Administration Issues Updated Guidance for Agency Open Government Plans – March 4, 2014 Newsletter

In This Issue:
News from Coalition Partners & Others
I. Administration Issues Updated Guidance for Agency Open Government Plans
II. Clinton White House Records Released, No Assertion of Privilege

News from Coalition Partners & Others

Save the Date for Coalition Partner Sunshine Week Events!

Friday, March 14:
National Freedom of Information Day Event, 8:30am-afternoon
Location: Newseum
Sponsors:, the Newseum Institute, American Association of Law Libraries, Association of Research Libraries, Center for Effective Government, Project On Government Oversight, Special Libraries Association, Sunlight Foundation, Sunshine in Government Initiative

Tuesday, March 18th:
Seventh Annual Freedom of Information Day Event, 9am-6pm
Location: American University Washington College of Law
Sponsors: Collaboration on Government Secrecy

NEW: Making ‘Public’ Data Truly Accessible, 6:30 pm – 8:30 pm
Location: The National Press Club
Sponsors: Sunlight Foundation, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington,, ProPublica, and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

Wednesday, March 19th:
DC Open Government Coalition Event, 6pm-7:30pm
Location: National Press Club

Thursday, March 20th:
NEW “Threats to Transparency: Problems with Money in Politics Disclosure and Proposals for Improved Access to Information” (Working Title), 2 pm – 5 pm
Location: American Bar Association, John Marshall Conference Room
Sponsors: Center for Responsive Politics

I. Administration Issues Updated Guidance for Agency Open Government Plans

On February 28, the Administration issued updated guidance for agencies to use as they develop 2014 open government plans. The guidance is part of the Administration's Open Government Partnership commitment to support and improve agency implementation of these plans.

Under the 2009 Open Government Directive, agencies are required to seek public input and issue an open government plan every two years. The current guidance also requires agencies to share a copy of a two page outline of their updated plan with the Open Government Working Group by April 1, 2014. To encourage outside stakeholders to provide targeted input and feedback on what should be in the plan, we encourage agencies to make these outlines publicly available. Agencies are required to post new plans by June 1, 2014.

The updated guidance incorporates many of the initiatives the Administration launched in the last 5 years, including the digital government strategy and whistleblower protections. It also requires agencies to include a list of all privacy compliance reports in the report, and to describe how they will make more information publicly available.

Overall, the guidance is helpful for putting agency open government efforts back on officials' priority lists. Also, making information about how an agency is carrying out its various open government responsibilities easily available in the plan will help Administration officials and watch dog groups keep a closer eye on what is happening at the agency level.

While the guidance may not include any "new" requirements, each agency does have an opportunity to use the creation and release of an updated open government plan to launch a new "flagship initiative." As we discussed during a meeting with the Administration's Open Government Working Group a few weeks ago, the flagship initiative creates opportunities for agencies to work together to address problems that are preventing many or all agencies from being more open. For example, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) used its 2012 open government plan to trumpet the launch of FOIAonline, a central portal that makes it easier for Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requesters to make and track requests at several agencies, and helps make information released under FOIA publicly available. During the meeting we suggested a set of "Open Government Community Challenges," including making ethics information more available and usable and making more agency spending information available.

II. Clinton White House Records Released, No Assertion of Privilege

On February 28th, the former President’s Library released several thousand pages of records from the Clinton White House. Under the Presidential Records Act, records may be withheld for processing for up to 12 years after a president leaves office. By the end of 12 years, Presidents may assert privilege over some documents—although the process for this assertion can change with each administration. Under President Obama’s executive order, the incumbent president has the final call on whether a claim of privilege will be asserted.

In January, the House passed the Presidential and Federal Records Act Amendments of 2014, which would create a process for the assertion of executive privilege over Presidential Records. As we said then, the orderly process established by the bill would help maximize the public access to these records.

According to the Obama administration, the Clinton White House has not asserted privilege over any of the 25,000 documents ready for release. According to Politico, nearly 8,000 documents from the Clinton White House are still being processed for release.

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