Policy and News Updates for December 14, 2010



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

 

News from Coalition Partners & Others

I. Advocates Urge Compromise on Releasing Highway Safety Data

II. OpenTheGovernment.org and AmericaSpeaks Mark OGD Anniversary

III. Public Citizen and OpenTheGovernment.org Launch FOIA Obstacles Survey

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News from Coalition Partners & Others

EFF Report on FBI FOIA Processing

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) recently issued a report presenting the arbitrary differences in redactions between copies of the same documents the organization received in response to different FOIA requests, and analyzing what the differences mean in terms of fulfilling President Obama’s promises of transparency.

 

TCS Helps Make 2011 Earmark Requests Publicly Available

Taxpayers for Common Sense (TCS) worked with Taxpayers Against Earmarks and WashingtonWatch.com to compile a comprehensive database of 39,294 Fiscal Year (FY) 2011 earmark requests. Access a complete database of the requested earmarks and other related information here.

 

Good Jobs First Launches Economic Transparency New Resources

Good Jobs First released a transparency study, 51 web pages, and a new job-subsidy database last week. The transparency study, Show Us the Subsidies, evaluates how well or poorly state government economic development websites disclose subsidy information. The web pages, Accountable USA make it easy to find essential information on subsidy practices and controversies in all 50 states, plus the District of Columbia. The database, Subsidy Tracker is a searchable national database of company-specific subsidy-deal data.

 

ALA Washington Office seeks nominations for 2011 Madison awards

The American Library Association (ALA) is calling for nominations for two awards to honor individuals or groups who have championed, protected and promoted public access to government information and the public’s right to know at the national and local level. Learn more about the awards, and how to nominate groups and individuals, here.

 

I. Advocates Urge Compromise on Releasing Highway Safety Data

On December 9, OpenTheGovernment.org and several coalition partners joined in sending a letter to Senator Patrick Leahy, the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, to express concerns about a proposal in section 301 of the Motor Vehicle Safety Act, S. 3302, that would authorize the Secretary of Transportation to establish categories of information that are exempt from public disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). We understand that the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) seeks this authority to avoid the burden of processing the large amounts of regulatory data it regularly receives under FOIA. However, granting agencies the authority to unilaterally exempt information from the reach of the FOIA is not an appropriate way to handle resource issues, and is not in the spirit of the law. The letter urges Senator Leahy to not support the bill unless the language is modified.

 

II. OpenTheGovernment.org and AmericaSpeaks Mark OGD Anniversary

To mark the one-year anniversary of the Open Government Directive (OGD) on December 8, Patrice McDermott, Director of OpenTheGovernment.org, and Carolyn Lukensmeyer, Founder and President of AmericaSpeaks, penned an opinion piece cross-posted on Government Executive, NextGov, and Federal News Radio highlighting the successes of the OGD to date and recommending "next steps" for the Administration to take to make government more open and participatory.

Briefly, they argue the primary success to date has been developing infrastructure that makes information more available to the public and that increases opportunities for people to provide agencies with input and feedback. But to succeed in making the federal government more accountable, the administration should lead and set the standard for open government by, in part, making sure the public has easy access to information across the government about how the government is spending its resources, who is influencing public policy decisions, what information the government is collecting and so on, and by high profile government leaders taking a more active role in inviting, monitoring, responding to and incorporating citizen input into policy.

You can listen to an interview with Dr. McDermott and David Stern of AmericaSpeaks about the anniversary of the OGD on Federal News Radio’s the DorobekInsider here.

 

III. Public Citizen and OpenTheGovernment.org Launch FOIA Obstacles Survey

Public Citizen and OpenTheGovernment.org are collecting information on obstacles that agencies are placing before FOIA requesters to determine the scope and nature of a potentially troubling trend in FOIA processing. Over the past few years, we have heard FOIA requesters describe several problems that made it more difficult, expensive, or time consuming to receive documents or to appeal the withholding of documents. For example, we have heard of: agencies’ attempts to pressure requesters to narrow or modify their requests; statements in agency responses that a "preliminary" response will be deemed "final" unless the requester affirmatively requests reconsideration; agencies’ efforts to elicit agreements that a requester will not appeal a partial disclosure if the partial disclosure is promptly made; agencies’ refusals to search for documents before requesters agree to pay search costs, even when the requester is likely to receive a fee waiver; requesters’ difficulties receiving fee waivers; exorbitant search cost estimates; and agencies consolidating distinct requests for billing purposes.

Because we have only heard about these problems anecdotally, we are unsure at this time which agencies are using these tactics, how frequently they are using them, and whether they are also using other, similar tactics that have not yet come to our attention. We need to hear from you to help fill this gap. In an email to Michael Page at Public Citizen (mpage@citizen.org), please provide the following information: the name of the agency; the dates of all correspondence with the agency; the nature of the obstacle encountered; and the name and contact information of someone at your organization whom we should contact for additional information.

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