According to Robert Freeman the head of the New York State Committee on Open Government, one of the most common reason government officials make it difficult to obtain information is that they do not want to be embarrassed.
I have filed several Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests and have experienced first hand how hard it can be to obtain information from government officials.
New York City Councilmembers Gale Brewer, Ben Kallos and James Vaccahave introduced legislation titled OpenFOIL in an effort to make FOIL requests more transparent. The legislation if adopted will:
– Establish an online portal for citizens to file requests for city government records under the state’s Freedom of Information Law
– Such requests will be tracked as far as the length of time taken to respond
– All information provided in response to a FOIL request will published on the portal for anyone to read.
The legislation is modeled after an online FOIL site created in Oakland California called RecordTrac. In April 2013 New York City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio conducted a two year study of FOIL requests made in New York City. De Blasio found that some agencies were better than others in responding to FOIL requests and that ten percent of requests were simply ignored.
As embarrassment seems to be a motivating factor to government officials, perhaps making their responsiveness to FOIL requests for everyone to see online can have a positive effect. Departments may also be able to save the time and expense involved in handling duplicate requests for information by making all responses available for interested members of the public to see.
What do you think about the New York City OpenFOIL legislation?