How Hard Is It to Get a State Agency's Budget?
Louisiana's Office of Financial Institutions has broad oversight powers. Good luck finding out how they're funded.
Recently, we looked at the Louisiana Governor's Office of Financial Institutions (OFI), a huge agency with 111 employees and 7 offices across the state regulating banks, credit unions, and other financial institutions in Louisiana.
During the most recent legislative session, OFI employees testified on multiple bills, saying that different pieces of legislation would be burdensome for the office and they would require additional funding from the legislature to add more staff, should those pieces of legislation go into effect.
With such a big staff footprint already, we were curious about just how much funding they already had. Despite OFI's abuse of exemptions to public records laws, and proving themselves to be potentially the State's least-transparent agency, we sent a simple request to their Custodian of Records asking for "all records of budgets, expenditures, and means of financing for the Office of Financial Institutions for Fiscal Years 2020 and 2021"- a common request that most state agencies and boards are typically quick to respond to.
Once again, OFI refused to provide any records, and directed us to the Division of Administration, saying:
"All records of the Office of Financial Institutions are confidential within the office pursuant to R.S. 6:103, not subject to disclosures by the agency nor legal process, or otherwise as provided by that statute and state public records laws (R.S. 44:1, et seq.). State agency budge/financial information may be available from the Division of Administration, through its records custodian."
Being directed to the Division of Administration, we sent to their Custodian of Records the same exact request, "Please provide all records of budgets, expenditures, and means of financing for the Office of Financial Institutions for Fiscal Years 2020 and 2021."
The Division of Administration was quick to respond, saying:
In response to your August 11, 2022 public records request, the Division of Administration has conducted a search for records. The Division has no records which are responsive to your request, and suggests that you submit your request to the custodian of records for the Louisiana Office of Financial Institutions via the hypertext link below:
With this response, we consider your request closed.
The link they provided is, of course, the Custodian of Records for OFI- where we submitted our original request seeking their budget and means of financing, as well as our earlier request seeking their staff's communications in regards to legislation during the 2022 Legislative Session- both times being told that OFI, under no circumstances, releases any of its records.
With this merry-go-round of trying to find out how much funding such a large agency receives, taxpayers are left in the dark on (1) how big OFI's budget really is and (2) legislators are also left in the dark, unable to verify when the agency claims it needs more funding to implement proposed reforms.
Communications between government employees and how their agencies are funded are crucial parts of a transparent government, and the intention of Louisiana's public records laws, which are designed to protect the "inherent right of the public to be reasonably informed as to what public records contain and the manner, basis, and reasons upon which governmental affairs are conducted, while at the same time balancing the right of the public against the necessity for the custodian of public records to act in the public interest."
The refusal of the Office of Financial Institutions, and inability of the Division of Administration, to provide this information, raises serious questions about OFI's commitment to truth and transparency, allowing them to stymie reform with no means of verifying their claims. Once again, they may be Louisiana's least transparent agency.