Policy and News Updates for January 2, 2008

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

I. Legislative updates
II. Sunshine Week 2008 Registration Starts This Monday
III. Notes from Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing: E-Government 2.0: Improving Innovation, Collaboration, and Access


I. Legislative updates

On December 31, 2007, President Bush signed S. 2488, the Openness Promotes Effectiveness in our National Government Act of 2007 (the OPEN Government Act) into law. Read the White House press release and the Secrecy File story, Bush pleases open government groups with FOIA bill.

Included in the FY 2008 omnibus appropriations bill signed by President Bush on December 26, 2007 was a provision ordering the EPA to re-open libraries closed in 2007. See ALA’s press release, "EPA ordered to re-open libraries", and the Secrecy File story, Congress allocates funding for EPA libraries.

The year-end legislative package also included language directing NIH to provide open online access to findings from research it has funded, updating the existing policy, of voluntary compliance, to a requirement. Articles will be published within twelve months of submission, creating public access to publicly-funded work, reports the Alliance for Taxpayer Access.



II. Sunshine Week 2008 Registration Starts This Monday

Registration will open this Monday, January 7, for OpenTheGovernment.org’s Sunshine Week 2008 event on Wednesday, March 19.

Visit our homepage, http://www.openthegovernment.org, for more information.


III. Notes from Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing: E-Government 2.0: Improving Innovation, Collaboration, and Access


The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, chaired by Senator Joe Lieberman, held a hearing titled, "E-Government 2.0: Improving Innovation, Collaboration, and Access" on December 11, 2007. Witnesses included Karen S. Evans, Administrator, Office of Electronic Government and Information Technology, Office of Management and Budget; John Lewis Needham, Manager, Public Sector Content Partnerships, Google, Inc.; Ari Schwartz, Deputy Director, Center for Democracy and Technology; and Jimmy Wales, Founder, Wikipedia. Video is available online from the Committee page (approximately 2:05), and requires the RealPlayer (available from http://www.real.com).

Senators and witnesses generally agreed that new technology presents diverse opportunities to improve public access to information, and recognized a variety of roles for government, from creating incentives to facilitating the publication of government information. For example, Chairman Lieberman praised the Congressional Research Service (CRS) as having real scholars creating high-quality work that ought to be public, and noted that he and a bipartisan group of senators had joined forces to introduce S.Res. 401: "A resolution to provide Internet access to certain Congressional Research Service publications." This bill would require the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms and the director of CRS to cooperate to make CRS reports available online (subject to limited limitations).

Karen Evans described the government’s mission as presenting information in context, so that users of government websites would be assured of finding relevant information efficiently and being able to identify it; she reported that OMB has involved user focus groups to improve their site. Jimmy Wales added that a central strength of wiki technology is the ability to accelerate the sharing of information; John Lewis Needham described one of Google’s roles as making as much information as possible available to searchers for government information. Needham also described how tools are built on government information in a way previously unavailable, and Wales used his experience with Wikipedia as an example of how tools can empower a community.

Ari Schwartz summarized CDT’s recent report, "Hiding in Plain Sight", which tested the hypothesis that popular commercial search engines should be able to locate relevant information on government websites. Unfortunately, much of the information sought is in site-specific databases which are not accessible to commercial search engines. However, a few minor technological changes would render much of that information accessible (involving automated indexing programs); another small-but-powerful change is Google’s recommendation that government sites use the Sitemap Protocol (see http://www.google.com/publicsector); it took an administrator of PlainLanguage.gov only eight hours to implement the protocol on the entire site.

Other recommendations from the hearing included the promulgation of best practices, cooperation with CIO councils, and execution of Privacy Impact Assessments (PIAs).


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