Monday, August 02, 2010

OIA performance stats: Standards II

On Friday I posted some thoughts about the level of performance we should be demanding from government departments and Ministers in their handling of Official Information Act requests. In that post, I suggested hoisting Ministers by their own petard and applying the same standard to them as they apply to their departments. I've since had some second thoughts. The reason? The OIA has been law since 1982. And after 28 years, there is no excuse for non-compliance. As one correspondent put it,

Requests should not be misplaced, extensions should not be forgotten and others should have delegated authority to sign out in the event that the person is away when needed. Anything else is wilful systems failure.
And they're right. Agencies have had more than enough time to get this right, to find the best ways of meeting their obligations and implement them. If they haven't, after all this time, it is not because they do not know how, but because they do not want to. There are several agencies with perfect or near-perfect records, who hardly ever have a late request, and whose response times are less than ten days, rather than the statutory twenty. If other agencies are not following their practices, it is a case of the low priority they put on obeying the law.

How much difference would the higher standard make? Sadly, not much - my almost-complete results show that failure to obey the OIA is pervasive throughout the government and state sector. And not just small failure, the 5% friction I was willing to ignore, but massive, gross, systemic failure, led by Ministers and mirrored throughout the public service. The average on-time rate for all Ministers so far is only 70%, for government departments 88%. And after 28 years, neither is good enough.