UO public records office increases volume, efficiency

A year-end report from University of Oregon's Office of Public Records indicates a larger volume than ever of requests for information about various UO operations but a steadily decreasing amount of time required to fulfill the requests.

The UO received 292 public records requests through the first 11 months (through May) of the current fiscal year – four more than in the entire 2012 fiscal year and 92 more than in the 2011 fiscal year. Over that same three-year period, the average amount of time it has taken to fulfill requests has decreased by about five days.

The report also shows that all fees were waived for 72 percent of the public records requests, which fell into the category of "simple requests" in which the subject offices or departments can retrieve the appropriate information in less than an hour.

"We have created processes to improve our responsiveness since the Office of Public Records was established in 2010," said Dave Hubin, senior assistant to the president.

During the most recent 11-month period when the UO processed 292 requests for public records, Oregon State University – a similar-sized institution – received just 58 records requests.

The UO's public records office cited several reasons for this year's improved response times, including increased campus awareness, faster turn-around times on "simple requests" due to the fee waiver, growing numbers of duplicate requests and streamlined processes.

The public records process begins with a request for information and an initial response – an acknowledgement of the request – from the public records office, which then seeks an estimate from the appropriate UO department or office on how many work hours will be spent retrieving and copying the information. The public records office then calculates a fee and sends it to the requester, and as soon as the fee is paid, the appropriate department or office is asked to produce the materials. Staff in the public records office review the documents after receiving them, redacting exempt information and consulting with or receiving advice from the UO General Counsel's Office when necessary. The documents are then sent to the requester and the fees are transferred to the responding department.

"The process sounds complex, but in the vast majority of cases it moves very quickly," Hubin said.

Of the total number of public records requests received this year, 130 were from news media (23 unique organizations), 79 were from private individuals (23 separate requesters), 56 were from commercial organizations, 18 were from educational or non-commercial scientific organizations and nine were from labor regulation firms.

The month-to-month average for the number of days between a public records request and resolution of the request ranged from six in May to 23.5 last September. The monthly average for the 11-month period was 13 days.

- by Joe Mosley, UO Office of Strategic Communications