What is a public record under the Public Information Act?
A public record is defined as the original or copy of any documentary material in any form created or received by an agency in connection with the transaction of public business. Included in the definition are written materials, books, photographs, photocopies, microfilms, records, tapes, computerized records, maps, drawings, and other materials. As technology has advanced, the term has been considered to include email messages as well as text messages.
What public records can I obtain from an agency or governmental unit?
When an individual requests public records from an agency or governmental unit, the agency or unit must provide records that it has within its possession or control. There are some exceptions that apply to confidential materials. In addition, agencies have retention and destruction policies in place that may render materials unavailable after a certain period of time.
When a contractor stores or uses records for a government agency and the records involve ongoing government operations, those records are subject to a PIA request that the agency receives. The physical location of the records with the contractor does not govern the analysis. Instead, the focus is on whether the records fall within the control of the custodian. Similarly, when a contractor performs services for a government agency that include the submission of a formal report or status updates to the government agency, those records would be subject to the PIA. Presumably, the agency's records management system would provide guidance regarding how long and where to keep the materials. If the items were misplaced or could not be found, however, the agency may have the responsibility for obtaining the records from the contractor to correct the deficiency. And if the contractor failed to provide the information in the first instance, the agency would have a right to obtain them to complete its own records.
How do I request public records?
There is no central location from which to request public records. Instead, a request should go to the agency that has responsibility for the record(s) you seek. The Public Information Act Representatives list located in the List of Custodians shows the contact person for each government agency. If you do not know what agency has the records you seek, you may review the Maryland Manual on the Maryland Archives website, check agency websites directly, or contact your local library for assistance from the reference staff to identify the agency that has the particular type of record.
What does the Ombudsman do?
The Public Access Ombudsman mediates disputes under the Public Information Act that a requester and a records custodian have been unable to resolve themselves. The Ombudsman does not accept PIA requests on behalf of agencies and cannot compel the parties to act in a particular way. The Ombudsman's duties focus solely on attempting to resolve disputes between a requester and a records custodian about a pending request for public information.
What information do I need to submit with a request to the Ombudsman?
A request for assistance from the Ombudsman should include the initial request for information, the response, the dates of each, and a description of the dispute involved. See the intake form for details of the submission. [link to the form]
How long does the process take once I ask for the Ombudsman's assistance?
You will be contacted by the Office of the Ombudsman within a few days once you submit a complaint, depending on the Ombudsman's workload. Depending on the amount of details you include, you may be asked for additional information before the Ombudsman can contact the person or agency that is the subject of your complaint. Once the Ombudsman has spoken with both of you, the length of time to resolve your dispute depends on the cooperation of the requester and the records custodian and on the Ombudsman's caseload.
Can I appeal the results achieved by the Ombudsman to a court or other hearing officer?
No. Because the role of the Ombudsman is to serve as a mediator, there is no decision made by the Ombudsman and, therefore, no ability to file an appeal from the outcome of the mediation process.
Where can I learn more about the PIA?
The PIA Manual contains extensive discussion of the law and includes an overview of its provisions in the List of Custodians.
200 St. Paul Place, Baltimore, MD 21202
410-576-6300 / 1-888-743-0023 toll-free / TDD: 410-576-6372