Policy and News Updates for June 1, 2006

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Policy Updates for June 1, 2006

[new] Smithsonian deal with Showtime worries Congress
Rep. Vernon J. Ehlers (R-MI), chairman of the Committee on House Administration, held a hearing on May 25 to probe the Smithsonian Institution’s deal with Showtime Networks Inc. to create a new network called Smithsonian On Demand. The Smithsonian, which receives 75 percent of its funding from Congress, signed a 30 year contract with Showtime without consulting Congress or allowing for public comment. The deal mandates that a filmmaker who wants to make more than "incidental use" of Smithsonian resources first offer the project to Smithsonian on Demand.
Status: Rep. Ehlers promised to continue investigations.
Sources: Watch the hearing or visit the Committee on House Administration; Resources from ARL and Center for American Progress

[new] Supreme Court rules against whistleblower rights
The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that government employees who expose wrongdoing on the job are not protected by the First Amendment’s right to free speech. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office did not violate prosecutor Richard Ceballos’ freedom of speech by allegedly demoting him after he blew the whistle on the job.
Sources: No free speech on public payroll [Atlanta Journal-Constitution]; Government Accountability Project’s (GAP) press release

[new] New legislation encourages transparency
New legislation introduced in the Senate would require the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to improve access to federal contracts and grants. The Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act (S.2590), would require the OMB to create a free, searchable website with information on federal financial assistance by Jan. 1, 2007. The bill is sponsored by Senators Tom Coburn (R-OK), Barack Obama (D-IL), Tom Carper (D-DE), and John McCain (R-AZ),
Status: Referred to the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. The sponsors are now seeking endorsements for the bill.
Sources: S. 2590 [Thomas]; Strengthening Government Accountability [OMB Watch]
Take Action! Organizations can sign on to a letter endorsing the bill, coordinated by OMB Watch. Find out more and see the letter here.

[new] ISOO releases new report on classification
The Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) released its annual Report to the President last week. The Report, which measures classification activities in government agencies, reveals a slight drop overall in classification this year following a ten year upward trend. Despite mandatory reporting requirements, the Vice President refused to report its classification activity to ISOO for the third year in a row.
Sources: Report to the President [ISOO]; ISOO Urged to compel Vice President to report on secrecy [Secrecy News 5.31.06]; OpenTheGovernment.org’s Secrecy Report Card 2005, highlighting classification trends