On January 28th, the Advisory Committee on Transparency (a project of the Sunlight Foundation) will host an ignite-style series of presentations to Congressional staff, advocates, and the public, of quick, actionable proposals Congress can take on to make government more transparent. RSVP for the free event here: http://snlg.ht/ACTSignUp.
The Electronic Policy Information Center scored another win for openness when a federal judge vacated provisions that would have hampered requesters’ ability to release information to the public. The Department of Homeland Security suggested during a FOIA lawsuit that EPIC should sign a protective agreement that would have prevented EPIC from disseminating the documents in the case.
The Center for Responsive Politics has launched a searchable database of all the donors to President Barack Obama’s 2013 inauguration. CRP’s analysis of donors, however, is hampered by a backslide in transparency from the 2009 inauguration. The inauguration campaign is only publishing the names of donors this year. In 2009, it included the donor name, place of employment, city and state, and the amount contributed. CRP’s Sheila Krumholtz put it all in context in a Los Angeles Times op-ed.
As you may know, OpenTheGovernment.org has been running a project that chronicles the experience of using FOIAonline as compared with other agencies’ processing systems. FOIAonline is a shared service that makes it easier for the public to make and track FOIA requests. Our assistant director, Amy Bennett, explained the project to the audience and offered a range of grades for FOIAonline and other agencies during a panel at last week's symposium, “Transparency in the Obama Administration: A Fourth Year Assessment,” held by the Collaboration on Government Secrecy at the Washington College of Law.
As you can see by clicking through the presentation slides, FOIAonline earned high marks for how easy it makes it for users to make requests and how it confirms to users that the request has been received. FOIAonline also gets credit for giving users a date to expect a response from the agency. The date provided is not a real projection of how long it will take to process the request: it is simply the 20 working day deadline written into the law. FOIAonline loses points because the discrepancy is not noted, agencies regularly do not meet the due date, and users are given no update on when a response can actually be expected.
FOIAonline's scores were particularly low on how agencies used the system to make documents available. As Amy described during her presentation, the low grades are in part a reaction to agencies failure to take advantage of one of the system's biggest assets: all documents that are released using FOIAonline can be made available to the public. It is up to the agency to actually post the documents. Released documents should be placed in an online repository that users can search to find documents prior to making their own requests. Making released documents generally available could cut down on the number of requests sent to agencies, and help make sure agencies only have to process a request for any document once. In our experience, however, documents that have been released through FOIAonline have not gone up online, and have been nearly impossible to find using the search tool.
Keep up with the FOIAonline project here.
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