Op-Ed: In Arkansas, transparency should be proactive with data

The Arkansas Attorney General’s website states that “the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is one of the most comprehensive and strongest open-records and open-meetings laws in the country.” Let’s keep it that way. On April 11, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported that the Arkansas FOIA Task Force voted to have fewer exemptions and no time extensions on FOIA reporting requirements. It is now up to the Arkansas Legislature to ensure that public information is easily accessible.

Why are strong freedom of information laws important? A 2014 study by Adriana Cordis and Patrick Warren published in the Journal of Public Economics shows that strong FOIA laws are a key component in the reduction of corruption. Initially, FOIA laws cause the number of corruption convictions of federal officials to increase. As time passes, that number declines–a strong indication that FOIA is a useful tool for investigative reporters and individuals to detect corruption. FOIA also deters future public officials from engaging in corrupt practices.

FOIA compliance can be costly for governments in some instances, but providing information to citizens is a duty of elected officials. A rational FOIA policy considers both costs and benefits.

Instead of being reactive by responding to individual FOIA requests as they occur, public officials can be proactive in the provision of information to their citizens. Proactively providing information reduces the number of requests and, therefore, the costs associated with fulfilling those requests. In Utah, for example, a 2013 report by U.S. PIRG Education Fund states that the state Office of Education and the Utah Tax Commission save about $15,000 a year by being proactive in publishing public information. (Read more…)