DEP COMPILES REPORT DETAILING SECOND YEAR OF
OPEN PUBLIC RECORDS LAW
Almost $1.4 Million Diverted from Environmental
Protection Funds to Implement Law
(04/97) TRENTON -- New Jersey Department
of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Bradley M.
Campbell today released a report on the agency's second
year implementing New Jersey's Open Public Records Act (OPRA).
DEP has received the vast majority of state records requests,
handling more than 17,500 requests in OPRA's first two years
- over 55 percent of the combined requests for public records
received by all state agencies.
"The number of OPRA requests we have processed and
granted reflects DEP's unwavering commitment to expand public
access to information," said DEP Commissioner Bradley
M. Campbell. "We take very seriously the responsibility
to remain open, accountable and accessible - the more information
the public has, the more effectively government operates."
In OPRA's second year, DEP's records custodians and file
officers spent over 50,000 hours tracking down records and
preparing them for the public at a cost of almost $1.4 million.
"Despite excessive demands from some legal and consulting
firms attempting to dredge up business and to use the system
to shift their workloads onto the state, we are fully complying
with the law - even as it diverts limited resources away
from environmental protection," Campbell said. "With
an almost 30 percent increase in the number of requests
this year, our costs for managing the OPRA program remain
high, but, per request, have declined due to our efficient
and streamlined program."
To facilitate public access to information and to reduce
staff costs, DEP provides frequently requested reports at
the OPRA portion of its website. These continually updated
and expanded reports include compliance and enforcement
results for facilities, information on air quality permits,
and pollution discharge permits. In addition, DEP is continually
improving Internet access to real-time data through its
i-Map NJ mapping database and its Data Miner program.
Of the 9,849 requests received by DEP in the OPRA program's
second year, more than 9,750, or over 99 percent, successfully
gained access to the requested records. Less than one percent,
or 92 requests, were denied. Many denials were due to improperly
submitted or incomplete requests. To date, DEP's decisions
to deny a request have been appealed only twice - once to
the Government Records Council and once to the New Jersey
Supreme Court. DEP prevailed in both cases.
In all, the State's executive departments and agencies received
19,522 public record requests from July 7, 2003 to July
6, 2004. DEP's 9,849 requests represented an increase of
2,185 requests over the number received during the first
year of the agency's OPRA program. DEP currently averages
27 requests a day, seven days a week.
Much of the credit for DEP's smooth implementation of the
OPRA requirements is due to its centralized Office of the
Records Custodian that has taken charge since day one to
facilitate the voluminous OPRA requests DEP receives, providing
a single point of contact for the public.
New Jersey's Open Public Records Act took effect on July
7, 2002. OPRA establishes a strict, seven-business-day timeframe
for providing access to state and local documents. Certain
information is exempt from the policy for reasons of domestic
security or the legal need for confidentiality. The act
covers all agencies of the executive branch of state government,
while exempting the legislature from its provisions.