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PRA End of the Year Survey: demand for government transparency increases number of records requests

Brenda Dodd
Jan 22, 2020 12:01:00 AM

In FY 2018, the federal government overall received a record high 863,729 FOIA requests. This is a 5.6% increase of 45,458 requests from the previous records high of 818,271 requests received during FY 2017.[1] The final numbers are not yet known, but 2019 promises to break this new record again.

Our clients are mostly at the local, state and city governmental level. But in numerous talks and meetings I had over the last years, they too report that their records requests have more than tripled.

To validate this trend of increase and to explore the underlying factors, in December 2019 we conducted a short end-of-year survey. In this and the coming blogs, I will share the results and draw some careful conclusions.*

Almost one third of the participants see an increase in public disclosure requests

From their responses, we see a clear increase in the number of request in 2019.

542_PRA survey_Increase in nr of requests

Interestingly enough, we see a clear correlation between the number of requests received on an annual basis and the increase reported. Almost all of the agencies that receive more than 10 requests a year indicate they see that number clearly rising. Organizations that receive more than a thousand requests yearly, all report an increase.

544_PRA survey_nr of requests plus increase

Drivers for growth

When we talk with our clients about open government, it becomes clear that Americans want to know more about their government than ever before. Increasing interest in government transparency is an important driver according to the participants of our survey.

Other drivers cited, are new legislation and specific new amendments like the SB 1421 in California giving the public the right to access three categories of records related to investigation and discipline of peace officers.

547_PRA survey_reasons for growht

The increase in the number of requests received last year seems to have little relating effect on the reasons named for this growth.

545_PRA survey_nr of requests plus reasons

From the agencies that receive more than 500 requests per year, 30% indicate, “people are more interested in government transparency’ and “citizens are more aware of their rights’ as drivers for the growth in received requests.

As for the organizations receiving less than 500 requests per year, more than half (53%) believe that government transparency is an important driver. Only 22% believe that citizens nowadays are more aware of their rights, causing the increase.

If you want to receive more stats, you can download an infographic with all survey results. You can also contact me to schedule a demo and I will show you how to respond to public disclosure requests in an efficient and timely manner.

In the next blog, we will discuss other reasons that are attributed to an increase in requests.

[1] Summary of Annual FOIA Reports for Fiscal Year 2018, Office of Information Policy, U.S. Department of Justice

* The outcome of this survey is provided for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as (legal) advice on any subject matter. ZyLAB expressly disclaims all liability in respect to actions taken or not taken based on any or all the outcomes of this survey.

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