U Memo 20-2

Posted on Oct 23, 2019 in Informal Opinions - UIPA Opinions

U Memo 20-2
October 23, 2019
Residential Properties Without Water Service

A member of the public (Requester) made a request to the Honolulu Board of Water Supply (BWS-HON) for a list of addresses for residential properties within seven zip codes that did not have water service for a specific time period.  BWS-HON denied his request as being not readily retrievable and cited section 92F-11(c), HRS, in support of its position.

Requester believed BWS-HON did not want to provide the requested information because “they would have to work to create it, instead of it being a report they could just double click and print.”  There is no exception allowing an agency to withhold a record on the basis that responding to a UIPA request will be burdensome to the agency.  OIP Op. Ltr. No. 12-01 at 19, citing OIP Op. Ltr. No. 98-4 at 4, citing SHOPO v. Soc. of Professional Journalists et al., 83 Haw. 378, 394-96, 927 P. 2d 386, 402-4 (1996).  Here, BWS‑HON’s argument was not that it can withhold existing records based on the administrative burden of disclosure, but rather that there is no existing record responsive to Requester’s request, and the UIPA does not require BWS-HON to create one.  OIP found that BWS-HON was not attempting to use section 92F‑11(c), HRS, to avoid responding to a burdensome record request.

The UIPA requires that all government records are public unless restricted or closed by law.  HRS § 92F-11(a) and (b) (2012, Supp. 2018).  In addition, section 92F‑12(a)(12), HRS, requires agencies to disclose “[w]ater service consumption data maintained by the boards of water supply[.]”  “Water service consumption data” is “a service holder’s water use zone, water consumption, highest and lowest consumption, estimated gallons per day, averaged consumption, water allotment, excess over allotment, and water and sewer readings[.]”  OIP Op. Ltr. No. 90-29 at 6-7.

However, the UIPA also provides that “[u]nless the information is readily retrievable by the agency in the form in which it is requested, an agency shall not be required to prepare a compilation or summary of its records.”  HRS § 92F-11(c).  This law clarifies that an agency’s duty is generally limited to providing access to existing records; an agency does not have to create “new” records for the convenience of a requester.  OIP Op. Ltr. No. 92-7 at 2-3.  When a request is for a compilation or summary of information in an agency database, the agency is not required to create such a report unless the data can be “routinely compiled” given an agency’s existing programming capabilities.  Id. at 11.

BWS-HON’s response to this appeal stated that in order to provide the requested information, it would have to “write a program to query the data fields within its customer information system and apply logic to output the desired information[,]” as well as performing several additional steps including possibly reconciling data between two different software applications.  Based on BWS-HON’s explanation of the steps required to respond to the record request, OIP found that it could not respond using its existing programming capabilities, and was not able to readily retrieve the requested information.  BWS-HON is therefore not required to provide the requested information because doing so would require preparation of a compilation or summary of information that is not readily retrievable.  HRS § 92F‑11(c).

Requester has the option to request the underlying records containing the requested information, i.e., the portion of the relevant databases covering the areas and period of interest to Requester.  BWS-HON may charge fees and costs for processing the record request in accordance with chapter 2-71, HAR.  If a subsequent record request would again require compilation or summary of information that is not readily retrievable, BWS would not be required to provide such compilation or summary.