Better FOIA laws mean a better business climate

by Jim Hudson ([email protected]) 1,253 views 

When the public and private sectors work together seamlessly, the sky’s the limit for Arkansas’ economy.

I saw it at the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, where I worked to bring new businesses to our state. I saw it at the Department of Commerce, where we cut red tape and invested in our workforce. I see it now, collecting record tax revenues at Arkansas’ Department of Finance and Administration.

But when the public sector is hamstrung by Arkansas’ outdated, stifling Freedom of Information Act, our businesses suffer too.

Right now, under current Arkansas law, state employees can’t brainstorm ideas and work collaboratively for fear that drafts will be made public through a FOIA request and treated as an actual decsion. Companies are reluctant to share proprietary information with the state, for fear that their competitors get ahold of it through a FOIA disclosure. State employees waste taxpayer dollars fulfilling FOIA requests unrelated to actual agency decisions instead of doing the job they were hired to do.

This is no way to run a state government.

Gov. Sarah Sanders recently proposed legislation to fix this broken status quo. It’s a change that I and my colleagues have wanted for years. Her reforms will revise our outdated requirements and bring Arkansas in line with both the federal government and other states, running the gamut from liberal California to conservative Alabama.

This is not about reducing transparency. Everyone – including and especially the Governor – believes that Arkansans have a right to know what their government is up to and what we are spending money on. These reforms won’t make any government meetings private, won’t keep any government expenses secret, and won’t substantively reduce the amount of information everyday citizens have about their leaders whatsoever.

What they will do is make our government work more efficiently on behalf of the people of Arkansas, updating a law written in the analog age to reflect the digital age in which we now live.

If Arkansas is to grow our economy, attract more businesses, and create more jobs, then we need to have laws that allow our government to function properly. If our state is to be on the cutting edge of both public and private sector innovation, then we need to have laws that allow us to hold candid internal discussions. Governor Sanders’ reforms will make that possible.

I know that I’m not the only one hoping the legislature adopts these commonsense reforms. Everyone, from business leaders to everyday taxpayers, will benefit from these updates to our FOIA laws. And certainly, everyone in the state will benefit when these changes bring more jobs and investment.

I hope all of us, from the executive branch, to the legislature, to the private sector, to the general public, can come together and support these changes to make our entire state government more efficient.

Editor’s note: Jim Hudson is secretary of the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration. He previously served as chief of staff for the Arkansas Department of Commerce. The opinions expressed are those of the author.