State should speed up responses to information requests

Hawaii takes the longest in the nation to make decisions about transparency disputes, and in the interest of accountable government, this just will not do.

According to a study by the Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest, the average number of days to receive a transparency decision from the state Office of Information Practices (OIP) has lengthened to 474 days, up from only 90 days in 2011 — this despite OIP having the most attorneys and staff per capita for any state transparency agency.

The study noted that in cases where government agencies have withheld public records, getting a response from the OIP — which Hawaii citizens depend on to resolve a dispute or offer an opinion — can take two to three years.

If this were a matter of criminal justice, this type of delay would be almost criminal — a violation of due process.

In the current legislative session, one proposal to remedy this situation would set a time limit of six months on major transparency issues. This would help because it’s important for citizens to have the tools they need to shine a light on government spending and management.

The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii certainly has been doing its part. Over the years, we have uploaded significant data to our transparency website, OpenHawaii.org, including everything from the content of Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transit check registers to proof that a half-a-million dollars in public pension payments were being made to people no longer alive.

Transparency is not about just the ability to get the information; it’s also about getting the information quickly, so as to facilitate timely and needed responses.

Our state government must release its public information quicker, so island watchdogs can ensure that it is operating the best that it can, within its proper bounds.

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