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The Avoidable Costs of Fulfilling Information Requests

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The need to comply with The Freedom of Information Act, the Federal Records Act, and Open Records Laws is only becoming more apparent as governments face harsh penalties of non-compliance.

These regulations demand the collection and preservation of government communications, including website and social media content, and that agencies make this information accessible to citizens when requested.

Most of the time, this process isn’t cheap. To give some context, a recent report from Washington State’s Auditors Office revealed that state and local governments spent $60 million to fulfill more than 285,000 public-records requests during a 12-month period.

Let’s take a look at where these costs typically come from through an exploration of recent news stories.

Printing Costs

Printing paper records can cost governments a considerable amount of money, with printing costing between $6-10 per page. This quickly adds up. For example, Stow, Ohio found itself spending  $43,000 in one year on printing costs.

Storage Costs

Printing requires storage, and storage requires space. A case study on Tompkins County, NY, revealed how two centuries’ worth of county records packed into boxes almost justified the building of a $3.5 million storage warehouse for the county.

Labour Costs

Obtaining a public record would typically mean submitting a request to government staff, who would search for the record, create copies, and send them back to the requester for a calculated fee based on staff time involved, paper, and ink used.

It can take hours for law clerks and legal secretaries to find and retrieve records of interest once they are requested. Government agencies can charge $10 per hour to locate records, and $20 per hour to process them, and this varies per state.

In Tennessee, a journalist was told it would cost nearly $35,000 in “labor and printing costs” to provide the records they had requested for an investigation into a state agency.

In another shocking case, the Hawaii Department of Human Services said it would cost Civil Beat $123,000 for a year’s worth of public records.

The agency said it “would have to spend 11,591 hours to search for and copy the records. That’s the equivalent of one person working 40 hours a week for five-and-half years — without vacation — just to find out what records requests were on file.” (Huffington Post)

Legal Costs

When the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel attempted to access public crime data, it received a $4,500 bill. Refusing to cut the cheque, the paper then filed a lawsuit against the city for attempting to make these charges. These reactions and resulting lawsuits are not uncommon.

The Case for Electronic Record Keeping

The significant costs of fulfilling information requests cause two further issues - the fact that they make it impossible for the average person to afford the information they have the right to, and the risks of these citizens filing lawsuits against government agencies as a result. More costs for both parties involved.

By having records available digitally, printing costs and their snowballing storage and labour costs can be avoided. While website and social media archiving solutions help make digital records searchable and accessible on-demand, decision-makers may be putting off their implementation fearing the additional price tag of a subscription. However, comparing these added costs, potential legal costs and potential non-compliance penalties with the small price of an annual archiving subscription (roughly ~$200/month) the proactive investment in a software solution is a no-brainer.


About PageFreezer

PageFreezer provides a leading website and social media archiving solution to state, local and federal governments across the country. PageFreezer was designed with the government user in mind and built to reduce the costs of information requests.

Some features that make PageFreezer’s service unique include:

  • Real-time archiving
  • Most social media networks supported
  • No hidden fees
  • Unlimited records archiving
  • WARC exports of archived content
  • User-friendly interface
  • Top customer reviews

Visit pagefreezer.com to learn more and get a quote for your county’s needs.

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