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Breaking Through Bureaucracy: Evaluating Government Responsiveness to Information Requests in New York City

Breaking Through Bureaucracy: Evaluating Government Responsiveness to Information Requests in New York City

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Published by Gotham Gazette
Bill de Blasio on NYC's responsiveness to FOIL requests.
Bill de Blasio on NYC's responsiveness to FOIL requests.

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Published by: Gotham Gazette on Apr 24, 2013
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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09/30/2013

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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY 
New York’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) enables effective oversight of government, prevents waste
and corruption, and bolsters public confidence in
institutions. This report represents New York City’s first
-ever comprehensive look at government responsiveness to public information requests. It evaluates thespeed of response, whether responses were delivered at all, and the ease with which FOIL requests can befiled at 38 City agencies. The result is a FOIL Report Card that grades agencies and provides a benchmarkfor improvement.The Report Card demonstrates deep inconsistency across City agencies
with some meeting most of their legal obligations, while other agencies neglect them completely. The 18 agencies that received more than100 FOIL requests were awarded the following grades for their performance:
GradeGradeGrade
 A 
 
B
 
 
 
2
GradeGrade
In analyzing the 10,000 FOIL requests used as a basis for the Report Card, the Public Advocate identifiedseveral key areas where agencies were neglecting their responsibilities under the law:
 
The process for submitting FOIL requests to City agencies and tracking their status is inconsistent andcan be extremely challenging for the public to navigate.
40% of City agencies lack information ontheir website about where to direct FOIL requests.
Neither 311 n
or the City’s Green Book
providethis information.
 
 
For the three months of FOIL data analyzed, nearly 1,000 individuals or groups had not received anapproval or denial determination after more than six months of waiting
 –
that represents
one-in-tenrequests that were either ignored or fell through the cracks
. While these non-responses representde facto denials, the lack of firm response impedes the appeal process and legal action.
 
When City agencies responded to FOIL requests,
response times varied dramatically by agency
.Only 7% of requests to the Department of Education received a response within 30 days, whereas 86%of requests to the Department of Transportation (who received eight times more requests) received aresponse within 30 days.
To help improve the City’s responsiveness to information requests, Public Ad
vocate de Blasio has putforward the following recommendations:
1.
 
Strengthen the City’s oversight of FOIL responsiveness
by adopting legislation to require monthlyreporting to the City Council and Public Advocate on the status of all FOIL requests, as well as annualreporting to the public
in the Mayor’s Management Report.
2.
 
Speed requests for the most commonly-sought information
and reduce FOIL officer workload byposting minutes, public schedules and license data online for easy access. Record Access Officers at
 D
 
 F 
 

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