FOIA requests costly for university

By Lindsey Salvatelli

The Compliance, Audit, Risk Management and Legal Affairs Committee discussed “corrective actions” to meet state audit compliance standards for the upcoming fiscal year during a Aug. 17 Board of Trustees meeting.

The audit for fiscal year 2016 found a “material weakness” or “significant deficiency and noncompliance” in areas such as internal controls of contacts, the Board of Higher Education Act and cash receipts and accounts receivable recording and reporting processes, according to the March 29 audit release.

Larry Pinkelton, associate vice president for finance and budget, provided the committee with an update that found 9 out of 12, approximately 75 percent or greater, items of the corrective action plan have been implemented.

The corrective action plan that’s been developed came at the behest of the CARL committee and involved each unit that was identified as noncompliant.

“This action plan was intended to detail the process steps that would be required to mitigate against that audit finding going forward,” Pinkelton said.

Questions regarding the compliance for the Freedom of Information Act were raised.

FOIA was enacted to allow more transparency in government and publicly funded institutions. In Illinois, anyone can submit a request for free and must receive a response within five business days. The Board discussed options for making the information gathering process more time and costs efficient.

Some of the possible solutions discussed included FOIA reform, placing more information online and the use of software.

General Counsel Gregory Brady said FY16 received 481 FOIA requests, the most requests the university has seen in a single fiscal year, and were processed by two individuals. Of the 481 requests, 153 were made by six individuals.

Brady said requests made could be put into four different categories: purchasing documents, specific contracts and agreements, specific police reports and other.

Brady said the “other” category — requests focused on a subject or topic — received 289 requests.

When a requests in not defined, Brady said tracking down information could involve many different areas of the university including the FOIA office, the Division of Information Technology, any custodians of records being sought and the Office of General Counsel.

Costs associated with these requests are currently undefined. Board of Trustees chairperson Wheeler Coleman said he believes sharing costs information is important for transparency.

“We can’t charge [the public], but we can definitely let everybody know, or have visibility, full transparency, this is what it’s costing this institution to accommodate these FOIA request,” Coleman said.