Policy and News Updates for March 24, 2009


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

 

News from Coalition Partners & Others

I. OpenTheGovernment.org Continues Public Discussion of Open Government Directive

II. OpenTheGovernment.org, CDT, Release Report on Most Wanted Federal Documents

III. New FOIA Guidelines Released

IV. Legislative Update: House Passes Bill to Regulate "SBU," Bill to Make FOIA Exemptions Transparent Introduced

News from Coalition Partners & Others

Executive Director of NFOIC Recognized for Excellence

Charles Davis, the Executive Director of the National Freedom of Information Coalition (NFOIC), was awarded the Charles E. Scripps award for Journalism Teacher of the Year on Friday, March 13th. Mr. Davis is an Associate Professor at the Missouri School of Journalism.

 

TRAC Challenges Government Privacy Claim

The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) has asked the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to reverse a recent decision withholding government organizational information on the grounds that the release would violate the privacy of individual employees. TRAC’s request involves requested information about how an agency is organized into units and subunits; these records contain no information about any individual. Learn more about TRAC’s use of FOIA here .

 

EFF Opens Up FOIA Documents

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) released a beta-FOIA search engine that enables users to search through and view thousands of pages of material collected as part of EFF’s FOIA project.

 

I. OpenTheGovernment.org Continues Public Discussion of Open Government Directive

OpenTheGovernment.org has launched a new OpenGovernmentDirective Google Group to discuss and develop recommendations for the issues that the Administration’s Open Government Directive needs to address to make the Executive Branch transparent. The Directive was called for in President Obama’s Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government. OpenTheGovernment.org kicked off the public component of this initiative last week during the 2009 Sunshine Week webcast. Join the group to continue the discussion of what needs to happen going forward and specific ideas for building the structures that enable and force government officials to embrace and advance openness.

II. OpenTheGovernment.org, CDT, Release Report on Most Wanted Federa Documents

On March 20th, OpenTheGovernment.org and the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) released "Show Us the Data: Most Wanted Federal Documents", a report funded by the Sunlight Foundation and based on the results of a web based survey developed by Sunlight Labs. The report, which was released to coincide with Sunshine Week, cites documents and data that the federal government should make easier to find and to use and recommends policy changes to make government more open.

 

III. New FOIA Guidelines Released

On March 19th, Attorney General Eric Holder released the much-anticipated guidelines for how Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests will be handled during the Obama Administration. The memorandum presents a sharp departure from policies under former-Attorney General Ashcroft’s guidelines, which directed agencies to withhold information whenever legally permissible. The new guidelines re-instate the "presumption of disclosure" that was put in place by former-Attorney General Janet Reno during the Clinton Administration, and, furthermore, encourages agencies to "readily and systematically post information online in advance of any public request."

 

IV. Legislative Update: House Passes Bill to Regulate "SBU," Bill to Make FOIA Exemptions Transparent Introduced

Last week the House of Representatives passed H.R. 1323, the Reducing Information Control Designations Act, to restrict and reduce the use of markings to control what is known as "sensitive but unclassified" (SBU) information and "controlled unclassified information" (CUI). The bill is identical to a bill passed by the House during the 110th Congress. The legislation builds off of a memorandum issued by President Bush to standardize the use of these markings. President Bush’s framework was met with skepticism by many public interest advocates who are worried, for example, that the proposed framework does not eliminate the creation of new markings in the future and does not set up a system for eventually removing the markings. Before any legislation to handle SBU/CUI is implemented, the Obama Administration should initiate a review of the Bush framework and seek public input the issue.

Last week also marked the re-introduction of the Open FOIA Act (S.612), a bill to make Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) exemptions inserted into new legislation more transparent. One of FOIA’s original nine exemptions relates to information made exempt by any other legislation; these exemptions are often tucked into massive bills with little or no public notification. According to analysis by the Sunshine in Government Initiative, this loophole has been used to put an additional 270 types of information beyond the public’s reach. If the OPEN FOIA act is signed into law, any new exemptions must specifically cite FOIA, making it easier for Congressional staff, advocates and the public to find them.

 

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