Performance Audit : Work in Progress : Trends in Public Records Requests
The Effect of Public Records Requests on Washington's State and Local Governments (pdf, 1.1 mb)
Summary: At the request of the Legislature, this performance audit examined the effect of public records requests on state and local governments. We found that a changing public records environment and a Public Records Act (PRA) that has not kept pace with present-day issues pose challenges that, if not addressed, may undermine the original intent of public records laws and hinder other essential government services. Read the two-page summary (pdf, 89 kb).
The state and local governments that responded to our statewide survey reported spending more than $60 million to fulfill more than 285,000 public records requests in the most recent year alone. Requesters pay only a small portion of the costs (less than 1 percent) involved in fulfilling public records requests. View the survey questions (pdf, 975 kb).
Explore the full results of our survey in this Tableau interactive presentation.
Our research shows that a combination of statewide policy changes and better information management and disclosure practices is needed to keep pace with changing times. We identified policies the Legislature can consider to address public records issues. We also identified practical solutions that can help state and local governments continue to improve their records management and disclosure processes. Watch a six-minute video about our work.
Our interactions with governments during this project showed their commitment to the principles of open, accessible and accountable government. We want to thank all state and local governments that responded to our survey as well as those that participated in our focus groups.
About the project
Providing full access to public records helps maintain public confidence in government at all levels. At the same time, fulfilling records requests can absorb considerable staff time. The Public Records Act of 1973 permits charges for making paper copies of records, but it neither addresses modern all-electronic records nor allows governments to charge requestors for the time and costs incurred in preparing records for release.
To account for changes in the nature and volume of public records requests, legislators are considering revising the Public Records Act. This year, they asked the State Auditor's Office to conduct to a study "to establish an accurate cost estimate for providing paper and electronic copies of records."
- Read the text of the proviso that applies to our study here (pdf, 33kb), highlighted in yellow.
- Click the video below to watch a presentation about our planned work that we recorded after a November 20, 2015, hearing on the study at the Local Government House Committee.