On March 6th, I sent a Freedom of Information Act request to the Delaware Department of Education. Read below to see what I asked for and what the response was, and then my thoughts on this.
Date of Request: Friday, March 06, 2015
Name: Kevin Ohlandt
Records Requested: This is a request under the Delaware Freedom of Information Act, § 100001 et seq. I ask to obtain copies, preferably in digital format as PDF files, of the following, which I understand to be held by your Department. I ask that correspondence regarding this request be sent via email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Information Requested: I request the Delaware Department of Education’s contracts (whether they are awarded contracts, cooperative contracts, set aside contracts, sole source contracts, or recently closed contracts, including any and all RFPs, addendums, award letters, and change orders) agreements, pacts, communications (whether in email or written correspondence, email should be in To: formats and cc: formats between any DOE employee with the below companies or consortiums) with the following companies or consortiums: American Institutes for Research (or if they are listed under AIR or Amer Institutes for Research), Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (or if they are listed under SBAC, SB, Smarter, Smarter Balanced, or Smarter Balanced Assessment), and Data Recognition Corporation. If available, I ask that this information be provided in a PDF format for the contracts, and a database format with a delimited text file for the communications. If you have this information in an existing report, that may suffice. I would prefer that this information (be sent) by e-mail, but the records can also be mailed to: Kevin Ohlandt (took out my address). If you deny any or all of this request, please cite each specific exemption you feel justifies the refusal to release the information and notify me of the appeal procedures available to me under the law. I am a reporter and the sole writer for Exceptional Delaware, a blog about education in Delaware and the United States of America. This blog is widely read in Delaware and the USA. This request is made in the routine course of newsgathering. As such, I request a waiver of all fees for this request. Disclosure of the requested information to me is in the public interest because it is likely to contribute significantly to the public understanding of operations or activities of the government and is not primarily in my commercial interest. If the communications part of the request takes longer to obtain than the contract portion, please provide the contracts and all aforementioned parts of those contracts with undue delay. If you wish to discuss this request, I can be reached at (302) xxx-xxxx. My e-mail address is email@example.com. I prefer to be reached by e-mail or phone. Sincerely, Kevin Ohlandt, Exceptional Delaware Writer/Creator/Reporter
Contact if cost greater then: 0.00
After some back and forth with the DOE FOIA representative, Tina Shockley, and making it well-known that if the emails took longer, to go ahead and send the contracts first since I thought this would be the easiest thing to do. On the date of the designated 15 business day response time, March 27th, I received nothing. I sent a very stern email advising they were out of compliance with Delaware FOIA laws. Today, I received this email from Tina Shockley:
Dear Mr. Ohlandt:
Thank you for your email on Friday. I did acknowledge your email request (see attached) on March 9, 2015, but I mistakenly sent it to the wrong email. Please accept my apologies for that. Likewise, I had this email ready to go on Friday, but forgot to send it before I left the office.
This email correspondence is to advise you that per your request for public documents under the Delaware Freedom of Information Act, 29 Del. C. Ch. 100, the Delaware Department of Education will need more than 15 days to fill your request because the request is for voluminous records, requires additional legal advice and the request includes one or more records that are in storage or archived. DDOE estimates that the records requested from your FOIA request will be provided on or before June 1, 2015. Because this is a large request which includes records dating back many years, we have contacted the Division of Public Archives. They advise it will take at least 6 weeks to gather the information you are requesting. We will advise you if it will take longer than that.
You also noted that your FOIA was in the routine course of newsgathering, and you requested a waiver of all fees for this request. I believe you may be confusing the provisions of the federal FOIA with the Delaware one. Unfortunately, there is no state exemption or waiver for media. If the review takes more than one hour, administrative costs are assessed. Given that, I am providing you several options/cost estimates based on your request. Please advise which portion of work you would like to pay and have us proceed with. Note work cannot start on your request until we receive payment.
The searches and administrative costs are:
Search 1 – $300 for DTI email search – this is for email correspondence between staff members. You are welcome to send a check now made payable to DTI to get this work started.
Search 2 – $718.16 for DDOE to do email search, review and redact – this is based on 6 hours of work for the IT person to go through all the old records @ a rate of $45.46/hr., plus 20 hours of work at $22.27 hourly rate (of lowest rate for person able to perform the work) for the administrative processing, review/redaction of the files.
Search 3 – $5,359.20 for DDOE to search and pull contract information for the duration of the contracts, agreements requested – this is based on 220 hours of work at the $24.36 hourly rate (of lowest rate for person able to perform work)
Copies – You have the choice to come in and publicly view the information, or if you wish to have a copy of the materials gathered, we’d estimate that cost to be $191.50 = 1935 pages – 20 pages free x .10
In what world does going through contracts take 220 hours? These should all be available on the State of Delaware bid website, but they are not. It is not a requirement, but they do so with every other contract. Why don’t they with anything regarding standardized testing? I expected the outrageous email costs, but over $5,300 for going over contracts? That are already in PDF format I’m sure somewhere in the DOE computer system? And here is how I know they are full of it because last summer I submitted a FOIA request to the DOE for the contract between the DOE and Public Consulting Group. I got it back in a few days.
I can only assume they do not want this information to get out. And if that is the case, they are hiding something. But what? The DOE has also been working with American Institutes for Research for a long time. They created DCAS! Taking away all the emails, how many contracts are set up with these companies? Or is it so secretive it would put them in a very bad position if it ever got out? I will be talking to the Delaware Department of Justice and Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn on this matter!
This is the Smarter Balanced Assessment. What could be so controversial the DOE does not want the public to see? Children are taking this test right now in Delaware. If I were a Delaware parent, I would be very concerned about this lack of transparency in regards to, as State Rep. Earl Jaques put it, a “little test”.
In other FOIA news, if State Rep. John Kowalko’s FOIA to Governor Markell’s office is answered with the release of alternative emails of the Governor, does that mean they are going to go back and release all the other emails I did not receive from my January FOIA for all emails between the Governor and Paul Herdman, Joel Klein, Michelle Rhee and Arne Duncan? I would think they would have to since it was part of an official FOIA request…