Tuesday, August 15, 2017

"As soon as reasonably practicable"

The Official Information Act requires agencies to decide on requests "as soon as reasonably practicable, and in any case not later than 20 working days after the day on which the request is received". But over the decades that the Act has been operating, it has become clear that agencies systematically ignore the first part of that clause, and instead focus on the latter, setting a 20-day target for response. Note that that's a 20-day target, not a within 20 day target. In my experience requests tend to arrive on the last possible day (or later), especially when they are politically controversial.

And now there's proof. OIA user Mark Hanna gathered data on timeliness from his requests on FYI. Sadly, the results confirm widespread misbehaviour by agencies:

That spike at close-of-business on the due date is telling. Some agencies at least really are dragging things out as long as possible, leaving it till the last possible minute to respond. This violates both the purpose of the Act, and the letter of the law.

This is a small data-set, but it clearly points to a problem. The good news is that FYI's database of more than 6000 requests is public, which means we can use it to get some serious data on this. This will both tell us how widespread the problem is, and which agencies are in need of a visit by the Ombudsman with fire and sword.