In This Issue:
News from Coalition Partners & Others
I. Coalition Fights Back Provision That Could Cut Off Public Access to Health and Safety Information
II. Most Agencies Release Re-booted Open Government Plans, But Where is Labor's?
III. Program Associate Joins OpenTheGovernment
The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) posted new analysis to its FOIA Project of FOIA cases filed in the U.S. District Courts. The data reveals that while the Department of Justice (DOJ) received merely 10 percent of all FOIA requests made to all federal agencies, fully 30 percent of all FOIA lawsuits filed last year were brought against the DOJ. The DOJ also accounted for a similar percentage of the FOIA administrative appeals that were filed by requesters seeking to have the initial decisions by government FOIA officers overturned. Read more of TRAC's results here.
Last week OpenTheGovernment.org and several of our partners and allies joined the Sunlight Foundation in asking the Department of Labor to re-post documents online relating to recently-withdrawn proposed rules concerning child labor in agriculture. [Read more about the rule and the disappearance of the material here.] As the letter states, there is a clear public interest in ongoing access to documents related to proposed rules even when those proposals are later withdrawn. Removing the documents is inconsistent with the Administration's commitments on open government, and limits public understanding of the issue.
Lucy Dalglish, the executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP), will begin serving as the Dean of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland on August 1. In addition to guiding and strengthening RCFP during her twelve year tenure as the head of the organization, Lucy was instrumental to developing and sustaining coalitions of like-minded advocates who are willing to work to promote open and accountable government. She has served as a member of OpenTheGovernment.org's Steering Committee since our founding. Patrice McDermott, OpenTheGovernment.org's executive director, said, “Our loss is an incredible gain for the College of Journalism. We will greatly miss Lucy in our advocacy community, but are pleased she will be close by as we plan to still tap her deep knowledge.”
Over the past few weeks, OpenTheGovernment.org and several of our coalition partners have been pushing Congress to strike or substantially tighten provisions in the House and Senate's respective Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reauthorizations bills that could restrict public access to a wide-range of public health and safety information. As originally drafted in Section 812 of HR 5651 and Section 708 of S.3187, the provisions allow the FDA to deny the public access under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to information relating to drugs obtained from a federal, state, local, or foreign government agency, if the agency has requested that the information be kept confidential.
Thanks to hard work by Senator Leahy, the Senate approved an amendment that limits the scope of information the FDA can withhold to information voluntarily provided by foreign governments, requires that the request to keep the information confidential be in writing, and, unless otherwise agreed upon, specifies a time frame after which the information will no longer be treated as confidential. Senator Leahy's amendment also preserves the ability of Congress to access the information. [Read more about the Senate bill provision and the Leahy amendment here.
Today the coalition is releasing a similar letter opposing Section 812 of HR 5651 to the bill's sponsors. The letter, which is signed by more than 20 organizations, explains concerns raised by the provision, and outlines Senator Leahy's amendment. Please stay tuned for news as the House moves to vote on its version, and as the House and Senate begin to reconcile their versions.
We learned about the provisions with the help of Scout, a legislative language search tool built by the the Sunlight Foundation (see more here). You can use Scout to set up email alerts for key phrases or follow a particular bill. It covers Congress, regulations across the whole executive branch, and legislation in all 50 states.
Under the terms of the Open Government Directive (OGD), the Obama Administration encouraged agencies to view their open government plans as "living documents" that should be regularly revisited, and required agencies to update the plans every two years. Accordingly, on April 9, the White House put up a blog post celebrating the release of open government plans 2.0. The celebration was a bit premature, though, given that several agencies hadn't yet actually posted their plans for the public, and one major agency – the Department of Labor – has not posted a single update since its Version 1 of the plan was released on April 7, 2010.
The Obama Administration committed to Support and Improve Agency Implementation of Open Government Plans and to monitor agency implementation of the plans as part of the US National Action Plan. We hope they will remind Labor to get back with the open government program soon.
OpenTheGovernment.org welcomes Abby Paulson to our full-time staff this June. Abby first joined us as an intern last summer. She also worked as our Social Media Fellow for the last few months, during which time she revamped the coalition's @OpenTheGov twitter feed and managed the coalition's facebook page. Abby will now be filling the role as the organization's Program Associate.