Policy and News Update for May 17, 2011

In This Issue:

News from Coalition Partners & Others
I. OpenTheGovernment.org Welcomes a Ray of Sunshine for Whistleblowers
II. Groups Endorse New Effort to Ease Public Access to Agency Reports to Congress
III. Open Gov Advocates Urge House Oversight and Gov Reform Committee to Review New Requests for Public Disclosure Exemptions

News from Coalition Partners & Others



Sunlight Pushes for Public Access to Legislative Info



Last week, Daniel Schuman of the Sunlight Foundation testified before the House Appropriations Legislative Branch Subcommittee in favor of making information created for and by Congress available to the public. His remarks specifically urge the Subcommittee to drop a 59 year-old provision prohibiting the Congressional Research Service (CRS) from using any funds to publish its reports for the public, and provide bulk access to information about the legislative process currently housed on the THOMAS site. As the primary sponsor of the Advisory Committee on Transparency, Sunlight also hosted a forum on the Future of CRS, during which several panelists, including Steve Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists, argued for free online public access to CRS reports.


Coalition Partners Testify on White House Transparency

The House Energy and Commerce Committee heard testimony from Anne Weismann of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) and John Wonderlich of the Sunlight Foundation during its May 3rd hearing on "White House Transparency, Visitor Logs, and Lobbyists." Download their testimony, and connect to an archived webcast of the hearing here.


Public Citizen Organizes Community Support for Transparency in Government Contracting

On May 4, Public Citizen released a sign-on letter from several coalition partners- including OpenTheGovernment.org- in support of the draft executive order that would require full disclosure of campaign spending and contributions by business entities that seek federal government contracts. The letter points out that disclosure of these donations are necessary to combat actual or perceived corruption in government contracting.


I. OpenTheGovernment.org Welcomes a Ray of Sunshine for Nat’l Security Whistleblowers


Earlier this month, OpenTheGovernment.org put out a statementwelcoming the long-overdue decision by President Obama and the Department of Justice (DOJ) to drop the prosecution of national security whistleblower Thomas Tamm, a former DOJ lawyer who revealed the existence of the US government’s illegal wiretapping program. The Obama Administration’s aggressive prosecution of whistleblowers is an issue of great concern among the transparency community, and was one of the topics members of OpenTheGovernment.org’s Steering Committee raised with the President during an Oval Office meeting. Unfortunately, several other whistleblowers, like Thomas Drake (who is the subject of a recent New Yorker profile),still face serious charges related to their efforts to bring public attention to waste, fraud and abuse by the government. We hope that the decision to drop charges against Mr. Tamm is a sign of things to come for other national security whistleblowers.


II. Groups Endorse New Effort to Ease Public Access to Agency Reports to Congress





Almost thirty organizations joined OpenTheGovernment.org in signing a letter endorsing the Congressionally Mandated Reports Act, a bill soon to be introduced by Representative Mike Quigley (D-MA) to make the thousands of reports federal agencies produce each year at Congress’ request easier for the public to find. These reports contain a wealth of information about how agencies are ensuring the safety of our drugs and food supply, protecting the environment, monitoring the soundness of our financial institutions, etc. If the bill is passed, any report required by statute to be issued to Congress and releasable under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) would be posted on a website managed by the US Government Printing Office (GPO). The reports would be accessible no later than 30 days after their transmission to Congress, and would be searchable by a number of categories. Learn more about the bill here.


III. Open Gov Advocates Urge House Oversight and Gov Reform Committee to Review New Requests for Public Disclosure Exemptions


On May 4, several coalition partners joined OpenTheGovernment.org in sending a letter to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee urging them to request and accept referral of any legislation that includes a proposal to protect information that was formerly withheld from the public under Exemption 2 of the FOIA. Agencies are seeking these new exemptions in response to the Supreme Court’s decision in Milner v. Department of Navy that the government was using an overly broad interpretation of "records relating to employee relations and human resources issues" to withhold "predominantly internal" materials.


The letter was prompted by news that Chairman Issa (R-CA) had waived his Committee’s right to review provisions related to FOIA in the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act. Subcommittees of the House Armed Services Committee approved one proposal that would exempt the disclosure of any information that may result in the "disruption, degradation, or destruction" of Department of Defense operations, property, or facilities, and a second that would exempt "information contained in any data file of the Military Flight Operations Quality Assurance system." The first proposal was ultimately not included in the version of the bill approved by the entire Committee; however, the proposal could re-appear in the Senate on during the Conference Committee. The second proposal was accepted by the Committee.


These provisions are good examples of the overbroad proposals to limit public access to information that open government advocates are concerned will be written into law with little Congressional debate and little or no public notice. We continue to urge the Administration to set up a coordinated process to handle agencies’ requests, and encourage congressional committees with expertise on public access to information to review these proposals.


















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