Partners Testify on FOIA Challenges – June 9, 2015 Newsletter

– Brief Updates on Coalition Partners & Others (more)
– Partners, Civil Society Groups Provide Testimony on FOIA (more)

– More from the Civil Society National Action Plan(more)

News from Coalition Partners & Others
 


Submit Nominations for the State Open Government Hall of Fame

The National Freedom of Information Coalition (NFOIC) and the Society of Professional Journalists sponsor the annual “Heroes of the 50 States” award, inducting champions for state and local open government into the Hall of Fame each year. Nominations may come from government, media, the non-profit sector, and beyond and are due to NFOIC by June 30, 2015. The formal induction will take place during the annual FOI Summit in October.  

 


Taxpayers for Common Sense, CQ Shed Light on Secretive National Guard Fund

Since September 11th, 2001, the uncapped and minimally overseen National Guard and Reserve Component Equipment Account has received more than $10 billion. The fund is not part of the President’s budget and the fund’s expenditures are only revealed “in an obscure Defense Department report to Congress each year.” Learn more about TCS’ work tracking the secretive fund in Roll Call.


Partners Issue Joint Report on Campaign Finance

The Center for Responsive Politics (OpenSecrets.org) and the Sunlight Foundation analyze the influence of the “One Percent of the One Percent” of federal campaign donors in a new report. The two organizations found that since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, the influence of mega-donors has grown. Learn more here.

Partners, Civil Society Groups Provide Testimony on FOIA

The House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform held a rigorous two-day hearing last week on “Ensuring Transparency through the Freedom of Information Act,” chaired by Rep. Jason Chaffetz. The first day of the hearing featured testimony from investigative reporters and FOIA experts, including OpenTheGovernment.org partners and colleagues.

National Security Archive FOIA director, Nate Jones, provided testimony emphasizing the need for legislation that would address the root of many contentious fee issues, place limitations on the often abused Exemption 5, and strengthen the FOIA ombudsman office OGIS. Jones also called for an independent, robust FOIA “beat cop” to ensure agency compliance – a job that the DOJ is currently not performing.

Anne Weismann, Executive Director of the Campaign for Accountability, gave testimony that called on Congress to pass the FOIA Oversight and Implementation Act of 2015 (H.R. 653), introduced by Reps. Darrel E. Issa and Elijah Cummings earlier this year. Weismann highlighted particular areas that need reform, such as Exemption 5, which has been used to “block public access to a wealth of information that would provide insight into, and a better understanding of, some of the most controversial government policies.” Weismann also noted that the FOIA Act would codify a presumption of openness that agencies currently apply only as a matter of discretionary policy. OpenTheGovernment.org has supported the efforts to pass the FOIA Oversight and Implementation Act (H.R. 653) and the FOIA Improvement Act (S. 337), which include critical reforms that will help strengthen the public's ability to hold its government accountable.

ACLU’s Legislative Counsel/Policy Advisor Gabriel Rottman gave testimony offering a series of recommendations to increase the effectiveness and consistency of FOIA compliance, including: mandating the creation of a government-wide automated portal for a “ones-stop shop” for the submission of FOIA requests to any agency; resisting the creation of new exemptions, such as those proposed in the cybersecurity legislation that recently passed the House; and passing FOIA reform legislation, among others.

More from the Civil Society National Action Plan

Several groups and individuals have contributed ideas for the administration’s third National Action Plan for Open Government to our Model Plan site. In addition to those spotlighted last week, many of the recommendations tackle the administration’s most prominent openness challenges:

Privacy: These commitments tackle everything from ensuring health information privacy to shedding more light on real-time tracking and location technology.

Targeted Killing: The US government should declassify information about lethal strikes overseas, and the authorities governing the overseas use of force.

Transparency and Participation in Trade Negotiations: Trade negotiations on behalf of the US government are being conducted in secret. This commitment outlines how that should change.

 

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