Thanks to email and the proliferation of online open records portals, submitting an information request to a governmental body in Texas is easier than ever—yet the number of requests submitted to state agencies and state universities is actually decreasing, and dramatically so. Publicly-available data from the Texas Attorney General’s Office may provide an explanation for this phenomenon.
Section 552.010 of the Texas Public Information Act (TPIA) requires state agencies (including state universities) to file periodic reports with the Texas Attorney General’s Office regarding the number and nature of open records requests they receive and how they are processed. The data—which is publicly available here—provides a number of insights.
Number of requests is decreasing
Email and the proliferation of online open records portals like GovQA have made submitting an information request easier than ever—yet the number of requests submitted to state agencies and state universities is actually decreasing.
In fiscal year 2000 (the first year for which we have data from the Texas Attorney General’s Office), state agencies and state universities reported receiving more than 12.15 million open records requests. That number plummeted over the next decade, and in fiscal year 2012, state agencies and state universities reported receiving around 1.04 million open records requests. And in fiscal year 2021, they reported receiving just 808,574 open records requests—a 93.3% decrease from fiscal year 2000.
The Comptroller of Public Accounts consistently ranks first among state agencies and state universities in the number of requests received. In fiscal year 2021, the Comptroller received a whopping 663,036 open records requests. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice received the second-highest number of requests at 38,911. Most state agencies and state universities received around 150 requests or less in fiscal year 2021.
Primary request type has changed
If it’s so easy to submit an open records request, why has the number of requests decreased so dramatically over the past two decades?
The Texas Attorney General’s data suggests one explanation—requestors are no longer asking for “Agency Publications,” which the AG defines as “Printed material offered for sale or free distribution by the agency created for the purpose of conveying information to the public.”
In fiscal year 2000, state agencies and state universities received 8,179,754 requests for Agency Publications (67.33% of all requests submitted). In fiscal year 2021, they received just 5,651 requests for Agency Publications (0.70% of all requests submitted). Many state agencies and state universities now provide free access to their publications online—presumably, more transparency has resulted in fewer open records requests.
As seen in the right-hand table above, nearly 90% of requests submitted to state agencies and state universities in fiscal year 2021 fell within the undefined “Other” category. As the AG has acknowledged, it is “impossible to provide an accurate explanation of the kind of information reported in [the Other] category” due to the variety of information reported in the category. The AG has urged all agencies “to review their entries to correct errors, consolidate similar categories, and report routine information within the categories already provided.”
On average, less than 0.5% of requests are sent to the AG for a ruling
In fiscal year 2021, state agencies and state universities sent an average of 0.2476% of requests to the Texas Attorney General’s Office for a ruling on whether the requested information could be withheld. Some agencies sent no or very few requests to the AG.
For example, the Comptroller received 663,036 requests in fiscal year 2021 but sent only 13 requests (0.002%) to the AG. Other governmental bodies had less stellar records. The Texas Emergency Services Retirement System and Lamar State College in Port Arthur each sent 100% of their requests to the AG, and the Office of the Adjutant General (Commander and CEO of the Texas Military Department) sent about 36% of its requests to the AG.
 The TPIA does not require regional, county, and municipal governments to submit any data to the Texas Attorney General’s Office regarding the number and nature of open records requests they receive.