Policy and News Update for May 1, 2012

In This Issue:
News from Coalition Partners & Others
I. House Passes Cybersecurity Bill, FOIA Issues Not Addressed
II. Congress Shakes Long-Delayed FOIA Recommendations Out of Executive Branch
III. Open Government Partnership Meets in Brasilia

 

News from Coalition Partners & Others


Good Jobs First's Subsidy Tracker Covers 50 States + DC

Good Jobs First recently announced that with the addition of Nevada and Mississippi, Subsidy Tracker, a searchable national database of company-specific subsidy-deal data, now has data from all 50 states and the District of Columbia.


Partners Honor Ridenhour Award Winners

During a moving event at the National Press Club on April 25, the 2012 Ridenhour Prizes were awarded to recipients whose acts of truth-telling protected the public interest, promoted social justice or illuminated a more just vision of society. The recipients were Rep. John Lewis (Ridenhour Courage Prize); Eileen Foster (Ridenhour Prize for Truth-Telling); Lt. Col. Daniel Davis (Ridenhour Prize for Truth-Telling); Ali H. Soufan (Ridenhour Book Prize); and Semper Fi: Always Faithful (Ridenhour Documentary Film Prize). These prizes, which were established by The Nation Institute and The Fertel Foundation in partnership with our coalition partners The Fund for Constitutional Government, the Government Accountability Project – GAP, and the Project On Government Oversight – POGO, memorialize the spirit of fearless truth-telling that whistleblower and investigative journalist Ron Ridenhour reflected throughout his extraordinary life and career. Watch video of the event here.


OMB Watch, Good Jobs First, Present New Website to Track Recovery Act Spending on Transportation

OMB Watch, Good Jobs First, and other organizations joined together to present a new web-based tool for mapping and analyzing Recovery Act spending on transportation (both transit and roads). The Equity in Government Accountability and Performance website and related tools are for equity advocates fighting for a fair share of transportation resources.

I. House Passes Cybersecurity Bill, FOIA Issues Not Addressed

On April 26, the House of Representatives passed HR 3523, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act of 2011, by a vote of 248-168 despite a White House veto threat. While amendments were made to HR 3523 prior to passage, none in any way address the wholesale attack on public access to information under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) included in the bill.

 

As many of you know, in the interest of encouraging private companies to share cybersecurity threat information, HR 3523 unwisely and unnecessarily cuts off all public access to cyber threat information before the public and Congress have the chance to understand the types of information that are withheld under the bill. Much of the sensitive information private companies are likely to share with the government is already protected from disclosure under the FOIA. Other information that may be shared could be critical for the public to ensure its safety. The public needs access to some information to be able to assess whether the government is adequately combating cybersecurity threats and, when necessary, hold officials accountable.

 

Representative Mike Quigley, the Co-Chair of the Congressional Transparency Caucus, attempted to improve the FOIA provision by introducing an amendment that was would require the Director of National Intelligence to determine if the public interest in releasing any of the cyber threat information shared with the federal government outweighs the interest in protecting the information before it could be withheld under the FOIA. The amendment was not ruled in order by the House Rules Committee.

 

It is not clear at this time how the Senate will react to the House bill. Several competing cybersecurity bills have been introduced in the Senate, each of which also includes problematic FOIA provisions. We urge Congressional Committees in the House and Senate with expertise in FOIA to use their expertise in public access to information to help make sure any FOIA-related provision promotes transparency and public accountability while allowing the government to withhold only that information which truly requires protection.

II. Congress Shakes Long-Delayed FOIA Recommendations Out of Executive Branch

The first set of recommendations for improving FOIA policy from the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) were finally delivered to Congress last week, more than a year after the recommendations were first sent to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for clearance. The release came after several testy exchanges with the Senate Judiciary Committee about the status of the recommendations.

 

OGIS was created by Congress in the OPEN Government Act of 2007 to serve dual purposes of mediating disputes between requesters and agencies and making recommendations for improving FOIA processing. The office, which is located within the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), operates on a budget of about a million dollars per year and has a staff of only seven people. According to their March 2012 report, since the office was set up OGIS has helped more than 12,000 FOIA requesters.

 

While nothing in the substance of the recommendations is particularly ground-breaking or surprising, they are solid recommendations. If acted upon, they will help the young agency do its job better, and make it easier for the public to access government information in a more timely fashion. We hope Congress stays engaged on this issue, and hope future sets of OGIS recommendations will be easier to get out into the open.

III. Open Government Partnership Meets in Brasilia

Government officials and selected civil society organization representatives gathered in Brazil's capital city of Brasilia on April 17 – 18 to showcase the progress made by participants in the Open Government Partnership (OGP). More than 50 countries have signed on to the international effort to secure concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance. To become a member of OGP, participating countries must embrace a high-level Open Government Declaration; deliver a country action plan developed with public consultation; and commit to independent reporting on their progress going forward. You can watch video of the meeting's opening remarks, including those made by Secretary Clinton here.

Patrice McDermott, Executive Director of OpenTheGovernment.org, attended the meeting as the representative of US civil society and participated in a panel discussion on how the US and Canada have worked with civil society to develop and implement country action plans. As you may know, we praised the US action plan as "impressive in its scope and breadth," with the understanding that the ultimate success or failure of the open government agenda laid out in the document depends on how well the US carries out its commitments. To help make sure the US implements the plan in a meaningful way, OpenTheGovernment.org has set up teams of advocates to work with the Administration and is developing metrics to evaluate the government’s progress towards its goals; learn more about the community's efforts here.

 

 

 

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