What Are Open Records?
When responding to or following up on RFPs, it can be helpful to have access to publicly available information that pertains to the proposal. But, for myriad reasons, you may not be able to locate that very pertinent piece of information you need.
In these occurrences, The Bid Lab has helped our clients readily obtain the relevant information by working to retrieve the document in scope. Sometimes these documents are publicly available and just difficult to locate. Other times, it’s necessary to file a Freedom of Information Request (FOIA). These requests can be made at both a federal and state level. By law, all government agencies are required to provide “any members of the public” with access to their agency records. When members of the public want to request access to information from a state level agency, they begin the process of submitting an “Open Records Request”.
Open Records Request
Open laws may also be known as the Open Records Act, Open Records Law, Public Records Act, Public Records Law, Sunshine Law, Right to Know Act, Public Information Law and so on. Depending on which state you are accessing information from, the process may vary, but the overall premise stays the same: to guarantee the public has access to the records of government bodies at all levels within the state.
The public agencies that are subject to Open Records laws within states are:
- Commonwealth agencies
- Local agencies
- Legislative agencies
- Judicial agencies
Like federal agencies, each state has different rules and regulations when it comes to its individual Open Records laws. For instance, states differ in how they describe “public records”; some note differences in who may request records, while others find differences in record restriction use rules. To ensure compliance, the best practice is to read through each state’s requirements prior to submitting your request.
Submitting a Request
It’s highly recommended that when submitting a request to any state agency, it’s a complete, well-written letter or email. This will help you track your request and show documentary proof that the request has been made.
Within your request, you’ll want to be as specific as possible and include a lot of detail. This helps the agency personnel retrieve the document(s) without extensive searching. Additionally, you’ll want to include how much you are willing to pay in fees, or include your request for exemption. Be sure to ask the agency to contact you if the fees exceed the amount you’re willing to pay. Fees will range and will be noted on a per-state basis.
An informative resource to search for details on state laws and processes is through the National Freedom of Information Coalition. The Bid Lab utilizes this database when we need to specify which Open Records laws are available for each specific state agency request.