Good Job, Assembly! Now Senate Must Boost Transparency, Pass FOIL Reporting Bill

Kudos to Assembly for Passing FOIL Reporting Bill
Senate must now pass bill requiring agencies to disclose number of FOIL requests

Reinvent Albany thanks the State Assembly for passing A9621-A (McDonald) / S8671-A (Hoylman-Sigal), which requires state and local agencies to submit Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) logs or caseloads to the Committee on Open Government. We urge the Senate to pass this fundamental transparency legislation before the end of session. 

The FOIL reporting bill is one of a package of four FOIL bills supported by more than 30 groups in a letter to the Governor and legislative leaders sent during Sunshine Week. Editorial boards across the state strongly support the FOIL reporting bill and the other bills in the package.

Reinvent Albany’s report from last week, Opening New York 2024: Rating 66 State Agency Transparency Plans, found that only six of the 66 state agencies publishing 2024 transparency plans reported data about their FOIL caseloads, down from 22 in 2021. 

The FOIL reporting bill requires all state agencies to report the same FOIL metrics to the Committee on Open Government (COOG), including: requests received, response times, backlogs, etc. This is important because for the first time the public, Governor, and Legislature will be able to see apples to apples comparisons showing how well state agencies are responding to FOIL. Local agencies will be required to report the number of FOILs received and closed, with COOG providing recommendations on expanding this reporting.

Currently, the public must literally FOIL the agency FOIL logs to assess how well agencies are complying with this most basic, 50-year-old transparency mandate. Reinvent Albany did exactly this in our March 2024 report, Listening to FOIL, which found massive problems. 

Public records request reporting is currently done for federal agencies via the Department of Justice, and for a limited number of state and local agencies in Washington State.

We urge the Senate to pass the bill, and the Governor to sign it.

A joint memo of support for the bill is below.

S8671-A (Hoylman-Sigal) / A9621-A (McDonald)
Requires agencies to submit FOIL logs to Committee on Open Government
May 24, 2024

An act to amend the public officers law, in relation to requiring agencies to report information about FOIL inquiries to the committee on open government.

Section 1 renumbers Public Officers Law (POL) §90 as §90-a, and adds a new POL §90 requiring all state agencies to submit to the Committee on Open Government (COOG) their logs of Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests. The logs shall:

  • Cover all requests received or pending within a 12-month range;
  • Be submitted on a schedule determined by COOG;
  • Be in a machine-readable, tabular format;
  • Be submitted in a method determined by COOG;
  • Include, at a minimum, the following:
    • The requestor’s name
    • The requestor’s affiliation
    • The date the request was received
    • The date the agency acknowledged the request
    • The date of the agency’s stated expected response time
    • The number of extensions of time to respond to date
    • The date of the final response or closure of the request
    • Whether the request was granted or denied in part or in full
    • A list of exemptions cited as part of any denial
    • If denied, whether the agency determined there were no such records
    • The date an appeal of the final response was filed or whether one was not filed
    • The result of the appeal
    • Exemptions cited in any appeal’s denial
    • The dollar amount of fees collected from requestors;
    • How many documents were produced
    • How many pages were produced
    • Whether there were any redactions
    • Whether the request received an Article 78 proceeding, and if so, the status and/or result.
  • Logs shall also be published on the  agency’s website, if it has one.

Paragraph 2 provides that local municipal agencies shall annually submit to COOG the number of FOIL requests received, and the number closed.

Paragraph 3 provides that by January 1st of each year, COOG must publish on a single webpage all agency FOIL logs it has received in a machine-readable format such as a CSV, in addition to any other format allowed. COOG will transmit the logs to the state open data portal for publishing online in an open data format.

Paragraph 4 provides that COOG shall include a summary of logs received in its annual report, including total number of logs received, and is authorized to further analyze the data in the logs.

Paragraph 5 provides that by January 1, 2027, COOG shall provide a report on the benefits and feasibility of local agencies submitting request logs to the committee. COOG will publish the report on its website and submit copies to the Governor, Senate President, Assembly Speaker, and Local Government and Government Operations committee chairs in the Senate and Assembly.Section 2 provides that the bill takes effect 90 days after being signed.

Our groups support this legislation because we believe it will help the public and government better understand how FOIL is working in New York and what steps are necessary to improve it.

It is impossible to assess the state of NYS FOIL because agencies are not required to publicly report basic information about how they deal with the FOIL requests they are receiving. The public must literally FOIL the agency FOIL logs to analyze the state of FOIL.

This bill requires agencies to annually report FOIL data such as when each request was received, how it was resolved, and more to the Committee on Open Government. Publishing this data will show legislators and the public which agencies are complying with FOIL and which are shirking it. Access to this data is essential to keep implementation of our state’s core transparency law – FOIL – transparent. If our systems of transparency are themselves opaque, they are unlikely to be effective.

We urge the Senate to pass the bill, and the Governor to sign it.