Open Government Working Group Meeting Recap: May 14, 2014

Members of civil society are invited to attend meetings of the interagency open government working group on a quarterly basis. Our notes on the content of the meeting are below. 

FOIA Updates

Federal Advisory Committee- The committee was announced in the Federal Register last week. Committee appointments are expected to be made next week, with the first meeting tentatively scheduled for the third week in June. All of the advisory committee’s meetings will be open to the public and have a call-in option available. During the first meeting, the committee will identify what topics it will tackle in FOIA modernization. The committee will host 3 to 4 meetings this year. Committee members are appointed for 2 year terms, and can be renewed. The FACA committee page will be hosted by the National Archives and Records Administration.

Best Practices Workshops- Will feature panels highlighting agencies’ best practices and success overcoming challenges.  May’s meeting will focus on backlogs and timeliness. Others will focus on proactive disclosure, requesters’ perspectives, technology, customer service, and dispute resolution.  (See the schedule here: http://blogs.justice.gov/oip/archives/1426. According to the announcement, the public will be invited to attend some of these sessions).

The Common Regulation- The Office of Information Policy at Justice is hosting meetings on May 28th and 29th, first to consult with civil society and then to work with agencies. Agency participants will create teams for each part of the regulation and begin developing language.  The teams will also meet with stakeholders outside government.

E-Learning/Training- The Department of Justice is using e-learning modules to communicate that FOIA is everyone’s job. Two videos are coming soon: one for senior executives reinforcing their FOIA responsibilities, and another for FOIA professionals.  An infographic will be created and included in every new employee’s Welcome package.

FOIA Portal: A task force is in place, including agency leaders from nearly a dozen agencies. They will begin the outside consultation process at the end of the month.

Big Data and Privacy Report

A “scoping” report on big data and its privacy implications was recently delivered to the President. The report was drawn from public conferences and interviews with more than 100 individuals including academics, technologists, and more. Key takeaways included that data, and the amount of data about that data are increasing exponentially. The ability to store this data indefinitely is also increasing. An overview of the report’s recommendations is available here.

Open Government Partnership (OGP)

The steering committee of the OGP, which is composed of representatives of 11 countries and 11 civil society organizations, met recently. The steering committee approved a four- year strategy going forward. The focus of the OGP is turning to improving the quality of countries’ commitments and their implementation, increasing the diversity of CSO engagement, and strengthening the Independent Reporting Mechanism. The government official noted to agencies the importance of the United States’ role as co-founder of the OGP. The work done in the implementation of the plan is observed internationally.  The government’s planned self-assessment was discussed, as was the plan for civil society’s evaluations.

The OGP is also expanding its engagement to the private sector. The Republic of Korea and Microsoft are heading up this engagement and looking at ways to incorporate technology and promote accountability in this engagement.

The steering committee drafted a rapid response plan, a step toward “off-ramp” plan, for countries that are not meeting their commitments or somehow violating the values of the OGP. The plan/criteria will likely be up for approval in September.

Open Government Plans

Agencies’ open government plans will be posted June 2nd. The deadline is set for June 1st, but that falls on a Sunday. An agency official thanked civil society for their input and recommendations, saying that it was very helpful. She noted, however, that it is much more helpful for CSOs to send their recommendations in non-pdf forms, so agencies can cut and paste recommendations. A civil society member suggested a central repository for recommendations would be useful, as the recommendations aren’t always delivered to the right people. 

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