Policy and News Update for June 28, 2011

In This Issue:

News from Coalition Partners & Others
I. Join Us in Evaluating Agencies Open Gov Efforts
II. Groups Ask House Oversight and Gov Reform Committee to Honor FOIA’s 45th Anniversary, Pass Faster FOIA
III. House Oversight and Gov Reform Moves Transparency Bills
IV. Recent Editorial Points to WikiLeaks as a Wake-up Call for Openness


News from Coalition Partners & Others



Partners Testify on Improving Federal Financial Transparency


Ellen Miller of the Sunlight Foundation and Craig Jennings of OMB Watch offered testimony on improving federal financial transparency and accountability before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Tuesday, June 12th. On the same day as the hearing, both the Administration and Chairman Darrell Issa announced initiatives modeled on the success of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board’s recipient-reporting model. Read more about the initiatives here.



UCS Comments on Revision of NOAA Integrity and Press Policies


The Union of Concerned Scientists issued a statement commending the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) revised integrity policies, which protects the right of employees to speak freely to the press. The policies remove barriers from the Department of Commerce’s human resources guidelines that had previously discouraged scientists from speaking individually to the media.



First Amendment Foundation Announces Annual Open Government Awards


The First Amendment Foundation announced honorees for the 2011 Pete Weitzel/Friend of the First Amendment Award, the James C. Adkins/Sunshine Litigation Award, and the Sunshine Awards. Prize winners will be honored at the annual Florida Press Association and Florida Society of Newspaper Editors awards dinner on Friday, June 30 at The Vinoy in St. Petersburg.


I. Join Us in Evaluating Agencies Open Gov Efforts

We are now recruiting volunteers to help us with a new evaluation, looking at how well agencies are implementing their Open Government plans, which OpenTheGovernment.org and volunteers assessed last year. In 2010 OpenTheGovernment.org launched and coordinated a volunteer effort to independently evaluate the open government plans agencies produced in accordance with the Open Government Directive and give each agency feedback on how its plan could be strengthened. During the process, many of our volunteers worked directly with agency personnel to clarify and to improve the agency’s blueprint for embedding open government in the way the agency does business, and nearly all of the agencies evaluated updated their plans in response to our feedback. We are now recruiting volunteers to help us evaluate how well agencies are following through on those plans.

For more information on how you can help, please contact Amy Bennett at afuller@openthegovernment.org or 202-332-6736.


II. Groups Ask House Oversight and Gov Reform Committee to Honor FOIA’s 45th Anniversary, Pass Faster FOIA

Last week, more than 35 organizations joined OpenTheGovernment.org in in sending a letter to the Chair and Ranking Member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee urging them, in recognition of the 45th anniversary of the signing of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) on July 4, to support and move forward the Faster FOIA Act. The legislation establishes the Commission on Freedom of Information Act Processing Delays (the Commission) to study several thorny issues related to FOIA processing like backlogs and fee disputes, and make recommendations to Congress and the Administration. The Senate unanimously passed the legislation, co-authored by Senators Leahy (D-VT) and Cornyn (R-TX), earlier this year.

As we point out on our website entry, although many of the problems with FOIA are apparent, we do not yet fully understand where and how the process breaks down, or how the process should be changed. We welcome the opportunity the Faster FOIA Act presents for meaningful study of the problems associated with our FOIA process, specifically considering whether the law should be reformed.


III. House Oversight and Gov Reform Moves Pair of Transparency Bills

Last week, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee unanimously passed two bills that would give the public better access to government information, and committed to working on passing other bills that address critical transparency issues. Seeing the Committee work together on open government issues is a welcome departure from some of the recent public spats between Members on opposite sides of the aisle.

One of the bills, HR 1974, the Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports Act, would make the thousands of reports Congress requires agencies to prepare accessible to the public. Several of our partner organizations joined OpenTheGovernment.org in endorsing the legislation when it was introduced earlier this year by Representative Mike Quigley (D-IL). The other bill, HR 2146, the DATA Act, which was introduced by Chairman Issa (R-CA) earlier this month, would build on the model used to make spending under the Recovery Act more transparent by creating a governmentwide spending oversight board and better reporting mechanisms.

Toward the end of the June 22nd business meeting, the Chairman and Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-MD), stated their commitment to continuing to work together on bills to reform the Presidential Records Act (PRA) and improve the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA).


IV. Recent Editorial Points to WikiLeaks as a Wake-up Call for Openness

In a recent issue of Government Information Quarterly, Patrice McDermott joined Danielle Brian and Jake Weins of the Project On Government Oversight – POGO to address how the mass disclosures by WikiLeaks of largely raw State Department and Pentagon records is creating a pivotal point at which the national security secrecy system could be fundamentally restructured — for better or for worse. The article* argues that there is a strong consensus in the open government community — and in America in general — that the U.S. government keeps far too many secrets, and has done so for some time. Congress and the Obama Administration should focus on commonsense fixes that both protect legitimate secrets and encourage information sharing and openness, such as a whistleblower system that would prevent leaks, and basic physical security precautions that can prevent someone from walking out the door with thousands of classified records, but do not discourage information sharing among agencies. (Reprinted with permission from Elsevier from Government Information Quarterly, Volume 28, Issue 2, April 2011, Pages 135-136, Danielle Brian, Patrice McDermott, and Jake Weins, WikiLeaks is a wake-up call for openness, Pages 135-136, Copyright (2011).




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