We need more meaningful OIA data

Stuff reports:

The statistics tracking how long government agencies take to answer Official Information Act requests are “close to useless”, a Stuff investigation reveals.

The OIA generally requires agencies to respond to requests within 20 working days. However, the statistics count extensions as “on time” responses.

So some agencies who report 100 per cent compliance “within legislative timeframes” are actually extending half of their requests, or taking up to five times the 20-day timeframe.

An advocate for open government says the statistics incentivise extensions and are designed “for nice headlines for government, not better results for requesters”.

In September, Public Service Commissioner Peter Hughes announced that, in the six months to 30 June, 61 government agencies completed 100 per cent of their OIA requests within the legislated timeframe.

Overall, agencies responded to 97.8 per cent of requests “on time”. In the face of increasing requests, the numbers were “a good result”, Hughes said.

But those numbers mask a very different reality. The SIS reported that 100 per cent of its responses were returned within the statutory timeframe. During the same period, however, 54 per cent of those responses were extended beyond the 20-working day benchmark.

The Education Ministry also reported 100 per cent compliance, and told Stuff they were “very proud of our track record regarding the quality and timeliness of our responses”. Their average response time was 25 days, and almost half their responses (47 per cent) were extended.

The PSC should report more useful information in future on the OIA. Sure it is good to know what percentage of OIA requests are completed within the legal requirements, but they should report more than this bare minimum. I’d love to see.

  • 25th percentile, median and 75th percentile for each agency in terms of time to supply a response
  • How many complaints about that agency go to Ombudsman
  • How many requests take more than 90 days

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