First-Ever Survey of AOROs

Open records_logo stackedThe vast majority of government agencies in Pennsylvania — 87.4% — received 1 or fewer Right-to-Know (RTK) requests per week in 2016.

Similarly, 72.8% of agencies spent 1 hour or less per week (and 91.8% spent 5 hours or less) responding to RTK requests in 2016.

Those are some of the highlights from the first-ever statewide survey of Agency Open Records Officers (AOROs), the people responsible for responding to requests filed under Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law (RTKL). The survey was conducted by the Office of Open Records’ (OOR) in February 2017.

Nearly 1,300 AOROs responded, including Commonwealth agencies and local agencies of all types (i.e., municipalities, school districts, counties, police departments, charter schools, and more). We worked with numerous organizations and the Governor’s office to get as many responses as possible.

The OOR has always had good data on appeals filed under the RTKL (because the vast majority of appeals are filed with the OOR), but this survey was the first large-scale attempt to collect good data about the requests received by agencies.

(As a result of House Resolution 50, the Legislative Budget & Finance Committee has conducted a second statewide survey of AOROs. The OOR provided input to LBFC, and I expect that survey to provide additional insights.)

The OOR’s survey asked five substantive questions:

1. How many Right-to-Know requests did your agency receive in January 2017?

  • 0-1 requests, 65.1%
  • 2-5 requests, 21.2%
  • 6-10 requests, 6.6%
  • 11-20 requests, 4.0%
  • 21+ requests, 3.1%

In other words: 86.3% of agencies received 5 or fewer RTK requests in January 2017, while 7.1% received more than 10 requests that month.

2. How many Right-to-Know requests did your agency receive in calendar year 2016?

  • 0-10 requests, 57.5%
  • 11-20 requests, 16.9%
  • 21-30 requests, 6.9%
  • 31-50 requests, 6.1%
  • 51-100 requests, 5.3%
  • 101+ requests, 7.2%

In other words: 87.4% of agencies received fewer than 1 RTK request per week in 2016, while 7.2% received more than 2 requests per week.

3. Of the RTK requests received in 2016, how many were from commercial requesters?

  • 0-5 commercial requests, 58.7%
  • 6-10 commercial requests, 19.1%
  • 11-25 commercial requests, 12.3%
  • 26-50 commercial requests, 5.5%
  • 51+ commercial requests, 4.4%

In other words: At least 77.8% of agencies received fewer than 1 commercial request per month in 2016, while about 9.9% received more than 2 per month.

4. How many of your agency’s RTK responses were appealed to the OOR in 2016?

  • 0-1 appeals, 92.8%
  • 2-5 appeals, 4.9%
  • 6-10 appeals, 1.6%
  • 11-20 appeals, 0.5%
  • 21+ appeals, 0.3%

In other words: 97.6% of agencies had 5 or fewer appeals filed against them in 2016 (with the vast majority having 0 or 1), while 0.8% had 11 or more.

5. In an average work week, how many hours does your agency spend responding to RTK requests?

  • 0-1 hours, 72.8%
  • 2-5 hours, 19.0%
  • 6-10 hours, 4.7%
  • 11-20 hours, 1.7%
  • 21-40 hours, 0.9%
  • 41+ hours, 0.9%

In other words: 91.8% of agencies spent 5 hours or less responding to RTK requests each week in 2016, while 1.8% spent 21 or more hours per week.

We also asked AOROs what type of agency they worked for:

  • Township, 46.9%
  • School District, 15.9%
  • Borough, 11.7%
  • Police Department, 8.6%
  • Authority, 5.8%
  • County, 3.1%
  • Charter School, 2.6%
  • Commonwealth Agency, 2.6%
  • City, 0.8%
  • District Attorney, 0.1%
  • Other, 1.9%

As you might expect, responses to the questions sometimes varied significantly based on the type of agency. A few examples:

In 2016, 100% of charter schools received 50 or fewer RTK requests (i.e., fewer than 1 per week). That compares to:

  • 98.6% of authorities
  • 96.0% of school districts
  • 90.3% of boroughs
  • 89.4% of townships
  • 81.3% of police departments
  • 40.0% of cities
  • 38.7% of Commonwealth agencies
  • 33.3% of counties

On the flip side: In 2016, 54.8% of Commonwealth agencies received 101 or more RTK requests (roughly 2 or more per week). That compares to:

  • 40.0% of cities
  • 35.9% of counties
  • 13.1% of police departments
  • 6.2% of townships
  • 1.4% of authorities
  • 1.4% of boroughs
  • 0.5% of school districts
  • 0% of charter schools

In an average week, 94.1% of charter schools spent less than an hour responding to RTK requests. That compares to:

  • 91.8% of authorities
  • 77.2% of townships
  • 75.8% of boroughs
  • 71.8% of police departments
  • 71.1% of school districts
  • 40.0% of cities
  • 15.6% of Commonwealth agencies
  • 12.5% of counties

On the flip side: In an average week, 21.9% of Commonwealth agencies spent more than 40 hours responding to RTK requests. That compares to:

  • 5.0% of counties
  • 0.5% of school districts
  • 0.3% of townships
  • 0% of authorities, boroughs, charter schools, cities, and police departments

Some survey responses had obvious errors (e.g., a police department categorized as a township rather than a police department), so we made some corrections before making the calculations above. Here’s the corrected data in Excel format:
2017 AORO Survey Public Data – Corrected

And here’s the uncorrected data in Excel format:
2017 AORO Survey Public Data – Uncorrected

If you use any of this data to do your own analysis (which we would love), please let us know. You can contact the OOR at openrecords@pa.gov or on Twitter: @ErikOpenRecords and @OpenRecordsPA.

Thank you to all of the AOROs who took time to respond to this survey and to everyone who encouraged them to do so.

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One thought on “First-Ever Survey of AOROs

  1. Pingback: Presentation to CCAP Solicitors’ Conference | Open Records in Pennsylvania

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