Ithaca Journal: 52 of 86 NY State Agencies Fail Basic FOIL Requirement

March 19, 2014

Reinvent Albany frequently blogs about how state agencies struggle to comply with the Freedom of Information Law, and often fail to respond to requests in a timely fashion. We’ve also noted how ironic it is that the FOIL process itself is not transparent.

Now, the Ithaca Journal-Gannett has found that 52 of the 86 state agencies they surveyed did not post a “subject matter list” on their websites. These are the lists of agency records subject to disclosure under FOIL, and are supposed to be updated annually and put online.

Russ Haven of NYPIRG told the Journal that “without the lists, members of the public may not even know certain documents or government databases exist, and would never request them.”

The Journal inspected compliance with a very straightforward section of the Freedom of Information  Law, which requires agencies maintain a list of records subject to FOIL. The law specifically says:

• Each agency “shall maintain … a reasonably detailed current list by subject matter, of all records in the possession of the agency.”
• “Each agency shall update its subject matter list annually, and the date of the most recent update shall be conspicuously indicated on the list.”
• “Each state agency … that maintains a website shall post its current list on its website.”

When the Journal later filed FOIL requests for the subject matter lists of all 86 agencies:

Some agencies provided incorrect information about the size of the records, and asked for hundreds of dollars in fees before granting access to them.

In response to FOIL requests for their subject matter lists, the state Division of Parole and state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision both said their lists were 1,600 pages long and asked for $400 checks for copies.

After the public information office for both agencies was notified, two lists — totaling 139 pages — were immediately posted online. Linda Foglia, a spokeswoman for the two agencies, declined to comment on the fees.