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# Records Requests & Management

The Real Costs of Public Records Requests

Authored by Civic Plus Logo


April 29, 2022
5 min

Many government agencies have seen the number of incoming public records requests increase drastically in recent years. Responding to these requests takes time: the request must be processed, documents reviewed and redacted, and then the response must be approved before release. Each part of the process can be time-consuming but is also integral to compliance with state records laws.

Agencies are having to balance their traditional workloads with this influx of requests for information from the public in order to remain compliant. Some agencies are hiring new staff, while others are increasing their fee schedule. As the leading provider of records requests management, NextRequest from CivivPlus® offers a simple way to handle requests from start to finish, including invoicing and payment.

Public Records Requests can be Costly for Public Agencies in More Ways Than One

Time-Consuming Requests Can Really Add Up

More requests mean more hours devoted to fulfilling them, which costs agencies money. Loudoun County Schools recently estimated that one especially broad request they received for all records containing the phrases “sexual assault” or “rape” would cost $36,000 to fulfill. These costs can be invoiced to the requester but will still take department time. Broad requests can be particularly time-consuming; there isn’t a single database of all agency records that staff can easily pull from. Records are often spread across systems – some in email, others from social media, or maybe even in filing cabinets.

Estimating costs and invoicing requesters are tasks in themselves that take agency time and resources. NextRequest has invoicing and payment built in to make it easy. Create custom invoicing templates and calculate staff billable hours automatically. When requesters are ready to pay, you can accept their payments online with NextRequests’s PCI-compliant payment processing.

Raising Fees Can Damage Public Trust

Some agencies have raised request fees to offset increasing costs, but it can seem to requesters that the fees are meant to deter them from making requests at all. The Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency adopted a new fee schedule in late 2020 due to the increased number and breadth of requests during the pandemic. When they gave a local paper an estimate for a request that was higher than comparable past requests, the paper published an article criticizing the agency for its lack of transparency.

The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police raised their fee again last year for one hour of body cam footage. The $280 charge was already controversial, and it was raised to $288 in 2021. Opponents of the fee have called it unreasonably high and worry that it both undermines transparency and conflicts with state records laws.

NextRequest empowers agencies to proactively publish documents to their NextRequest portal, saving both agencies and requesters time and money. More than that, it bolsters public trust when commonly requested documents are available to the public. Requesters can search by keyword to see if what they’re looking for is available. This eliminates duplicate requests and connects citizens with the information they need.

Hiring Additional Staff is Expensive

Some agencies have seen such a sharp increase in requests that they’ve had to add staff just to handle them all. The city of Elgin, TX, opened positions for two new public information officers because of increased requests from a group of concerned citizens. The city of Boston has also brought on additional staff to handle requests, which nearly doubled from 2019 to 2020 and doubled again from 2020 to 2021.

According to Glassdoor, the typical Public Information Officer’s salary is $63,702. This varies widely between localities; a Public Information Officer in Washington, DC, may make as much as $112,000, while one in Nebraska makes closer to $45,000. Salaries may also differ between state, county, and city levels. But it can be a lot to add to a budget.

One of the things NextRequest customers love most about using the software is how much time it saves them. The Public Information Officer of Wyoming’s Department of Environmental Quality was thrilled by the increase in efficiency he saw in the department’s records request process. With NextRequest, he felt his time had been freed up to focus on other projects.

Lawsuits Result in Big Settlements

The biggest cost of all is the possible cost of litigation. If records requests are not fulfilled in their entirety in a timely manner, requesters may file suit. These lawsuits can result in big settlements and a lot of bad press.

Just this year, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a $185,000 settlement after a lawsuit alleging the LA County Sheriff’s Department failed to respond to a request for public records adequately. The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law accused the Sheriff’s Department of failing to respond properly to a request regarding the agency’s use of “predictive policing” software. After responding to only part of the request and claiming multiple deadline extensions, communication ceased, leading to the lawsuit.

Reduce the Cost of Public Records Requests

Even customers with fewer than 100 requests per year have reduced the time, money, and risk associated with records requests with NextRequest.

  • Never miss a request with streamlined workflows and automatic reminders.
  • Proactively publish commonly requested documents and reduce the number of incoming requests.
  • Protect public safety with batch redaction of hundreds of documents at once with our RapidReview feature, and quickly identify potentially sensitive information with the Risk Module.

Interested in automated public records software for your organization? Contact us to learn why 350+ state and local governments and schools trust NextRequest software to manage their FOIA and records requests. No matter what your records request volume is, we’re here to help you make it manageable on your budget.

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Authored by Civic Plus Logo


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