New York City public advocate Bill de Blasio thinks they are, at least to some extent. The advocate’s office announced yesterday that it was launching an investigation into the amount of time it takes NYC agencies to answer Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests.

At the Empire Center, on behalf of our transparency website SeeThroughNY, we’ve been FOILing public records on a regular basis for more than 3 years — in fact we’ve literally filed thousands of them.

FOIL responses are like a mixed bag of nuts – you don’t know what you’ll get.

The Results are a mixed bag of nuts.

Many agencies hit, or at least try to hit, the deadlines and parameters laid out in FOIL, while others appear to completely ignore them. It takes the New York City Office of Payroll Administration considerably longer to provide us with the City’s payroll than it does for the state comptroller’s office to provide us the state payroll (on average — about 9 months vs. 1 month).

These inconsistencies led us to take a long, close look at FOIL, and we made some suggestions in our SeeThrough Government Transparency Act earlier this year. The Act clarifies and updates timelines for FOIL requests and makes clearer penalties for violations of such. It also calls for a policy of proactive disclosure of public information on the Internet, something that would clear up many FOIL related headaches.

Referencing the oft long wait for a response to a FOIL, de Blasio said:

…the bottom line here is: This is not an optional matter, and we have to stop letting people [agencies] get away with it.

Here, here.

About the Author

Tim Hoefer

Tim Hoefer is president & CEO of the Empire Center for Public Policy.

Read more by Tim Hoefer

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