Governor Baker, increasing transparency and access to public records

Gov. Baker plans to improve process for public record requests

 07/24/2015 BOSTON, MA Governor Charlie Baker (cq) discussed Olympic concerns during a press conference held at the State House (cq). (Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe)

Gov. Charlie Baker introduced new procedures for public records requests Thursday.

Aram Boghosian / Boston Globe

Massachusetts is notoriously bad with public records requests.

Earlier this year, the state police won the “The Golden Padlock Award,” which recognized the agency for its efforts to thwart public records requests.

But Gov. Charlie Baker announced new procedures for his administration on Thursday with the goal of increasing transparency and streamlining the administration’s responses to these requests.

The aim is “to comply with and exceed the requirements” of the state’s current public records law, according to a press release from Baker’s office, while reducing delays and costs for those who request public records.

“These new measures reduce costs and make the public records request process more uniform and timely, increasing government’s public accountability, openness and transparency,” Baker said in a statement.

The changes in procedure include designating a Records Access Officer, or “RAO,” for secretariats and agencies, who would be responsible for receiving, coordinating, and tracking requests. The RAO’s contact information will be posted on the agency’s website.

Once a request is put in, the RAO will notify the “requester” within five days if the records will take more than $10 and/or more than 10 days to produce, according to the press release. Current law gives record-keepers 10 days just to respond to a request.

Costs will also be standardized under Baker’s direction, a change that is also proposed in a bill introduced earlier this year to improve the state’s public records.

The complete changes will be put in place in “the coming weeks,” according to the press release.

How the Boston skyline has changed:

Governor Baker Introduces New Procedures for Public Records Requests

Guidance aims to increase transparency by reducing costs, streamlining responsiveness

BOSTON – Governor Charlie Baker today announced for the first time administration-wide measures to improve transparency and public access to government records and information, including a reduced and streamlined fee structure and more efficient communications and responses to requesters. The new procedures announced today and outlined in a memo to Cabinet Secretaries will be implemented over the coming weeks.“We are proud to undertake this important step towards increasing the public’s access to information and shedding further light on the government that their tax dollars fund,” said Governor Baker. “These new measures reduce costs and make the public records request process more uniform and timely, increasing government’s public accountability, openness and transparency.”The procedures being implemented by the Baker-Polito Administration in accordance with best practices from around the nation, seek to comply with and exceed the requirements under the existing public records law to more diligently respond to the number of public records requests while reducing delays and costs to requesters and continuing to protect the personal information of taxpayers and service users.

MassIT is additionally in the process of implementing over the next year, e-mail search capabilities for Executive Branch agencies to ease the fulfilling of broad based email searches.

Improving Government Transparency:

  • Secretariats and agencies will designate a Records Access Officer (RAO) to receive and coordinate requests and establish an internal tracking system to ensure compliance with the administration’s public records policy and existing law. RAO’s contact information will be posted on an agency’s website along with helpful instructions for submitting public records requests.
  • To improve communications with the public, secretariats and agencies through their RAO will notify a requester within 5 days if the records they are seeking may take more than 10 days and/or $10 to produce. Requests should be fulfilled in no more than eight weeks, with any extension being explained to a requester in writing.
  • Secretariats and agencies will regularly make available frequently requested information and/or records on their website and provide information as able, in electronic, searchable formats.
  • The administration will waive search and retrieval fees for standard public records requests, provide at no cost the first 4 hours of work required for more complex requests, and charge no more than $25 per hour for additional time required and notify the requester of those costs in advance.
  • The administration will implement standardized production costs in response to public records requests, and in the interest of cost savings and environmental purposes, fulfill requests electronically as able.
    • Electronic Copies: No charge for duplication*
    • 1-4 precisely defined documents: No charge**
    • Black and White Hard Copies: 10 cents per page for single- and double-sided copies.
    • Color Hard Copies: 50 cents per page

*Costs for discs, thumb-drives or other storage devices necessary to transmit requested documents still apply.

**To be provided within 3-9 days of receipt of the request

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