Policy and News Update for March 22, 2011

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

 News from Coalition Partners & Others

I. Director of OpenTheGovernment.org Awarded 2011 James Madison Award by the American Library Association
II. Audit Reveals Lack of Access to Accountability Information
III. Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB) Seeks for Input on Transforming Classification
IV. Sunshine Week in Congress: A Pair of FOIA Hearings and Open Government Legislation Introduced

 Did You Miss Our 2011 National Sunshine Week Webcast: The Road Forward on Open Government, or just want to see it again? Connect to archived versions from the Center for American Progress and CSPAN here.

 News from Coalition Partners & Others

   US PIRG Report Ranks States on Spending Transparency

Last week US PIRG released their second annual report grading all 50 states on how well they provide online access to information about government spending, Following the Money 2011. Results of the new report, in which states are given "A" to "F" grades based on the characteristics of the online transparency systems they have created to provide information on contracts, subsidies and spending at quasi-public agencies, reveals the improvements many states have made in making financial information easily available to the public and how much room for improvement still exists.

 EFF Seeks Volunteers to Review Materials Released Under FOIA

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is seeking volunteers willing to help them review materials released to EFF under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). All volunteers will be added to an email list that is notified when EFF receives government documents and given a basic description of the project. List members interested in participating in the project are then asked to email EFF back. Learn more about the opportunity, and the kind of projects EFF is working on here.

 OMB Watch Assesses Progress Toward a 21st Century Right to Know

Last Thursday OMB Watch released an in-depth analysis of progress by the Obama Administration and Congress on a wide-ranging set of open government recommendations included in a Moving Toward a 21st Century Right-to-Know Agenda, a collaborative transition report endorsed by more than 300 organizations and individuals from across the political spectrum organized by OMB Watch in 2007 and 2008. The report details both significant efforts on many of the report’s recommendations and implementation hurdles to good policies that still must be overcome to change the secrecy oriented culture of government.

 Sunlight Foundation Announces TransparencyCamp 2011:
April 30 – May 1

Registration for the Sunlight Foundation’s TransparencyCamp 2011 on April 30 – May 1 is OPEN. This year’s event, which brings together government officials, technologists, journalists and advocates to share their knowledge about how best to use new technologies and policies to make government more open and accountable, will be held at Microsoft’s offices in Friendship Heights (located is on the DC / Maryland border and Metro-accessible). Learn more about the event here.

 I. Director of OpenTheGovernment.org Awarded 2011 James Madison Award by the American Library Association

 

photo credit: Jeff Malet, Photographer/Courtesy of Freedom Forum

On Wednesday, March 16, during the Freedom Forum’s National FOI Day Conference, Patrice McDermott, Director of OpenTheGovernment.org, was named the 2011 James Madison Award winner by the American Library Association (ALA). The award is presented annually in recognition of work to champion, protect, and promote public access to government information and the public’s right to know. ALA’s announcement cites Dr. McDermott’s tireless dedication to fighting for open government during her time at the helm of OpenTheGovernment.org, as the senior information policy analyst for OMB Watch, as deputy director of the ALA Office of Government Relations, where she led the office’s work on government information and privacy policy and e-government policy issues, and as the assistant director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom of the ALA in Chicago. Read Dr. McDermott’s acceptance speech highlighting the destruction by the CIA of videotapes showing the "enhanced" interrogation of high-value detainees at CIA black sites and the message of impunity sent by the Department of Justice through its failure to hold the CIA accountable for its violation of law. Dr. McDermott explained that the actions taken by the CIA and DOJ in this instance deny the American public access to information it needs to know and have an informed discussion about what the government is doing in our name, and sends a message to agencies that they can destroy inconvenient records with impunity.

 II. Audit Reveals Lack of Access to Accountability Information

A new report from OpenTheGovernment.org, A Quick Accounting of Accountability Information, shows how far the federal government has to go to meet 21st century expectations of transparency. According to independent evaluations of 10 agency websites completed for the report, even at agencies that are perceived to be among the leaders in transparency, the public has no consistent access to the type of information it needs to understand how and why public policy decisions are formed, and hold decision makers accountable for their actions.

On Monday, March 14 the Administration announced it would, in furtherance of meeting the President’s goal of "unprecedented transparency," direct agencies to post official congressional testimony and agency reports to Congress required by statute and to "proactively provide information about their regulatory compliance and enforcement activities, so that the public can hold both regulated parties and agencies themselves more accountable." This initial evaluation will be used as a rough baseline going forward to judge whether or not the government is making progress on meeting the Administration’s objective.

The report, based on the results of evaluations of information available on the agency websites, was completed by volunteers with experience evaluating agencies’ information policies. Each volunteer was asked to spend no more than five minutes looking for specific pieces of "accountability" or "ethics" information, like a list of Inspectors General (IG) reports and on-line access to the non-classified reports, calendars for top agency officials, and lobbying disclosure forms.

Special thanks goes out to our volunteers: John Bertot of the College of Information Studies at the University of Maryland; Emily Feldman of the American Association of Law Libraries; Sean Moulton and Gavin Baker of OMB Watch; Bryan Rahija of Project On Government Oversight; Adam Rappaport of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW); and Giovanni Piazza.

 III. Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB) Seeks for Input on Transforming Classification

Last week the Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB) announced the launch of Transforming Classification, a blog intended to gather public input on possible solutions developed by the PIDB to address the shortcomings of the current system and tackle the challenges of digital records. The effort in in response to President Obama’s directive to design a more fundamental transformation to the security classification system.

The PIDB has already posted white papers for response on the topics of Using Technology to Improve Classification and Declassification and Reconsidering Information Management in the Electronic Environment. Every other Wednesday, the PIDB will post either two or three additional white papers to the blog describing the proposed transformation on the following topics: Regularizing the Declassification Review of Classified Congressional Records, Pursuing Discretionary Declassification and Advantageous Release, Stewarding Our Classified History, Simplifying the Declassification Review Process for Historical Records, A Half-Life for Historical Formerly Restricted Data (FRD), and Streamlining the Classification System.

 IV. Sunshine Week in Congress: A Pair of FOIA Hearings and Open Government Legislation Introduced

Capitol Hill was buzzing with Sunshine Week news last week as Committees in both in the House and Senate held oversight hearings on FOIA and a number of bills intended to increase government openness that died at the end of the 111th Congress despite strong support from many Members were reintroduced. The Senate Judiciary Committee took on the topic of "Ensuring Transparency and Accountability in the Digital Age" while the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee explored "Crowd-Sourcing Government Oversight." Representatives from several coalition partners, including the Center for American Progress and the Project On Government Oversight – POGO testified during the hearings.

Members also took the national celebration of the importance of the public’s right to know to reintroduce bills that strengthen the right to know and improve public access to government information. Representative Elijah Cummings (D-MD), Ranking Member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, introduced H.R. 1144, the "Transparency and Openness in Government Act," a bill combining five open government bills that were passed by the House during the last session of Congress: the Federal Advisory Committee Act Amendments, requiring agencies to disclose more information about advisory committees and closes existing loopholes; the Presidential Records Act Amendments, increasing public access to presidential records by establishing statutory procedures prior to FOIA releases; the Presidential Libraries Donation Reform Act, requiring greater public disclosure of library donor information; the Electronic Message Preservation Act, modernizing the Federal Records Act and the Presidential Records Act to ensure that White House and agency email records are preserved; and the GAO Improvement Act, strengthening the authority of the Government Accountability Office to access agency record. The Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), also re-joined with Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), also a member of the Judiciary Committee, to reintroduce S.627, the "Faster FOIA Act." S. 627, a version of which was passed by the Senate during the 11th session, will establish an advisory panel to examine agency backlogs in processing FOIA requests and make recommendations to Congress and the Administration.

 

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