Effective 14 April 2016, all FOI bodies are now required to implement a publication scheme on their website which specifies the classes of information which the FOI body has published by way of FOI or otherwise. A publication scheme is a means to encourage FOI bodies to publish as much information about their organisation as possible.
It is expected that this will result in a reduced number of FOI requests, thereby lowering the administrative burden on FOI units.
Brendan Howlin TD (then Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform) published a Model Publication Scheme and Guidance in October 2015. These documents outline the type of information which FOI bodies must display on their website, subject to any exemptions which may apply (eg, commercial sensitivity and personal information). The most noteworthy information to be published is as follows:
- Details, by category, of all payments or purchase orders for goods and services of more than €20,000 (updated quarterly).
- Details of public Information and Communications Technology contracts awarded for values over €10,000 (updated quarterly).
- Details of all other contracts for values of €25,000 (updated quarterly).
- Funding such as grants or sponsorship of private entities for over €10,000 (updated annually).
- Pay and grading structures (by bands).
- Disclosure logs of FOI requests (ie, details of requests received).
Here are some tips and guidance on how to get your publication scheme right:
- Don't recreate the wheel - The majority of FOI bodies have a great deal of the necessary information already available on their website, particularly in annual reports. In such circumstances, a link should suffice.
- Publish routine FOI responses - Every FOI body receives routine FOI requests. If you are not currently planning to publish responses (which is an option) but would like to ease traffic to your door consider a half-way house by publishing the routine responses only (with redactions as appropriate)
- Disclosure Logs - Don't forget to tell requesters that, from 14 April 2016, their requests will be published. The Disclosure Log should not identify the individual requester but may identify requesters by category, eg, journalist, member of the public. Providing some details around the requester may avoid follow up FOI requests for details of individual requesters.
- There is no need to publish backdated information - This is relevant to old requests, previous tender details and expired Service Level Agreements / Memoranda of Understanding.
- Certain information need only be updated quarterly / annually as indicated above - Start gathering the information now. Ensure that the relevant department holding the information keeps you in the loop. Agree now the details which you will release as a matter of course (where it is not specified by the Scheme or Guidance).
Putting in the time now will save time for FOI units in the long run.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.