Policy and News Updates for April 20, 2010



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

 

News from Coalition Partners & Others

I. Annual Report on State of Classification and Declassification Released

II. Senate Committee Passes Faster FOIA

III. OpenTheGovernment.org, Partners, Urge Intelligence Committees to Drop FOIA Exemption

News from Coalition Partners & Others

Coalition Partners Begin Open Government Plan Evaluations

Several coalition partners have volunteered to evaluate the recently-released Open Government Plans as part of OpenTheGovernment.org’s audit. Thanks to the assistance of coalition partners the American Association of Law Libraries, American Library Association, Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT), Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), League of Women Voters, OMB Watch, Project On Government Oversight (POGO), Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), Sunlight Foundation, and Union of Concerned Scientists, the almost 30 plans required under the Open Government Directive will be evaluated by the end of the month. Evaluations of plans from agencies that were not required to develop plans, but did so anyway, should be complete sometime in May. Check out the Evaluating Open Government site to see these evaluations as they are posted. You can also use the feedback form at the bottom of each agency’s page to let us know if you think any part of a plan is impressive, or want to make concrete suggestions on how the agency could improve its plan.

 

CAP Launches Doing What Works Project

The Center for American Progress (CAP) has launched the Doing What Works Project, which aims to regain public trust in government by promoting reform to efficiently allocate scarce resources and achieve greater results for the American people. One of the cornerstones of their strategy is to improve transparency in the interest of smarter decision-making.

 

I. Annual Report on State of Classification and Declassification Released

On April 15, the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) released its Annual Report to the President. This report provides the public with a crucial snapshot of national security secrecy by compiling and presenting yearly statistics on the amount of classification and declassification activity across the federal government. OpenTheGovernment.org uses many of these statistics to update our annual Secrecy Report Card, which looks at trends across a broad array of secrecy and openness indicators.

As pointed out in Secrecy News’ coverage of the ISOO report, one of the most striking statistics from this year’s report shows a massive rise in the total number of national security classification actions; however, the increase is primarily driven by change in derivative classification reporting practices to include email and other electronic products that were not counted in previous reports. While the change in reporting does make it impossible to determine if classification activity is trending up or down, the inclusion of email and other electronic products in the count gives us a much more realistic picture of the current state of classification, and future challenges for declassification.

 

 

II. Senate Committee Passes Faster FOIA

On April 15, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed S. 3111, the Faster FOIA Act. The bill will create a commission that is required to make recommendations to Congress and the President for reducing impediments to the efficient processing of FOIA requests. While backlogs have presented a longstanding problem in agency implementation of the FOIA, the conditions and practices that create those backlogs are not fully understood. By undertaking a thorough study of the root causes of FOIA processing delays, and developing concrete recommendations, the commission will help agencies successfully implement President Obama’s directive to reduce significant backlogs of outstanding FOIA requests. Last month several coalition partners and other wrote a letter to the bill’s co-authors, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) in support of the legislation. Watch a webcast of the Judiciary Committee’s mark-up here.

 

III. OpenTheGovernment.org, Partners, Urge Intelligence Committees to Drop FOIA Exemption

On April 12, several coalition partners joined OpenTheGovernment.org in sending a letter urging the Intelligence Committee chairs and ranking members to exclude from the conferenced Intelligence Reauthorization bill a provision that would exempt "terrorist identity information" (TII) from the Freedom of Information Act, on the grounds that the new exemption would be unnecessary, overbroad and unwise. OpenTheGovernment.org and our coalition partners worked with our allies in Congress to keep this exemption out of the Senate-passed version, but it was included in the House-passed version.

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