With governments focused on tighter security measures surrounding sensitive data, now is an opportune time to adopt reforms that also remove obstacles to open public records and improve access.
Updating open government laws, reforming policies and practices can yield numerous benefits — economic and political — and free resources to focus on malicious cyberattacks and ongoing data security.
State and local governments face a real threat from hackers infiltrating government IT systems and accessing personal and sensitive information. State CIOs, once again, identified security as their top priority in the National Association of State Chief Information Officers’ Top Ten list for 2019.
However, government has an obligation to provide ongoing access to public records that is distinct from its responsibility to prevent illegal access to private information.
The best way to enact reforms is for government to take a holistic approach to the way public institutions manage transparency and public records. With better legislation and administrative guidelines, agencies can vastly improve access to public records and meet the growing challenge of digital public records as they are created. Here are four ways to make government more open:
1. Disclose proactively
This is the act of releasing information before it is requested (or shortly after it is). Public records such as meeting minutes, reports, schedules and data sets can be posted to an agency’s web site or centralized in a designated online public records repository. The source can be a government server or one managed by an external third party through cloud services, as cited in the NASCIO survey to address growing data storage.
2. Improve training and education
Time is money. So are costs associated with litigation which, unfortunately, is sometimes the result of poor FOI administration. Better and ongoing training and education of employees can increase agency efficiency and lower admin costs.
3. Adopt professional standards and best practices
Fulfilling open records requests is a daily task. However, most agencies treat public records requests as a distraction or an “add-on” to their programs and services. Developing behaviors to increase proficiency and decrease expenses can be replicated in other agencies, such as tracking time and costs to process requests and maintaining a log of agency responses.
4. Change the culture
Advance an internal mindset that addresses open records fulfillment as a public service responsibility, not a distraction. Quantify it as a line item on the budget. After all, it is the law.
Viewing their role as a steward and facilitator, government agencies can secure public information without restricting it. This can create both financial and political benefits by increasing responsiveness, accountability and trust while focusing more resources on securing protected information.