We often take our government for granted. We get used to the way it functions and we think we know our role within the framework. But we often forget one important fact: We have the right to know.
Every state in the U.S. has its own freedom of information law. You might read stories in the Empire and wonder how we get our hands on some of the numbers or information we publish. Under Alaska’s law, as is the case across the country, filing a public information request can provide a resident access to city, state and federal documents. That goes for everyone, not just journalists. Anyone can send in an information request, and the government is legally bound to respond. In Alaska, the government on the receiving end of the request must respond within 10 days. There may be a fee, but the applicant can ask to have it waived.
Sunshine Week is an annual celebration of government transparency and the laws that make that possible, and it continues through Saturday. But according to reports from several government transparency advocates, Alaska’s laws don’t hold government bodies as accountable as they could.
• According to the Better Government Association’s 2013 Integrity Index, Alaska’s government transparency was 35th in the country, with a score of 53 out of 100. Coming in last was Montana with a score of 28. Alaska’s score improved from 2008, when the index ranked it 40th. The association takes into account freedom of information, whistleblower protection, campaign finance, open meeting and conflict of interest laws in each state.
• In 2012, the State Integrity Investigation gave Alaska a D+ on its Corruption Risk Report Card. An interactive map comparing the states can be found online at www.publicintegrity.org/2012/03/19/8423/grading-nation-how-accountable-y....
• The same year, the State Integrity Investigation gave Alaska an F for the effectiveness of its open records laws, citing frequent low-quality responses to requests for information. More details can be found online at www.stateintegrity.org/alaska_survey_public_access_to_information.
A complete breakdown of Alaska’s open government laws can be found online at www.rcfp.org/alaska-open-government-guide.
A public information request letter creator can be found online at www.splc.org/legalassistance/foiletter.asp.