New York: Many City Agencies Devote Skeleton Staff to Making Records Transparent

Transparency has been a touchy topic for Mayor de Blasio. A champion of open government while serving as public advocate, he has been less willing to let the sunlight into City Hall as mayor. While de Blasio in 2014 launched a “FOIL Tracker” to gauge city compliance with the state’s freedom of information law, and later created the Open Records mechanism for submitting and following FOIL requests, he has also been unusually stingy with police records under the 50-a clause, and recently lost a bid to keep secret the communications between mayoral staff and the outside consultants he deemed “agents of the city.”

It is true that a lot of government information is now online via OpenData NYC and individual agency websites; in other words, you don’t need to request that stuff via FOIL anymore. But in a city with an $89 billion budget — and 13 agencies that each spend more than a billion dollars a year—there’s a lot to keep tabs on that is not automatically placed online.

Yet in many agencies with headcounts into the tens of thousands, only a handful of people are dedicated to the task of complying with Freedom of Information Law requests. As the size of government increases and the city’s population swells, that leaves barely a skeleton crew in charge of moderating the flow of information from one to the other. Read more…