Policy and News Updates for March 20, 2012

In This Issue:
News from Coalition Partners & Others
I. House Hearing on FOIA Portal Scheduled for Tomorrow
II. Partners Join in Call to Declassify NIE on Afghanistan
III. Cybersecurity Bills Threaten Public Access to Information, Accountability

 

News from Coalition Partners & Others

POGO Launches OpenNDAA.org

Last week the Project On Government Oversight – POGO launched www.OpenNDAA.org to support greater transparency in the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC). The effort, supported by OpenTheGovernment.org and several coalition partners, is focused on asking senators to shine a light on the defense budget by making the draft National Defense Authorization Act — a bill passed annually that attracts many (often controversial) proposals, some of which would be considered by other committees — and amendments publicly available in advance of the markup, as well as opening the markup to the public. Learn more about the effort, and contact your Senator here.

SPJ Releases Study on Media Control by Federal Public Information Officers

Last week the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) released an analysis of the results of a survey of journalists who cover federal agencies on the extent to which public affairs officers do or do not control the flow of information. The results show most reporters consider that public affairs officers regulate access to information to the point where the control is a form of censorship and an impediment to providing information to the public. Learn more about the results here.

PIRG Report Grades States on Online Access to Financial Information

On March 13 US PIRG released Following the Money 2012: How the 50 States Rate in Providing Online Access to Government Spending Data. The report includes an evaluation of each state on how well it provides spending information online and assigns the state with an “A” to “F” letter grade. This is the U.S. PIRG Education Fund’s third annual ranking of states’ progress toward checkbook-level transparency. See how your state ranks here.

OMB Watch Breaks Down Annual FOIA Statistics

OMB Watch released an analysis of the data included in 25 federal agencies’ annual Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) reports from 1998 to 2011. Notably, the results show that, while in fiscal year (FY) 2011 the administration processed more FOIA requests than in either of the past two years, the surge in FOIA requests outpaced the administration’s increase in processing.

iSolon.org Releases Commentary on Secrecy at NTIA

J.H. Snider of iSolon.org published an article on Huffington Post critiquing the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s (NTIA) management of spectrum, including its culture of secrecy. Snider has set up a website to track the issue and make documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) available here.

I. House Hearing on FOIA Portal Scheduled for Tomorrow

Tomorrow, March 21, from 2 pm – 4 pm the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will hold a hearing, "FOIA in the 21st Century: Using Technology to Improve Transparency in Government." The focus of the hearing is expected to be on a tool — the FOIA Portal — under development by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), with assistance from the Department of Commerce and the National Archives and Records Administration, that would help federal agencies manage and track FOIA requests, make it easier to submit requests, and improve access to documents that have been released under the FOIA. The FOIA Portal, which leverages the existing infrastructure of Regulations.gov, is ultimately a shared solution that can reduce processing costs, support compliance with statutory deadlines, and improve customer service.

Several organizations devoted to openness and accountability joined in sending a letter in support of the FOIA Portal to Cass Sunstein, Administrator, Office of Information & Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), Office of Management and Budget (OMB), who was originally scheduled to testify at the hearing. The letter explains how, in addition to offering the best hope for improving the administration’s compliance with the FOIA and affording the public the broadest access to government documents, the FOIA Portal could also be integrated with the Department of Justice’s, FOIA.gov, a site intended to make it easy for the public to view and compare agency’s annual FOIA statistics, to make more precise and granular reporting data available.

Log on tomorrow from 2 – 4 to watch the live webcast, including testimony from Sean Moulton, Director of Federal Information Policy, at our coalition partner OMB Watch.

II. Partners Join in Call to Declassify NIE on Afghanistan

Last week more than twenty organizations joined us in asking President Obama to declassify the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Afghanistan in interest of increasing the transparency of the Administration, and showing respect for informed public opinion. As the letter points out, past experience shows that full disclosure of the NIE’s key judgments is possible while still protecting all properly classified information. Representative Walter Jones (R-NC) and Representative James McGovern (D- WA) made a similar request in January of this year.

III. Cybersecurity Bills Threaten Public Access to Information, Accountability

Organizations concerned with open government and accountability have rallied in opposition to provisions in cybersecurity bills recently introduced in the Senate that would unduly cut off public access to information that may be critical to public health and safety.

Concurrent with last week’s Sunshine Week Senate Judiciary Committee hearing examining the public’s right to know, OpenTheGovernment.org released a letter signed by more than 40 organizations objecting to sweeping provisions in the cybersecurity bill recently introduced by Senator McCain, that create unnecessary, overbroad and unwise exemptions to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Perhaps most troublingly, Senator McCain’s bill would make the most substantive amendment to the FOIA’s exemptions since 1986 — without the benefit of any input from the public or Congressional committees that have expertise on the FOIA.

In February, we released a letter expressing concerns about similarly expansive provisions, in S.2105, the Cybersecurity Act of 2012 – a bill introduced by Senator Lieberman. Provisions in S.2105 would significantly expand the government’s ability to keep information out of the public’s hands, and jeopardize the rights of whistleblowers.

 

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