FOIA: Cuba project proposals

First FOIA request

Freedom of Information Act requests for proposals to do USAID and State Department democracy work in Cuba are below.

FOIA letter 1: The State Department in March 2011 refused to release requested contract proposals. Appeal filed in March 2011. No response from the State Department.
FOIA letter 2: USAID denied FOIA request in July 2011. Appeal filed in August 2011. No response from USAID.
FOIA letter 3: USAID released heavily redacted project proposal in October 2011. Appeal filed in October 2011. No response from USAID.
FOIA letter 4: Request is being processed.

FOIA letter 1

Download letter 1
Date: Dec. 28, 2010 (sent by regular mail)

Documents requested: Applications filed in response to State Department Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor‘s June 2010 Request for Proposals.
What documents could show: Details about organizations that want to take part in a $3.65 million project aimed at expanding Cuban civic participation and leadership.
Government response: In a Jan. 20 letter, the State Department said it has begun processing the request. The letter, which I received on Jan. 24, said: “Unusual circumstances (including the number and location of Department components involved in responding to your request, the volume of records requested, etc.) may arise that would require additional time to process your request.”
State Department Case Control No.: F201100227
March 23 update: A State Department employee, Murray Zinoman, called me today about my Dec. 28 FOIA letter. He said the State Department does not release the applications that companies submit in response to Requests for Proposals. I asked for a written explanation of the State Department’s justification for a denial and said I plan to file an appeal. We then discussed the State Department’s contract with the company that was awarded the job. Zinoman said I’d need to send the State Department a letter – and the contract number – to request a copy of the contract. So I wrote the letter that Zinoman requested (download my March 24 letter).
None of this means I’ll necessarily see the full contract. Zinoman said the State Department will first contact the private contractor to ask what details in the letter should be redacted before it is released. I told Zinoman that I thought that was a redundant step since applications for these jobs tell contractors to note the information they wish to be private. So the State Department should already have the information that the contractors want to keep private.
Status: The State Department has not responded to my March 24 letter.

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FOIA letter 2

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Date: Dec. 30, 2010 (sent by email)

On the outskirts of Havana

Documents requested: Proposals submitted to USAID in response to the agency’s May 2008 solicitation connected to the Cuba Democracy and Contingency Planning Program.
What documents could show: Details about organizations that bid on USAID contract worth up to $30 million during the initial phase. Development Alternatives Inc., or DAI, won a piece of the contract – apparently $6 million, records show. The company later sought subcontractors, hiring Alan Gross, who was detained in Cuba in December 2009 and remains in custody.
Government response: In a Jan. 6 letter, USAID said my request is being processed. I received the Jan. 6 letter on Feb. 28. USAID blamed a typo for the delay.
USAID denied my request on July 27, 2011 (download the agency’s letter).
I appealed the denial on Aug. 10, 2011 (download my letter).
USAID FOIA Tracking No.: F-00079-11

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FOIA letter 3

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Date: March 13, 2011 (sent by email)

Calle Neptuno, Havana

Documents requested: Applications submitted to USAID in response to June 2010 Request for Applications for a civil society program entitled “Creating Networks and Empowering Communities (CNECT).”
What the documents could show: Details on organizations that sought participation in the program, aimed developing civil society groups, “especially those focused on promoting self-employment and entrepreneurial initiatives, and to pilot the establishment of Savings and Credit Groups among marginalized segments of the population.” Amount of funding available: up to $6 million, split between two organizations.
Government response: On March 24, Sylvia Lankford of USAID’s FOIA team emailed me a letter saying that FOIA specialist Kathleen Hearne had been assigned to my request. The March 23 letter said USAID planned to send letters to program applicants. “Section 1 of Executive Order 12600 requires that submitters of confidential commercial information be given the opportunity to address how the disclosure of information could reasonably be expected to cause competitive harm.”
On Oct. 13, I received a copy of the winning proposal linked to the “Creating Networks and Empowering Communities” project. Almost all of it was redacted. See details here and a copy of the redacted proposal here. On Oct. 31, I appealed USAID’s decision. See letter.
USAID FOIA Tracking No.: F-00145-11

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FOIA letter 4

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Date: March 13, 2011 (sent by regular mail)

Riding home

Documents requested: Applications submitted to the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor in response to the bureau’s September 2008 Request for Proposals to “support democratic civil society and human rights in Cuba.”
What the documents could show: Details about organizations that submitted applications. Up to $4.45 million in grants was up for grabs. Here’s a breakdown of how the money was to be spent:

  • $500,000 for political prisoners and their families.
  • $1.4 million for youth programs.
  • $1.4 million for international solidarity work
  • $500,000 for opinion polls.
  • $1 million for independent media and for “breaking the information blockade”

Government response: Karen G. Brothers of the State Department’s Requester Liaison Division said in an April 25 letter that the agency has begun processing my request. I received the letter on May 2.
State Department Case Control No.: F201102100.

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