Transparency News 10/31/19



October 31, 2019


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state & local news stories


This morning I'm happy to share two government initiatives aimed at providing a window for the public to peer into local government operations.

The first is a website launched by Frederick County on local transportation projects. Visitors to can scroll through current projects to see maps, photos, design plans and basic information on costs, contractors and county contact points. The county Planning and Development Department is responsible for the site, which is will surely answer many citizen questions as their community grows and develops.

The second is Fairfax County's second report on FOIA. This two-pager is jam-packed with factoids and statistics tracking the FOIA process in that county.

What's the average response time for a FOIA? 3 days. Which department gets the most requests? Law enforcement. What percentage of requesters are from the media? 1%.

Fairfax is an outlier in terms of population. It's nearly three times as large as the next biggest county and more than twice as big as the largest city. It is also a wealthy county. The county has resources and access to talent pools unmatched in the rest of the state.

But the basic facts of a FOIA transaction are universal and can be tracked by every locality and state agency, regardless of size or resources. Whether they're using an off-the-shelf FOIA tracking product or simply keeping up by using spreadsheets or file folders, the data is there.

This collated data is helpful to the public to see what he or she could expect when making a request. It dispels some myths -- on both sides of the counter -- while also, perhaps, displaying a practical picture of day-to-day government operations.

It's helpful to governments themselves, too. It's a public relations tool to demonstrate to the public how their service measures up. It can help FOIA officers when they approach other agencies with help in filling requests -- sort of like, "Hey, I need these records now so we can keep our average response time down!" And it can reveal choke points in a system that could benefit from tweaking existing processes or developing new ones.

So, rock on Frederick and Fairfax Counties. May others follow your lead.