Policy and News Update for December 11, 2012

In This Issue:
News from Coalition Partners & Others
I. New Whistleblower Protections: The Impact on Open Government
II. Report on Transforming Classification Released
III. SURVEY: How Do You Use OpenTheGovernment.org

News from Coalition Partners & Others


National Security Archive Releases Report on Outdated FOIA Regulations

More than 60 percent of government agencies have failed to update their FOIA regulations since US Attorney General Eric Holder issued is 2009 FOIA memorandum, which instructed agencies to remove “bureaucratic hurdles” from FOIA processing and increase proactive disclosure. The Archive also found that more than half of the agencies had not updated their regulations since the passage of the OPEN Government Act of 2007.


Good Jobs First Subsidy Tracker Informs New York Times Investigation

Good Job’s First subsidy tracker, launched in 2010, provides the majority of data for the New York Times’ investigation of business incentives across the United States. The resulting interactive infographic and reportage allows users to view the incentives and subsidies by state and company.


EPIC Looks to Maintain Open Government Rules at Defense Agency

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) submitted extensive comments to the Defense Logistics Agency, opposing proposed changes to the agency’s FOIA program. DLA's proposed regulations would modify the FOIA processing policy, exemptions under FOIA, and fee waivers, creating additional barriers to the public’s ability to access government information.


Sunlight Foundation Launches Open Government Reddit Community

The Sunlight Foundation has created a space on the crowd-sourcing website Reddit to share and discuss transparency issues and news. The sub-Reddit allows users to comment and vote on which articles should be featured.

I. New Whistleblower Protections: The Impact on Open Government

The OpenTheGovernment.org coalition is proud to include many champions for whistleblowers, including the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), the Government Accountability Project (GAP), and the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). Over the past few months, our partners pushed through two important measures to strengthen whistleblower protections. Here’s a rundown of what the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (WPEA) and the policy directive for intelligence community Whistleblowers furthers government openness.

The WPEA

Most importantly, the WPEA closes loopholes that had been created through judicial decisions that had weakened the Whistleblower Protection Act. Whistleblowers were not eligible for protections if they were not the first person to disclose the misconduct, made a disclosure to a co-worker or supervisor, disclosed the consequences of a policy decision, or blew the whistle while carrying out job duties.

The WPEA also removes the precedent that “reasonable belief” of wrongdoing meant that whistleblowers had to present uncontestable proof to be eligible for protection. There is also specific protection for scientific freedom, giving whistleblower protections to employees who challenge censorship.

Under the new law, whistleblowers are guaranteed the right to tell their story and present their evidence of retaliation before the Merit Systems Protection Board rules on the case. The MSPB must also now report on the outcomes of whistleblower cases, from administrative judge through Board appeal, in its annual reports. With a past track-record of 3-224 against whistleblowers, this disclosure is essential.

For a full rundown of the WPEA’s changes, check out GAP’s page: http://www.whistleblower.org/program-areas/legislation/wpea/the-protections

Policy Directive

Presidential Policy Directive 19 instructs intelligence agencies to create develop procedures to protect employees who blow the whistle on waste, fraud, and abuse. The WPEA does not cover the intelligence community, which includes the Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, and others. Until this directive, there was no specific prohibition for retaliation against whistleblowers in these agencies. For more on the directive and what work is left to be done for intelligence community whistleblowers, POGO has more: http://www.pogo.org/about/press-room/releases/2012/20121010-president-obama-issues-directive-for-whistleblowers.html

II. Report on Transforming Classification Released

On Thursday, December 6, the Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB) released its long-anticipated Report to the President on Transforming the Security Classification System. President Obama directed the PIDB to compile the report in a December 2009 Presidential Memo on Implementation of the Executive Order, "Classified National Security Information."

The report's recommendations clearly reflect the belief that the federal government classifies too much material. Among the most notable recommendations are the appointment of a White House-led Security Classification Reform Steering Committee, reducing the existing categories of classified information from three to two, and strengthening the authority and capacity of the National Declassification Center (NDC). In Secrecy News, Steve Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists particularly praised the PIDB and the report for emphasizing the need for leadership from the President to fix the system given the entrenched culture of secrecy at many agencies.

 

According to Patrice McDermott, Executive Director of OpenTheGovernment.org, "The PIDB's understanding of how hard it will be to change the national security bureaucracy's tendency to withhold information has clearly informed its report. Its recommendations provide a road map of necessary steps to ensure we can protect sensitive information and have an open and accountable government. We hope the President acts on these recommendations quickly."

III. SURVEY: How Do You Use OpenTheGovernment.org?

As anyone who has ever made a New Year's resolution can attest, December is a natural time to begin thinking about how to improve oneself. We hope you will take a few minutes to fill out our survey on what kind of information you are looking for from our coalition, and how you prefer to receive it. This information will be extremely useful as we think about how to better help our Coalition Partners and other supporters, and work to make the federal government more open and accountable in 2013 and beyond.

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