Shortly after becoming governor last year, Kathy Hochul directed state agencies under her control to adopt plans that would promote greater transparency.
In response to this mandate, agencies submitted plans outlining what they were currently doing to distribute public information and how they could amp up their efforts, with many entities pledging to proactively disclose more information and reform how they respond to records requests. Advocates for more government transparency said the plans represented a “good first step” and in some cases would just bring the state agencies in line with what state law already required them to do.
But how is the implementation of these plans going? For a snapshot of the progress after more than half a year, we picked out a handful of state entities and asked them about some of their goals. Here’s what we found out.
Division of Budget
GOAL: Create a landing page for all the entities the DOB director serves on.
GOAL: “Post on its website a listing of recently completed FOIL requests.”
PROGRESS: There is a historical FOIL log covering 2017 – 2021.
Department of Tax & Finance
GOAL: Create a web applications with public tax warrants.
PROGRESS: Tax warrants became searchable in February.
GOAL: “Improve the timeliness of FOIL responses.”
PROGRESS: By making public information, like tax warrants, more readily available online, the department believes their response time has improved “in theory.” As more New Yorkers, including reporters, get used to finding information on the website, instead of submitting records requests, the department anticipates a noticeable improvement in the timeliness of FOIL responses.
GOAL: “DTF will update, revise and rebrand the public information section of its website into a new Data Portal.”
PROGRESS: A department spokesman said this effort is still underway, but they do have a handy dandy data portal, rewrote some of their content to make it clearer for the public, consolidated the main components of their transparency initiatives and took other steps.
Office of Information Technology Services
GOAL: Proactively “posting various procurement documents on its website.”
PROGRESS: “Since the adoption of the Transparency Plan, ITS has publicly posted all procurement contracts released through FOIL in 2021. In 2022 we have continued to publicly post all procurement contracts as they are released through FOIL and will continue to do so on a rolling basis. ITS has also posted blueprints for technology initiatives and certain policies related to vendors. ITS also plans to begin posting bid and contract award results for IFBs and RFPs on the ITS website. We anticipate the first set of results should be posted later this summer.”
GOAL: Hire an additional resource for the FOIL team and decrease FOIL response time.
PROGRESS: “ITS has hired an additional staff attorney to assist in processing FOIL requests and we are in the process of hiring a new associate level attorney to direct the FOIL program. Response time has decreased significantly since last Fall. FOIL requests that are not responded to immediately upon receipt, are generally responded to within 24 hours. All FOIL requests for 2022 have been responded to in a timely manner and fulfilled. At this time, there are no backlogged requests and no appeals.”
Department of Environmental Conservation
GOAL: “Proactively posting frequently requested information or completed requests online.”
PROGRESS: The department has added more information to its DECinfo Locator tool and continues to add information on areas of interest, such as decisions about Norlite and the Poestenkill Assessment Area. In terms of records requests, the department is still exploring “posting completed requests online,” although many requests are for information already available online, according to a spokesperson.