In This Issue:
News from Coalition Partners & Others
I. In Wake of Controversial Notice, DOJ Says It Limits Actions to "Compliance Inquiries;" Groups Ask for Further Clarification
II. Video Available of 2012 Sunshine Week Event – Secrecy, Disclosure and the Risks for Security and Accountability
Last week the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) announced the passage of the deadline for final or final draft scientific integrity policies. You can check on the policy’s status at each agency here. According to UCS, the quality of the policies varies significantly. The organization also has several recommendations for what needs to happen next.
The National Freedom of Information Coalition (NFOIC) has posted information about the 2012 FOI Summit in Madison, WI on May 11 — 12. Gene Policinski, senior vice president and executive director of the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University, will deliver the keynote address. Planned panel and program topics include fighting FOI erosion at the state and federal level, transparency in the post-Citizens United world, the impact and issues surrounding instant digital photography as a source of public information, and the troubling practice on the part of some state governors to keep their schedules hidden from citizens and journalists alike.
Don’t forget to sign up for the Sunlight Foundation’s Transparency Camp. This year’s annual "unconference" will be held April 28-29 at Founders Hall, George Mason University (see a map and other logistics info here). As an "unconference," sessions are chosen and led to attendees. Have an issue you’d like to see discussed, share your idea.
The Center for Public Integrity partnered with Global Integrity and Public Radio International to release results of their State Integrity Investigation, a data-driven analysis of transparency and accountability in all 50 state governments. The project assigns each state a letter grade based on 300 government integrity indicators. The results show some states are making progress toward cleaning up their capitols. Yet many states’ anti-corruption laws are riddled with loopholes or barely enforced. See how your state scored, and send the report card to your state officials, here.
On March 19, OMB Watch released Upholding the Public’s Trust: Key Features for Effective State Accountability Websites. The report looks at four key areas of transparency in the U.S. state and federal governments — campaign finance, lobbying, procurement, and public officials’ assets — and explains that thoughtful, citizen-centric disclosure websites share five common elements — easy navigation; basic information that most users need; features that help users explore the data; more detailed information for advanced users; and downloadable data.
Last week the Department of Justice (DOJ) sent out a statement intended to clarify concerns raised by the March 19 public notice of proposed modifications to DOJ’s Privacy Act and Freedom of Information Act system of records. The notice made several references to the DOJ’s Office of Information Policy (OIP) serving as “Ombudsman” in disputes between federal agencies and individuals who submit requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). According to DOJ’s statement, its actions are more accurately described as "compliance inquiries."
The original notice sparked the concern of several of our coalition partners and of Senator Patrick Leahy and Senator John Cornyn because the role of ombudsman is explicitly given to Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) by the OPEN Government Act of 2007. Intervention by DOJ to resolve specific questions or concerns regarding specific FOIA requests made to agencies other than DOJ, creates unnecessary confusion for agencies and requesters alike regarding how federal FOIA disputes should be handled. Assertion of this role and interventions by DOJ also undermine OGIS’s authority as the legislatively authorized FOIA ombudsman.
DOJ’s clarifying statement is a positive signal that they are not intentionally undermining OGIS’ role. The statement leaves several questions raised by the original notice unclear, however. Today we and some of our coalition partners who are deeply involved in federal FOIA issues, issued a letter asking DOJ to further clarify what it means by the "compliance inquiries" referenced in the statement and what actions it takes in response to such inquiries.
An archived video of our 2012 Sunshine Week Event, "Secrecy, Disclosure and the Risks for Security and Accountability," is now available on our website and via YouTube. The event was held on March 16th as part of the Freedom Forum’s 14th annual National Freedom of Information Day Conference. Log on to hear our two panels of distinguished experts discuss the role of whistleblowers and the press in accountable government, and the risks of sharing information; and whether national security claims trump the open government commitments of this Administration.
Special thanks goes out to our co-sponsors — American Association of Law Libraries, American Library Association, Association of Research Libraries, League of Women Voters, National Freedom of Information Coalition, OMB Watch, Project On Government Oversight, Sunshine Week, Special Libraries Association, and the Sunlight Foundation — for helping us promote and put on the event. And to First Amendment Center, Freedom Forum, and our funders — Bauman Foundation, CS Fund, Open Society Institute, and Rockefeller Brothers Fund — for making it possible.