have been doing FOIA work for more than five years and I still enjoy it," says William Edward Bordley, an attorney in the Litigation Unit of the Drug Enforcement Administration's FOIA Section. "You don't come out of law school thinking that you want to do FOIA work. It might not seem glamorous, but I've come to realize how important it can be."

As the attorney-advisor for DEA's FOIA Litigation Unit, Bordley advises the 33 analysts in the FOIA Section's Operations Unit, who are responsible for the initial review of DEA documents, on the use of the FOIA's exemptions and its proper procedures.

The FOIA Litigation Unit at DEA is comprised of a chief, an attorney-advisor, a litigation assistant, a document analyst and two secretaries. Of the nearly 2500 FOIA requests received by DEA every year, approximately 150 are appealed, and of those roughly 50 will proceed to litigation. Many requesters are prisoners seeking information about their own DEA files. Some DEA requests come from members of the media or from academic researchers.

"Working for a law enforcement agency," Bordley observes, "I have to bear in mind two competing interests. The first is the public's legitimate interest in learning of agency activities. Congress has said we should have an open government. On the other hand, there is a genuine need for law enforcement agencies to protect their ongoing investigations, their informants and their undercover agents. Resolving this conflict sometimes is difficult. It makes my job both challenging and rewarding."

Appeals of denials of access to DEA records are adjudicated by the Justice Department's Office of Information and Privacy. Bordley works with OIP when questions arise about FOIA interpretations. Then, if a DEA request proceeds to litigation, he serves as DEA's contact person with the U.S. Attorney's Office. He prepares litigation reports, Vaughn declarations and sometimes litigation briefs defending DEA's FOIA actions.

Bordley, who is blind, notes that because FOIA work is by its very nature quite document-intensive, it can be a difficult area of the law for a nonsighted person. But he works extremely well with a reader and with the people around him to gain a quick understanding of the information that he deals with every day.

In fact, Bordley has developed such a firm grasp of DEA's records and their relation to FOIA exemptions that he is able to provide very sound legal advice to DEA's FOIA processors on matters of both FOIA interpretation and administration. He also is particularly adept at working with a word processor, with which he efficiently produces many of DEA's Vaughn declarations.

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Bordley grew up in Dover, Delaware. He received a B.A. in Romance Languages from Harvard University in 1979 and a J.D. from Harvard Law School in 1982. After graduation, he clerked briefly for a federal judge in Massachusetts and then joined the library staff of the Justice Department in Washington, D.C., where he managed its Sensory Assistance Center, a training and research unit for blind attorneys throughout the federal government. He also tested voice synthesizers and computer equipment for the visually impaired.

In 1986, Bordley went to DEA on a detail to work in the area of drug-use deterrence. After some FOIA involvement, though, he transferred to a position as an attorney-advisor in DEA's FOIA Section and his responsibilities have grown ever since. He now regularly works on policy issues, serves as an instructor in FOIA-training programs and has become DEA's Privacy Act Coordinator.

"I enjoy litigation and policy development," Bordley says. "I could do FOIA work for five more years and the nuances would still be interesting. I'm just beginning to fully understand the interface of the FOIA and the Privacy Act. After all," he concludes, "Congress probably hasn't yet finished its work with either of these two laws."

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Updated August 13, 2014