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Open Government Reports Can’t Be Found If You Ask D.C. Agency Staff — Auditor Finds in Live Tests

dcogcadmin | August 1, 2016

Asking by telephone and email for agencies’ reports on transparency, as part of a test of District of Columbia agencies’ public service, the D.C. Auditor found worse knowledge and courtesy than in a raft of other tests (such as calling to learn about a benefit or have a pothole patched).

The Auditor’s June 27 report called the results ”not encouraging.”

The reports, required annually by Mayor’s Order 2014-170, dated July 21, 2014, were compiled by D.C. agencies on data transparency, FOIAXpress (public portal and reading room), public engagement and collaboration and more, and submitted first in fall 2014. The mayor in January announced the revival of an Open Government Advisory Group that received the 2014 reports. The group, with new agency and public members, has yet to begin work.

As part of a larger study of responsiveness to telephone and email inquiries scripted for anonymous testers and targeted at unique functions at seven agencies, the Auditor decided to ask for the open government reports in five agencies to see how specialized staff handled a common inquiry.

Each agency posts its report  at an “Open Government and FOIA” heading under “About the agency” on all agency websites. FOIA and public information staff that were contacted in the test thus could be expected to know of them.

But the reports on openness proved invisible. 

The five agencies scored an average of 2.5 on a scale of 1-5 (5 being the best) on knowledge given over the telephone, 2.7 on knowledge via email, and 3.5 on telephone courtesy. All were worse performance than in the other agency tests.

For example, after the tester was transferred from the MPD main number, the MPD press office asked for the request in writing  but never responded to the resulting email from the tester. The report is readily available on the agency website.

Corrective actions under way?  Unknown, as the Office of the City Administrator did not respond to a draft of the Auditor’s report.