Date: Mar 29, 2012
Press Release Number: 42-2012
New Freedom of Information Code will provide an easier release of documents as part of overall reform of bi-state agency's operations and interaction with the public it serves
Acting to improve the Port Authority’s public accountability, the agency’s Board of Commissioners today approved an overhauled Freedom of Information Code (FOI) to increase transparency by making it easier for individuals to obtain a wider range of Port Authority information and records.
These changes will clarify the FOI guidelines to provide greater guidance to Port Authority staff on determining availability of records faster, while also meeting public expectations for a clearer understanding of what types of records are exempt. The goal is to ensure the public has access to agency records to the greatest extent possible and aims to make the Port Authority a leader in open government initiatives.
Revisions seek to incorporate the key aspects of the New Jersey and New York state open government provisions and will then require that the released information, data and documents immediately be posted for the first time on the Port Authority’s website.
Tomorrow, the Port Authority will post roughly 22,000 pages of documents, including all answered FOI requests from 2011, more than 500 pages of 2011 board and committee presentations, numerous contracts between the Port Authority and private firms, as well as more than 300 pages of toll and fare hearing transcripts. The site also will include updated Port Authority/PATH payroll information – providing data from 2008 forward in Excel format. This is believed to be one of the largest, voluntary online posting of government documents in the history of public entities in the New York and New Jersey region.
The revamped code also will clarify Port Authority FOI officers’ understanding and interpretation of areas that constitute legitimate exemptions for release of certain data, including those pertaining to security matters and privacy issues. Revisions call for inclusion of greater details when filling requests.
"The Port Authority has long been the national leader in transportation and economic growth," said Port Authority Chairman David Samson. "Today, we are taking the necessary steps to make the Port Authority the national leader in transparency and open government. We will continue to work with the public to find new ways to improve our communications, our openness and be more user-friendly."
"This is an exemplary step forward in making the Port Authority more accountable and reaching our goal of setting the best-in-class standards," said Port Authority Vice Chairman Scott Rechler. "This agency should never settle for mediocrity when it comes to letting the public know how we are carrying out our mission and our responsibilities."
"The new FOI Code streamlines, modernizes, and clarifies an out-of-date system that was clearly not meeting the public’s needs," said Port Authority Executive Director Pat Foye. "By holding ourselves to a higher standard of transparency and by voluntarily posting online thousands of documents now, we make the agency a stronger and more accountable institution."
"Open government means that public documents—at a public agency—should be accessible and easy to receive, said Port Authority Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni. "Our new Port Authority Transparency Project will make the PA perhaps the most accessible and open public agency in the country. Code changes will provide a broad, extensive and clear definition of what is considered a record suitable for release and posting on the agency’s website. It will restate exemptions for greater clarity and provide examples of materials exempt from disclosure to avoid the appearance of arbitrary decisions."
Agency responses by the Office of the Secretary to FOI requests now will represent final agency action—removing an additional layer of bureaucracy that often delayed final responses—allowing those who wish to seek judicial recourse in New York or New Jersey a more streamlined process. This will preclude the need to exhaust administrative remedies within the agency before potentially taking a matter to court.
Port Authority Commissioners are committed to implementing significant, substantive change to reinvigorate the agency and the Board already has taken a series of other reform initiatives. These steps include establishing a Special Board Committee to perform a comprehensive agency review, posting total employee compensation on the Port Authority website, establishing a working group to examine the authority’s insurance practices, hiring the agency’s first new independent auditor in more than 30 years, and strengthening the internal risk management system.
Posting answered FOI requests in real time on the agency website will modernize a system that often resulted in having to print thousands of pages of documents. Since the agency anticipates this change will provide a significant savings on paper and printing costs, fees associated with the FOI process will be waived for a one-year trial basis.
The newly adopted FOI Code will become effective on or about April 15, 2012, following gubernatorial reviews and will be applied to requests made afterward, except where precluded by law or contractual provisions.
Port Authority staff is being directed to make further efforts to make additional agency information public on the website where possible in the coming months, even if some large material – such as certain video and audio files – are not practical to post currently. While initially the site will post documents under basic categories it will become increasingly searchable. The transparency website can be found at www.panynj.gov/corporate-information/transparency.html beginning tomorrow.
Port Authority of New York and New Jersey
Hunter Pendarvis or Ron Marsico, 212 435-7777
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which does not receive tax dollars from either state, operates many of the busiest and most important transportation links in the region. They include John F. Kennedy International, Newark Liberty International, LaGuardia, Stewart International and Teterboro airports; AirTrain JFK and AirTrain Newark; the George Washington Bridge and Bus Station; the Lincoln and Holland tunnels; the three bridges between Staten Island and New Jersey; the PATH (Port Authority Trans-Hudson) rapid-transit system; Port Newark; the Elizabeth-Port Authority Marine Terminal; the Howland Hook Marine Terminal on Staten Island; the Brooklyn Piers/Red Hook Container Terminal; the Port Authority-Port Jersey Marine Terminal and the Port Authority Bus Terminal in midtown Manhattan. The agency also owns the 16-acre World Trade Center site in Lower Manhattan.