In This Issue: [click on the link to go to the corresponding section]
On December 2, the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) sent a letter asking the Senate Ethics Committee to investigate the apparent ongoing use of secret "holds" to stop particular bills or nominations from coming to the floor despite the prohibition of the practice by the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act (HLOGA) which was enacted in September 2007. The letter provides several examples of secret holds culled by CREW by conducting a day-by-day review of the Senate Calendar of Business dating from present to the law’s passage in 2007, and requests the Committee conduct its own investigation of the issue and provide guidance on how the provision should influence senators’ conduct in the future.
The Center for Public Integrity (CPI) has been working with the Washington Post to investigate the troubled track record of firms which have been authorized to issue mortgage-backed securities guaranteed by the Government National Mortgage Association, known as Ginnie Mae. The work resulted in a December 10 front page story in paper, " Mortgage agency’s growth gives fuel to risky lenders." CPI has posted much of the information used in the investigation, which was collected from government records and court documents, in an interactive database detailing the problems of the lenders that have received Ginnie Mae’s blessing.
On December 8, the Administration released the long-awaited Open Government Directive. The directive has been met with cautious optimism by many in the open government community, including OpenTheGovernment.org (read our immediate reaction to the release here). The directive creates a framework for embedding transparency into the way the government operates by requiring each agency to craft an Open Government Plan that, among other things, identifies information that could and should be pro-actively released to the public, includes information about compliance with records management requirements, addresses FOIA and backlogs, and informs the public about declassification programs. All of this information will be available – in a format that allows the public to use, modify, and distribute it – on newly-created agency-specific webpages, and via a centralized "Open Government Dashboard" on the White House website. (Check out the full list of deadlines and deliverables compiled by the Sunlight Foundation.) Missing from the directive, though, is the attention to oversight and enforcement that can help the framework actually support the unprecedented level of open government the President promised on his first full day in office. We at OpenTheGovernment.org look forward to working with the public, our coalition partners, Administration officials, and other federal employees to make sure the promise becomes reality.
Transparency is just one aspect of the President’s newly-released Open Government Directive; the directive also seeks to build participation and collaboration into the policy-making process. One way the directive seeks to accomplish these goals is by requiring each agency’s open government webpage (due to be available on February 6, 2010) to incorporate a mechanism to gather input and feedback from the public on the plan, and requiring the agency respond to input it receives. Additionally, we expect several agencies to experiment with processes like the Open Government Initiative and to make Federal Register announcements that they are taking comments on open government issues. We encourage you to share your knowledge about what is going on at the agencies by joining and posting to the OpenGovernmentDirective Google Group.
Go ahead and mark your calendars now for events scheduled in honor of National FOI Day and Sunshine Week 2010, March 14 – 20. On March 15 the First Amendment Center will host the 12th annual National FOI Day Conference at the Knight Conference Center at the Newseum in DC. The Collaboration on Government Secrecy will host the Third Annual Freedom of Information Day Celebration at the American University Washington College of Law on March 16. Also be on the lookout for information about OpenTheGovernment.org’s 5th Annual Sunshine Week National Dialogue, "Where Are We Now? Shining a Light on Open Government," a webcast featuring two panels that will discuss national policy and local implications of open government policies. The webcast will be incorporated into local events across the country.
On Thursday, January 21, the Director of OpenTheGovernment.org, Patrice McDermott, will join a panel of academics and advocates at Princeton University to discuss the meaning of transparency: what do people mean when they use these terms; are open government and government transparency a means or an end; what are the boundaries and tensions involved with different conceptions; etc. The panel kicks off "Open Government: Defining, Designing, and Sustaining Transparency," a two day workshop sponsored by Princeton’s Center for Information Technology Policy. The conference is free to the public.