Friday, June 25, 2010

OIA performance stats: First responses

Over the past couple of months I've been running a little project aimed at learning how government agencies track OIA requests, with the ultimate goal of generating performance statistics to allow non-compliant departments and Ministers to be publicly named and shamed for their failure to obey the law. The first round of responses is back, and have yielded some interesting information: almost all agencies and Ministerial offices track, usually electronically. But hardly anyone bothers to monitor their performance. When its so trivial to get a database or spreadsheet to automatically report, this can only be deliberate blindness to what should be a key performance indicator across the public service.

Unlike the Canadian practice, most agencies don't have the inbuilt capacity to mark requests as politically sensitive to differentiate their handling. Neither do they differentiate them by requestor type - e.g. media, political, academic, random citizen. In Canada, these practices led to significant differences in handling times, in gross violation of the law. The absence of this practice in New Zealand is reassuring.

(An exception to this is Corrections, who do tag things as "sensitive". I'll be exploring what that means, and whether it leads to delays, in future).

What's disturbing is that some agencies don't keep proper records. The police, for example, have no centralised system for tracking OIAs (which probably explains why they "lose" them so often). Instead, its handled at the district level - and at least one of those districts doesn't keep any records whatsoever. They apparently have a system in the works to enable centralised tracking, but it'll probably go the way of all large software projects and fail. As for Ministers, David Carter's office keeps no records, while Chris Finlayson's uses an archaic system involving compressed wood-pulp and sticks of graphite (yes, paper. How quaint). And Tony Ryall's staff are just incompetent.

Unfortunately, not everyone responded within the statutory 20-day timeframe, even allowing a few extra days for postage. Departments were generally good about this - the only one which hasn't responded yet is Te Puni KĊkiri. Ministers are a different story, with 5 of 28 being non-responsive. These are:

  • Gerry Brownlee
  • Pita Sharples
  • Tariana Turia
  • Peter Dunne
  • Phil Heatley

These slacktards need to get their act together. Compliance with the OIA is not optional, but a core duty of Ministers. And hopefully we'll soon have the performance data to make them comply.