After months of conference negotiations, the Farm Bill has moved forward without the provisions that would have cut of public access to information about agricultural and livestock information. The language, originally in the House-passed bill, would have prohibited disclosure of information about any owner, operator, or employee of an agricultural or livestock operation. The public, particularly the neighbors of these operations, require access to information about the operations to ensure their health and safety.
The following analysis was written by OpenTheGovernment.org.
On December 8, the Administration committed to taking a series of concrete steps in the next two years with the goal of improving implementation of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The steps include: creating a consolidated online FOIA service; developing common FOIA regulations; scaling up targeted efforts to make processing requests more efficient (sharing best practices); establishing a FOIA Modernization Advisory Committee; and improving FOIA training. If the government meets these commitments, will it actually be any easier for the public to ask for and receive government information?
On November 6, more than 40 organizations joined OpenTheGovernment.org in urging members of the conference committee on the Farm Bill not to include language that cuts off public access to a broad swatch of information about agricultural and livestock operations.
On October 10 - 11, as hosts of the FOIA Summit, OpenTheGovernment.org kicked off an effort to create a more vibrant and better coordinated effort to make the FOIA work better for the public. As we noted in our latest newsletter, items on the agenda included creating a vision for the Office of Government Information Services, the FOIA Ombudsman; making more records available without having to file a FOIA request; making sure agencies are not over-applying exemptions; and improving the federal government's record keeping practices. Click "read more" for a snapshot of the Summit.
A recent Wall Street Journal described government records obtained by hedge funds as “nonpublic information” (Open-Government Laws Fuel Hedge-Fund Profits, Markets, Sept. 23) This characterization is misleading and undermines the purpose and intent of the Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA). The FOIA makes it clear the public has a right to access most government records after information that must be kept secret to protect national security or a limited number of other interests has been redacted. By definition, any information that is released under the FOIA is public information.
Last week the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a new report evaluating the Office of Government Information Services' (OGIS) ability to meet its statutory responsibilities to review agency compliance with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), offer mediation services for FOIA disputes and make recommendations for improving FOIA processing.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed suit against the Department of Justice last week for not making opinions by the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) available to the public.
Recently we wrote about a successful effort to keep a provision out of the Senate-passed Farm Bill that would have barred the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from releasing information about farm owners or operators. Unfortunately, though, it seems that the attempt to attach the language to the Farm Bill in the Senate was only the opening salvo in a wider war to stop the EPA from releasing potentially important public health and safety information. The Senators who proposed the Farm Bill amendment, Senators Grassley and Donnelly, recently introduced an identical bill, and similar language appears in the House-passed version of the Farm Bill (Sec. 450) and the House Appropriations Committee's version of the 2014 Interior spending bill (Sec. 11325).