JLARC’s Public Records Data Provides Insight into the True Cost of Public Records

In 2017, Washington State passed legislation requiring that agencies spending over $100,000 per year responding to PRRs report annually on 15 parameters giving insight into costs, response timeframes, number and type of requests, and other PRR-related measures. The body that receives, analyzes and reports on the metrics is the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee (JLARC) for the WA State Legislature.

As set out in Revised Code of Washington 44.28, JLARC is composed of 8 members each from both the State House and State Senate (total of 16), with no more than four members from each of group of eight representing a single political party. JLARC conducts performance audits, program evaluations, sunset reviews, and other analyses according to a biennial work plan; members are also selected biennally.

You’ll find a two-page “stakeholder’s guide” profiling JLARC and its work here.

GovQA has hundreds of Washington customers and supports them in the automated collection of the required JLARC metrics. This makes it easier for WA agencies to submit data to JLARC; but it also gives them important insights into the amount of resources they allocate to staffing, materials and time costs, and litigation. GovQA is committed to keeping these built-in JLARC reports updated as the Washington mandates change over time.

 

Data provides important insights into your processes and the costs of doing your important work.  GovQA is continuously collecting insights for our extensive client base of state, county and city agencies across the county.  Do you have data reporting requirements in your state or jurisdiction? GovQA can help your agency too.

GovQA’s ROI Calculators 

Return on Investment Calculations Supported by the state of Washington’s JLARC data

No matter what state you’re in, the GovQA ROI calculators can help you understand the true cost of processing public records.  From staffing costs to materials and time costs to expensive litigation risks – GovQA’s calculators can take what you know about your current costs and help you see hidden current and future costs.  You can use this information to help you build your business case for modernization and investment in technology that pays for itself…AND makes your public records process a whole lot easier!

GovQA has developed two calculators.  Ask us about our:

  1. Self-serve quick calculator;
  2. Detailed, multi-department spreadsheet

Read more about the Cost Justification for Investing in Public Records Software here.

We have seen significant time saved by using GovQA. We receive over 16,000 records requests per year, so this system has had a tremendous impact in our ability to manage such a heavy workload without having to hire additional staff.

Gretchen DolanPublic Records Officer, Washington State Patrol

GovQA helps agencies automate the collection and simplify accessibility to key data metrics.  For Washington state customers, these include the following data for JLARC reporting (plus eleven more). GovQA has used the following metrics to compile and validate our ROI calculators. Ask us for more information!

Metric 10: Average staff time spent responding to a request

204 Washington agencies reported spending over a million staff hours responding to over 350,000 PRRs in 2018, with an average of 2.83 hours spent per request. Depending on the number of working hours per FTE (between 1,680 and 2,080) Washington devoted the equivalent of between 480 and 595 FTEs to PRRs. School districts spent by far the most time per request (an average of almost 23 hours each). Higher education institutions came in a distant second at 10.67 hours and other jurisdiction types clocked in at less than half that amount.

Metric 11: Costs of fulfilling records requests

JLARC sets out categories comprising the total cost of fulfilling records requests: agency staff, legal costs, supplies/services, and overhead.

Agency staff costs.  This includes both staff who are dedicated part-or full-time to responding to PRRs, such as public records officers and other agency staff involved in responding to specific requests.

Costs for the former are determined as a percentage of FTEs; the latter are calculated as a percent of FTEs or number of hours.

Legal costs. Costs for non-litigation legal services (such as consultation on disclosability of specific records) are reported as a lump sum.

Supplies/services.  As further described for Metric 15, this category gives perspective on the only costs Washington jurisdictions can recover from requestors:

  • External services (such as large format printing that can’t be done in-house)
  • Mailing/sending costs
  • Supplies (such as data disks)
  • Recurring software licensing
  • Other professional services

Metric 13: Total costs incurred for litigation claims alleging a violation of public records statutes.

These are an agency’s costs for defending itself against lawsuits and paying any amounts ordered in a judgment: attorney fees, other costs like deposition transcripts, settlement amounts, per diem penalties, and payment of any attorney fees/other legal costs incurred by the requestor/litigant.

Interestingly, through the Washington Municipal Research Services Council, you can match 2018 PRR-related litigation costs tracked by JLARC with the lawsuits that actually went forward. MSRC reported on eight PRR-related lawsuits in Washington (http://mrsc.org/Home/Explore-Topics/Legal/Open-Government/Public-Records-Act-Court-Decisions.aspx). Since only jurisdictions that incurred over $100,000 for PRR costs in the prior year are required to report to JLARC, it’s possible that costs for some jurisdiction are excluded from reported total litigation costs of $4,576,178

Cases in 2018 resulted in the following judgments based on Washington law:

  • Polygraph results for a police officer indicating past instances of dishonesty and Special Sex Offender Sentencing Alternative evaluations are not exempt from disclosure, but phone conversation recordings of jail inmates and records relating to the recordings are.
  • Courts have broad discretion in determining penalties for Public Records Act (PRA) violations and can consider penalty factors using substantiated facts.  They can also consider a jurisdiction’s size and financial ability in setting penalties.
  • The PRA standard for granting an injunction also applies to data upheld as trade secrets.
  • Under the common interest doctrine, communications between a county and a specific state agency may be privileged (non-disclosable) under the work product doctrine.
  • The Facebook page of an elected official of a local jurisdiction is not intrinsically a public record

Metric 14: Estimated costs incurred for managing and retaining records.

204 Washington agencies estimated they spent $144,466,270 on records management in 2018. The measures per agency type of this metric are almost the inverse of those of Metric 10 – school districts spent by far the least on records management.  Other agency types spent considerably more, but state agencies/commissions/boards spent between two and six times more than cities and towns, counties, special districts, and higher education institutions.

Metric 15: Expenses recovered from requesters

WA limits amounts spent responding to PRRs that are recoverable from requesters to what it refers to as “actual costs.” Actual costs are restricted to those that could be described as the costs of the media containing the data provided – paper photocopies and, at one point anyway, data disks. King County, Washington, for instance, charges $0.15 per photocopied page. Also included are costs to convey the data – usually U.S. mail, or a courier service if the requester needs the data immediately.

Although many requesters do prefer the data in a tangible form like paper and some records like structure as-built drawings are cumbersome and expensive to duplicate other than by photocopying, more and more data is conveyed electronically, so no costs are recovered. Washington does not allow for recovery of costs for staff time of any kind.

What can you do to Fast Track your FOIA savings?

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