Secretary of State announces launch of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) database
West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie E. Tennant announced this week that the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) database is now available for use by public entities. As of Jan. 1, all governmental entities subject to the Freedom of Information Act will be required to submit FOIA requests using the new database.
“Most West Virginians may not deal with these public records requests on a daily basis, but they should know that this database, at its core, is a fixture for transparency in government,” Tennant said. “Specific FOIA request information will be available to anyone. This platform is another extension of the transparency that our office has worked to provide over the last seven years.”
Those publicly-funded agencies using the database include: state agencies; county governments; city governments; governing boards and commissions; schools boards and departments; and, any public body created or primarily supported by public funds. These agencies will be required to report the following: date the FOIA request was received; name of the person or entity making the request; subject of the request; whether the request was granted or denied and the reason for any denial; date of final completion of the request; and the amount of any charges to the person or entity making the request.
To meet the needs of filing agencies, Tennant pointed out that the Secretary of State’s Office went beyond a basic platform.
“We’ve gone above and beyond the requirements of the law by doing exhaustive testing, conducting statewide outreach and providing a tutorial and frequently asked questions on our website. We’ve worked to make the database as user-friendly as possible. Many agencies and state associations have worked with our office to build and enhance the database over the last few months.”
The database was created by the Secretary of State’s information technology staff.
Additional information about the FOIA database:
• House Bill 2636, which passed during the 2015 legislative session, mandated the creation of the database to be used to publicly report the results of FOIA requests.
• Submissions to the FOIA database will only be accepted through online data submission.
• Agencies will be required to submit a form via email to the SOS indicating the individual(s) authorized to enter information on behalf of the agency.
• Person(s) entering data will be required to sign in with their username and password. These credentials will track the activity of person(s) entering information for audit trail purposes.
• Agencies are required to enter the information into the database by the 10th day of the month following completion of the request, according to Rule 153-52.
• While the Secretary of State’s Office is providing the database, it is up to each individual agency to comply with the law. The Secretary of State’s Office cannot assist agencies with how to respond or the exemptions to use with FOIA requests. Each agency’s attorney will need to advise them on how respond.
• The database will not provide access to FOIA responses. The law specifically says that governmental bodies are not to submit copies of the documents responsive to the request.