Public Advocate Bill de Blasio has proposed a new City law that will shed light on which agencies are wrongfully denying Freedom of Information requests. The Accountability in Information Requests (AIR) Act would require Mayoral agencies to report monthly to the Public Advocate and the City Council on how many FOIL requests they receive and grant, and provide an explanation for any denials or delays in responding. Regular reporting will allow for more rigorous oversight of any agency that routinely fails to comply with the Freedom of Information Law.
“We know that sunlight is a disinfectant. Public access to information ensures that taxpayer dollars are being used wisely and that government is working as it should,” said Public Advocate Bill de Blasio. “When City agencies wrongfully deny or delay Freedom of Information requests, it opens the door to waste and abuse. In the wake of costly scandals like CityTime, we need to make sure that these laws are being obeyed and enforced.”
“The first step toward creating a truly transparent government is knowing when the government is asked to be transparent,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, which has repeatedly been forced to sue New York City for access to basic public information. “Without this bill, it’s impossible to know how well or how poorly the government is providing its citizens with the information we are entitled to. This is a good first step toward a more responsible, open and accountable government.”
Public Advocate de Blasio has encountered repeated instances of City agencies denying or indefinitely postponing requests for information that should be made public. For example, a FOIL request sent by the Public Advocate to the Department of Education in November 2010 seeking basic information on school bus delays and performance has been delayed for nearly a year without adequate explanation.
Under the New York City Charter, the Public Advocate is empowered to oversee the “responsiveness of City agencies to individual and group requests for data or information.” To jumpstart the reporting process, Public Advocate de Blasio has sent letters to all Mayoral agencies as well as the Department of Education and the NYC Housing Authority, calling on them to report on FOIL activity for the first three months of 2011.
The Public Advocate is also calling on New Yorkers to share their experiences requesting information from City agencies. To submit your story, complete the form on the right side of this page.