For those using freedom of information laws in the United States, the race for records is almost always marathon: At the federal level, over the course of 9,166 requests, we’ve found an average wait time of 140 days — even though the law states records should be returned in just 20.
Most states are better, but not near where they should be: Massachusetts has an average response time of 80 days and California, you’ll wait 49 days, even though their respective laws require responses within 10 days.
Look up your state’s average response time here: It’s probably not much better.
ProPublica’s Justin Elliott recently detailed his two-year fight to get records from FEMA. We spoke with Jenifer McKim who shared how similar delays at the state level don’t just impede public oversight, but actually endanger children’s lives.
To make matters worse, documents released to the Freedom of the Press Foundation show the Department of Justice actively undermining needed reform.
But despite the challenges, the Freedom of Information Act and public records laws are worth fighting for. Over the past six years, MuckRock users alone have released 865,463 pages of previously secret documents to the public via these invaluable tools, and citizens across the country use public records every week to help make our government more accountable, more efficient, and more fair.
That’s a reason to celebrate this Sunshine Week! In Massachusetts, we’re having a free event Friday evening. If you’re in Washington, DC, the Office of Government and Information Services has a list of Sunshine Week events you can attend, while the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press has a list of events being held all across the country, including online events.
We’ll share the best ideas on making FOIA even stronger by its centennial. Until then, happy Sunshine Week!
Image by Pete Souza via Wikimedia Commons