Policy and News Update for January 27, 2009


News from Coalition Partners & Others

I. President Obama Reverses Bush Policies, Opens Government, on Day One

II. Supreme Court Ruling in Herring v. US Sets Bad Precedent for Government’s Data Assurance

In This Issue: [click on the link to go to the corresponding section]

News from Coalition Partners & Others

URGENT Call from Public Citizen: Protect Whistleblowers!

Public Citizen issued an URGENT ACTION ALERT urging everyone to contact their Representative TODAY and ask for support for federal employee whistleblower rights in the economic stimulus package. An amendment by Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Representative Todd Platts (R-Pa.) scheduled for a vote TODAY at 3 pm would restore and strengthen protections for federal workers who blow the whistle on waste, fraud and abuse. The text of the amendment mirrors language that passed the House with overwhelming support in 2007. You can find your member of the House here, or simply call the Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121 and ask for your representative. Please tell your member of Congress to support federal employee whistleblower rights and vote "Yes" on the Platts/Van Hollen Amendment today!

 

GAP Leads Effort to Protect TARP Whistleblowers

On January 23rd, the Government Accountability Project (GAP) sent a letter to the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (SIGTARP) signed by OpenTheGovernment.org and several coalition partners urging him to protect whistleblowers who expose waste fraud and abuse during audits associated with the Treasury’s intervention in the financial industry. Learn more about the bailout, and about what OpenTheGovernment.org and our coalition partners are doing to make sure the program is conducted in the light of day, by visiting OpenTheGovernment.org’s bailout transparency clearinghouse.

 

Columbia Journalism Review Highlights Transparency

The Columbia Journalism Review has launched a Transparency Project devoted to stories and other material from the Columbia Journalism Review highlighting the "struggle to open up government."

 

Sunlight Foundation, Pew Charitable Trusts, Launch Bailout Project on SubsidyScope

On Moday, the Sunlight Foundation announced the release of data on the federal bailout on SubsidyScope, a joint project of Sunlight Foundation and the Pew Charitable Trusts.

I. President Obama Reverses Bush Policies, Opens Government, on Day One

On his first full day in office, January 22nd, President Barack Obama made several bold gestures to underline the message that his administration will be transparent and accountable. The new President presented this theme in his Inaugural address, saying that his administration would "do our business in the light of day, because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government." As one of his first orders of business, President Obama directed the Attorney General to issue new guidelines and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to issue updated guidance to agencies governing the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The policy statement presents a clear reversal from then-Attorney General Ashcroft’s memorandum instructing agencies to withhold documents whenever legally possible under the Freedom of Information Act by directing that "All agencies should adopt a presumption in favor of disclosure," and, furthermore, "agencies should take affirmative steps to make information public." President Obama also released a broad statement directing OMB, the Chief Technology Officer, and the Administrator of the General Services Administration to develop recommendations for an "Open Government Directive" that moves government towards being "transparent," "participatory," and collaborative." Additionally, President Obama made it clear that he intends to hold himself to similar standards of transparency by issuing an Executive Order revoking changes made to the Presidential Records Act by the former administration that increased the ability of former Presidents, their heirs, and Vice Presidents, to withhold records from the public.

 

II. Supreme Court Ruling in Herring v. US Sets Bad Precedent for Government’s Data Assurance

On January 14th the Supreme Court issued an opinion in Herring v United States that failed to ensure government’s responsibility for the accuracy of police databases. The majority of the Court found that when errors in criminal justice databases are not the result of "systemic error or reckless disregard of constitutional requirements," false information in a police database can be used as evidence for an arrest. Last year OpenTheGovernment.org signed an Amicus Curiae Brief by Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) that argued to permit a good faith reliance on data that is inaccurate, incomplete, or out of date will exacerbate the problem and increase the likelihood of unfair treatment in the criminal justice system given the exponential growth in the use of databases by law enforcement officials and that numerous government reports document how these databases are insufficiently monitored and the information they contain is frequently out of date. Justice Ginsberg cited the brief in her dissent. See OpenTheGovernment.org’s press release here.

 

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