News from Coalition Partners & Others
I. Organizations Urge LOC to Help Make CRS Reports Available
II. Supreme Court Rules for Public Access in Two Cases
In This Issue: [click on the link to go to the corresponding section]
Please note: The NFOIC’s 2011 FOI Summit will be held May 20 – 21 in Providence. Learn more here.
Sunday, March 13 marks the beginning of Sunshine Week, an initiative spearheaded by the American Society of News Editors to raise awareness of the importance of open government to everyone in the community. Recently the Project On Government Oversight – POGO – and the Sunlight Foundation announced two new events: POGO will be hosting a Whistleblower Film Series screening of "The Big Uneasy" on Tuesday night and Advisory Committee on Transparency, chaired by the Sunlight Foundation’s Daniel Schuman, will host a panel on lobbying disclosure and reform on Monday afternoon. As you know, OpenTheGovernment.org’s event will be on Friday. Learn more about these events, and all of the DC-area events planned for the week on OpenTheGovernment.org’s listing of events here.
Last week the National Whistleblowers Center celebrated the release of The Whistleblower’s Handbook: A Step-by-Step Guide to Doing What’s Right and Protecting Yourself by Stephen Martin Kohn, the Center’s Executive Director. The book is a reference for anyone who has ever wondered how they might blow the whistle – and, once they’ve done so, how to prevail.
Almost 40 organizations concerned with government openness and accountability signed a letter to the Librarian of Congress, Dr. James Billington, urging him to appoint a Director of the Congressional Research Service (CRS) who will work with Congress to provide online free public access to the unclassified, non-confidential, taxpayer-funded reports produced by CRS. The current CRS Director, Daniel Mullhollan, is retiring in April.
CRS is sometimes referred to as Congress’ "think tank;" its team of researchers produce detailed, objective, reports relevant to current political events for lawmakers. American taxpayers spend over $100 million a year to fund the CRS, but while the reports are non-classified and play a critical role in our legislative process, they have never been made available in a consistent and official way to members of the public.
Congress is responsible for blocking direct public access to CRS reports, a policy repeatedly defended by Mr. Mullhollan. However, some Members of Congress will pass on reports requested by constituents. Some of these reports end up being made available to the public via public interest websites like OpenCRS and the Federation of American Scientists; some for-profit entities sell them.
The public has a right to know about all non-confidential, non-classified, non-partisan, information CRS provides to Congress. We hope the new CRS Director shares this belief and will work with Congress to make it a reality.
Two recent Supreme Court rulings uphold and strengthen the public’s right to receive government documents under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
Last week the Court unanimously overturned a lower-court ruling that held corporations are due "personal privacy" rights under exemption 7(c) of FOIA. (Several of our coalition partners weighed in opposing the corporation’s position, including an amicus brief by CREW and EFF joined by OpenTheGovernment.org.) The opinion, written by Chief Justice Roberts, finds that "personal privacy" is not a term that is used to refer to corporate interests. If the Supreme Court had upheld the appeals court ruling, broad swaths of information that, if released could be "embarrassing" to a corporation out of the public’s hands.
On Monday, the Court ruled that Exemption 2 of FOIA only pertains to "records relating to employee relations and human resources issues," rejecting the argument that the exemption covers all internal rules and practices that guide employees in discharging their duties. In effect the ruling strikes down the commonly applied broad interpretation of exemption 2, known as the "high 2." OpenTheGovernment.org and several of our coalition partners signed onto an amicus brief by Public Citizen on the issue.