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December 16, 1999

Ms. Janice Marie Wilson
Associate General Counsel
Texas Department of Transportation
Dewitt C. Greer State Highway Building
125 East 11th Street
Austin, Texas 78701-2483

OR99-3577

Dear Ms. Wilson:

You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 130727.

The Texas Department of Transportation (the "department") received a request for test questions, applicant responses, and the applicant's score for a particular job posting. You claim that the requested information is excepted from disclosure under section 552.122 of the Government Code. We have considered the exception you claim and have reviewed the submitted information.

Section 552.122(b) excepts from disclosure test items developed by a licensing agency or governmental body. In Open Records Decision No. 626 (1994), this office determined that the term "test item" in section 552.122(b) includes any standard means by which an individual's or group's knowledge or ability in a particular area is evaluated, but does not encompass evaluations of an employee's overall job performance or suitability. Whether information falls within the section 552.122(b) exception must be determined on a case-by-case basis. Open Records Decision No. 626 at 6 (1994). Traditionally, this office has applied section 552.122(b) where release of "test items" might compromise the effectiveness of future examinations. Id. at 4-5; see also Open Records Decision No. 118 (1976).

In Open Records Letter Ruling No. 97-2612 (1997), we found that the department could withhold interview information under section 552.122(b). There, you indicated that the department would use the questions and criteria to evaluate applicants in future interviews. You state that the previous ruling applies to the requested information here. After reviewing the submitted documents, we believe that questions 1, 3, 6, 7, and 10, their rating criteria (preferred answers), and candidate answers are protected "test items." They will "measure the skill, knowledge, intelligence, capacities, or aptitudes of an individual" and are a "standard means by which an individual's or group's knowledge or ability in a particular area is evaluated." Open Records Decision No. 626 at 6 (1994). The remaining question, question number 2, is not a "test item" as contemplated by section 552.122(b), and must be released; the material "does not involve an evaluation of an applicant's knowledge in a particular area." Id. at 8. Consequently, only questions 1, 3, 6, 7 and 10 and their related information may be withheld under section 552.122(b). Id. at 8 (when answers to test questions might reveal the questions themselves, the information may be withheld under section 552.122); see Attorney General Opinion JM-640 at 3 (1987).

This letter ruling is limited to the particular records at issue in this request and limited to the facts as presented to us; therefore, this ruling must not be relied upon as a previous determination regarding any other records or any other circumstances.

This ruling triggers important deadlines regarding the rights and responsibilities of the governmental body and of the requestor. For example, governmental bodies are prohibited from asking the attorney general to reconsider this ruling. Gov't Code 552.301(f). If the governmental body wants to challenge this ruling, the governmental body must appeal by filing suit in Travis County within 30 calendar days. Id. 552.324(b). In order to get the full benefit of such an appeal, the governmental body must file suit within 10 calendar days. Id. 552.353(b)(3), (c). If the governmental body does not appeal this ruling and the governmental body does not comply with it, then both the requestor and the attorney general have the right to file suit against the governmental body to enforce this ruling. Id. 552.321(a).

If this ruling requires the governmental body to release all or part of the requested information, the governmental body is responsible for taking the next step. Based on the statute, the attorney general expects that, within 10 calendar days of this ruling, the governmental body will do one of the following three things: 1) release the public records; 2) notify the requestor of the exact day, time, and place that copies of the records will be provided or that the records can be inspected; or 3) notify the requestor of the governmental body's intent to challenge this letter ruling in court. If the governmental body fails to do one of these three things within 10 calendar days of this ruling, then the requestor should report that failure to the attorney general's Open Government Hotline, toll free, at 877/673-6839. The requestor may also file a complaint with the district or county attorney. Id. 552.3215(e).

If this ruling requires or permits the governmental body to withhold all or some of the requested information, the requestor can appeal that decision by suing the governmental body. Id. 552.321(a); Texas Department of Public Safety v. Gilbreath, 842 S.W.2d 408, 411 (Tex. App.-Austin 1992, no writ).

If the governmental body, the requestor, or any other person has questions or comments about this ruling, they may contact our office. Although there is no statutory deadline for contacting us, the attorney general prefers to receive any comments within 10 calendar days of the date of this ruling.

Sincerely,

Carla Gay Dickson
Assistant Attorney General
Open Records Division

CGD/nc

Ref: ID# 130727

Encl. Submitted documents

cc: Ms. Blanca Ontiveros
602 Lobo Loop
Laredo, Texas 78045
(w/o enclosures)


 

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