Survey Results: COVID-19’s Impact on RTKL & Sunshine Act

Open records_logo stackedThe Office of Open Records recently conducted two surveys about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the administration of Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law (open records law) and Sunshine Act (open meetings law).

Some of the highlights were discussed yesterday at the OOR’s 2020 Annual Training, and here are the complete results:

Results from the COVID-19 Survey for AOROs (377 responses)
Results from the COVID-19 Survey for Requesters (26 responses)

Please note that approximately 40 executive agencies submitted a single joint response to the AORO survey, which the OOR thanks them for. Consequently, some of the results in that survey require deeper analysis to be considered truly representative.

Also note that due to the relatively small number of responses to the requester survey, it’s difficult (perhaps impossible) to draw any broad conclusions. However, I do believe some significant and useful information can be gleaned from reviewing those results.

Thank you to everyone who took the time to answer either of the surveys. We appreciate it.

OOR 2020 Annual Training – Complete Video

Open records_logo stackedThe Office of Open Records held its 2020 annual training yesterday via Zoom.

Most years, our Annual Training only includes voices from the OOR. This year, the training focused on the impact of COVID-19 on the administration of Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law and Sunshine Act and we were joined by several extremely smart and knowledgeable people from outside the OOR. The complete lineup included:

  • Erik Arneson, OOR Executive Director
  • Charles Rees Brown, Esq., OOR Chief Counsel
  • Nathanael Byerly, Esq., OOR Deputy Director
  • Scott Coburn, Esq., PA State Association of Township Supervisors
  • Thomas Howell, Esq., PA Office of General Counsel Deputy General Counsel
  • Delene Lantz, Esq., OOR General Counsel
  • Melissa Melewsky, Esq., PA NewsMedia Association Media Law Counsel
  • George Spiess, OOR Chief of Outreach and Training

The complete video of the OOR’s 2020 Annual Training is available on the OOR YouTube channel (and below).

The PowerPoint presentation used during the training is available here:

OOR Annual Training – Nov. 18, 2020 (PPTX)
OOR Annual Training – Nov. 18, 2020 (PPTX)

Information about other OOR training sessions, including upcoming webinars, can be found on the OOR’s Training Calendar.

OOR Conducting Surveys About the COVID-19 Pandemic

Open records_logo stackedThe Office of Open Records is conducting two surveys about the administration of the Right-to-Know Law and the Sunshine Act during the COVID-19 pandemic.

We would love to have your input.

If you are an Agency Open Records Officer (AORO), please complete this 34-question survey.

If you are a requester (e.g., member of the public, reporter, etc.), please complete this 25-question survey.

Each survey should take about 10 minutes. The deadline to complete the surveys is Monday, Nov. 16, 2020.

The survey results will be discussed at the OOR’s Annual Training on Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020, and will also be posted here on the Open Records in Pennsylvania blog. Note that all survey responses are records under the RTKL.

2020 AORO Survey Results

Earlier this year, the Office of Open Records conducted the fourth statewide survey of Agency Open Records Officers (AOROs), the people directly responsible for responding to Right-to-Know Law requests in Pennsylvania.

Some highlights from this year’s survey:

  • We received 1,433 responses from a wide variety of agency types. (Last year, we received 1,054 responses.)
  • Responses were received from agencies in all 67 of Pennsylvania’s counties.
  • Overall, the results were remarkably consistent with last year’s results.
  • Nearly 92% of agencies reported spending less than 5 hours per week responding to RTKL requests. (That includes 62.2% of agencies which spent less than 1 hour per week.)
  • The median number of requests received was 15; the average was 43.4.
  • The majority (53.2%) of requests were “general requests.” That was followed by commercial requests (31.2%), discovery and litigation requests (6.1%), academic research requests (5.4%), news media requests (3.2%), and inmate requests (1.0%).

This PDF contains additional detail about the 2020 Agency Open Records Officer Survey:

2020 AORO Survey Results – April 9, 2020 – PDF

And here’s the underlying data, exported into Excel files in the three ways Survey Monkey allows (all three are ZIP files):

2020_AORO_All_Summary_Data
2020_AORO_All_Responses_Data
2020_AORO_All_Individual_Responses

Thank you to all of the AOROs who took the time to answer this year’s survey. Your participation is extremely valuable.

2019 AORO Survey Data & Presentation

Earlier this afternoon, the Office of Open Records hosted a webinar about the 2019 Survey of Agency Open Records Officers (AOROs).

This is the third statewide survey of AOROs, the people directly responsible for responding to Right-to-Know Law requests.

Some highlights:

  • We received 1,054 survey responses from a wide variety of agency types.
  • Responses were received from agencies in all 67 of Pennsylvania’s counties.
  • More than 90% of agencies reported spending less than 5 hours per week responding to RTKL requests. (That includes 61.5% of agencies which spent less than 1 hour per week.)
  • The median number of requests received was 13.5; the average was 43.2.
  • 509 agencies reported receiving 12 or fewer requests.
  • 101 agencies reported receiving 100 or more requests.
  • The majority (51.2%) of requests were “general requests.” The next largest category was commercial requests (30.2%). News media requests were just 3.8% of the total.

Here’s the PowerPoint presentation I used for this session, which includes more data from the survey and related information:

AORO Survey Results Webinar – March 12, 2019 – PDF
AORO Survey Results Webinar – March 12, 2019 – PPTX

And here’s the underlying data, exported into Excel files in the three ways Survey Monkey allows (all three are ZIP files):

2019_AORO_All_Summary_Data
2019_AORO_All_Responses_Data
2019_AORO_All_Individual_Responses

The OOR regularly provides training on Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law and Sunshine Act. Our training calendar is available here, and we always welcome requests to provide training.

This is Sunshine Week 2019, and we’re hosting a series of webinars. I hope you can join us for some or all of them!

Podcast: Two RTKL Surveys

Podcast Logo CroppedThe fourth episode of the Open Records in Pennsylvania podcast is now available.

After a lengthy (far too lengthy) break, the podcast returns to discuss the results of two statewide surveys released earlier this year.

Links:
More about the OOR survey
More about the LBFC survey
Oct. 11, 2018, Requester Training
The Office of Open Records

Subscribe:
Open Records in Pennsylvania podcast on Apple Podcats / iTunes
Open Records in Pennsylvania podcast on Stitcher

To subscribe on other podcast apps, search for “Open Records in Pennsylvania” to find our feed.

Listen:

Download:
Episode 4 of the Open Records in Pennsylvania podcast

If you have ideas for future episodes of the podcast, I’d love to hear from you. Share your thoughts in the comments below, tweet to @ErikOpenRecords or @OpenRecordsPA, or send an email to openrecords (at) pa (dot) gov.

LBFC Report: Recommendations

Open records_logo stackedThe report released today by the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee entitled “Costs to Implement the Right-to-Know Law” includes eight recommendations, four for the General Assembly and four for the OOR.

I support all eight recommendations (one, as noted below, with some reservations). In more detail:

LBFC Recommendations for the General Assembly

Recommendation: Require agencies to provide AORO contact information to include name, telephone number, email address, and physical address to the OOR annually or whenever there is a change in the information.

Response: The OOR currently collects this information on a very informal basis. However, a statutory mandate for agencies to provide AORO contact information to the OOR, combined with technological improvements already in development (i.e., an online AORO database), would allow us to proceed in a far more efficient manner.

Recommendation: Require agencies to prominently post required RTKL information on their websites and specifically define AORO contact information to include the name, telephone number, email address, and physical address of the AORO.

Response: Like LBFC, the OOR has found that it can sometimes be difficult or impossible to locate AORO information on an agency website. In addition to supporting a new statutory requirement that the information be “prominently” posted, the OOR will continue to emphasize this as a best practice in our training.

Continue reading

LBFC Report: Highlights

Open records_logo stackedHere are highlights from the report released today by the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee entitled “Costs to Implement the Right-to-Know Law.”

The report found that “most of Pennsylvania’s state and local government agencies receive few RTKL requests, most of the requests are easily fulfilled at a relatively low cost, and only a small percentage of the requests are appealed.”

Annual Costs to Agencies

  • Almost 54 percent of agencies reported an annual cost of $500 or less to comply with the Right-to-Know Law (RTKL).
  • About 92 percent of agencies reported an annual cost of $10,000 or less.
  • The total cost of responding to RTKL requests by all agencies in 2016 is estimated at $5.7 million to $9.7 million. With more than 6,000 agencies across the state, that’s an average cost of just $950 to $1,617 per agency.

Continue reading

Opening Comments to the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee

Open records_logo stackedEarlier today, the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee released a report entitled “Costs to Implement the Right-to-Know Law.” The report was prepared pursuant to House Resolution 50 of the 2017-18 legislative session, sponsored by Rep. Kate Harper.

I was invited to address the committee prior to the report’s release. Here are my opening comments:

Thank you, Mister Chairman, members of the committee, executive director. I appreciate the opportunity to say a few words.

The Right-to-Know Law is for the people. It gives the public the ability to review the actions of their government and to hold those in power accountable for their actions.

The Right-to-Know Law – as demonstrated by this committee’s study, as demonstrated by the Office of Open Records’ own study, as demonstrated by countless stories from all across our great Commonwealth – is working.

The public has far more access to the transactions and activities of government than ever before. That is, indisputably, a good thing.

Some say the Right-to-Know Law is a burden on agencies.

Transparency is not a burden. Transparency breeds trust. And for those of us privileged to hold government positions, transparency is a duty. It is – or should be – as fundamental as anything an agency does.

This is not to say the Right-to-Know Law can’t be improved. It can.

We should restructure the fee schedule for commercial requests. We should eliminate and scale back some of the exceptions. And this report contains several excellent recommendations. I look forward to working with members of this committee and others in the General Assembly on legislation to make improvements.

But the fundamental truth – a truth confirmed by the data in this report – is that the Right-to-Know Law is working for the people, as intended, and it is working very well indeed.

Thank you. I’m happy to answer any questions.

First-Ever Survey of AOROs

Open records_logo stackedThe vast majority of government agencies in Pennsylvania — 87.4% — received 1 or fewer Right-to-Know (RTK) requests per week in 2016.

Similarly, 72.8% of agencies spent 1 hour or less per week (and 91.8% spent 5 hours or less) responding to RTK requests in 2016.

Those are some of the highlights from the first-ever statewide survey of Agency Open Records Officers (AOROs), the people responsible for responding to requests filed under Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law (RTKL). The survey was conducted by the Office of Open Records’ (OOR) in February 2017.

Nearly 1,300 AOROs responded, including Commonwealth agencies and local agencies of all types (i.e., municipalities, school districts, counties, police departments, charter schools, and more). We worked with numerous organizations and the Governor’s office to get as many responses as possible.

The OOR has always had good data on appeals filed under the RTKL (because the vast majority of appeals are filed with the OOR), but this survey was the first large-scale attempt to collect good data about the requests received by agencies.

(As a result of House Resolution 50, the Legislative Budget & Finance Committee has conducted a second statewide survey of AOROs. The OOR provided input to LBFC, and I expect that survey to provide additional insights.)

The OOR’s survey asked five substantive questions:

Continue reading