Does New York’s Freedom of Information Law Work?

December 19, 2012

The Washington Post headline reads: Obama administration struggles to live up to its transparency promise, Post analysis shows. According to the story,

Media organizations and individuals requesting information under the FOIA last year were less likely to receive the material than in 2010 at 10 of the 15 Cabinet-level departments, according to a Washington Post analysis of annual reports of government agencies. The federal government was more likely last year than in 2010 to use the act’s exemptions to refuse information. And the government overall had a bigger backlog of requests at the end of 2011 than at the start, largely because of 30,000 more pending requests to the Department of Homeland Security.

In stark contrast, the NY Times cannot write the same story about the Cuomo administration — whether it’s warranted or not — because nobody knows how many Freedom of Information Law requests New York State agencies receive, how long they take to respond, and how many requests are refused. Unlike the federal Freedom of Information Act, New York State’s otherwise robust Freedom of Information Law does not require agencies to report (or even collect) any information on how many FOIL requests they process every year. The federal FOIA has required federal agencies to publish this information since 1996, but New York has yet to catch up to the federal law’s reporting requirement.

So back to the question at hand, does FOIL itself work in New York? Maybe, maybe not. Who can say? And how do they know?