In This Issue: [click on the link to go to the corresponding section]
Last week, WikiLeaks published 6,780 reports from the Congressional Research Service (CRS), an agency given millions of dollars per year to act as Congress’ analytic arm. Despite the fact CRS is funded by taxpayers, the public is not assured access to the reports it produces. Bills to open CRS reports to the public have been introduced in almost every session of Congress since 1998, but the agency remains exempt from the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and continues to make its work only available to Members of Congress and their staff as a matter of policy. The newly-released reports have also been merged into the collection at OpenCRS.
The Government Accountability Project (GAP) and Public Citizen continue to lead the fight to restore meaningful whistleblower protections for federal employees. Last week, in response to an editorial in the Washington Post, the groups organized an open letter, signed by OpenTheGovernment.org and several other coalition partners, arguing whistleblower protections for federal employees that help eliminate waste, fraud and abuse of taxpayer dollars are rightfully attached to the massive economic stimulus package passed by the House and should be included in the final bill sent to the President’s desk. It’s time to end the culture of secrecy and guarantee that the federal workforce has our support in making sure our stimulus dollars are spent honestly and effectively.
The National Freedom of Information Coalition (NFOIC) awarded eight grants to eight state-based coalitions to support work protecting the public’s right to an open government and furthering public access to government records and meetings. The grants are available to all NFOIC member coalitions with 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status. See a full list of the grantees, and a brief synopsis of the grants here.
Later this week, OpenTheGovernment.org and the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) will release Show Us the Data: The Most Wanted Federal Government Documents, a website created with the help of the Sunlight Labs to give you the opportunity to help determine what government information should be freely available on line, but is not. You can visit the site to make suggestions and vote on which documents you think should be on a Most Wanted list. This is the third Most Wanted survey, and previous projects were highly successful both in bringing attention to the issue, as well as encouraging federal entities to put information online. Many of the documents in previous Most Wanted surveys are now available online. The deadline for submissions, and votes, is March 9, 2009. Make sure your most wanted document makes the list by checking the site early and often.
OpenTheGovernment.org and several coalition partners have joined the Coalition for an Accountable Recovery, to work to ensure that economic recovery spending is transparent, accountable and effective. Polling confirms that Americans want sensible, transparent, accountable government action to revive the economy, and to understand the choices government officials are making. Members of the Coalition for an Accountable Recovery, a partnership of more than 30 organizations from across the political spectrum with hundreds of affiliates across the country, agree there must be requirements for detailed data and research tools on a searchable website to allow the public to effectively track and analyze the actions of the government (and government contractors) to judge how those funds are being spent.
Two pieces of legislation to address overclassification have been re-introduced in the House of Representatives during the 111th Congress. Both bills require better oversight and training to reduce overclassification: importantly, however, H.R. 553, the Reducing Overclassification Act, applies only to the Department of Homeland Securities (DHS), while H.R. 854 applies across the federal government. Overcalssification’s role in limiting information sharing became apparent in the wake of the September 11th attacks, but the problems caused by overclassification reach much farther. Overclassification across the Executive branch causes the government to waste billion of taxpayers’ dollars protecting information that should never have been classified and to lose the public’s trust. H.R. 553 was passed by the House on Tuesday, February 3rd; H.R. 854 has yet to be taken up by the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.