Policy and News Updates for March 25, 2008

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

I. “Government Secrecy: Censoring Your Right to Know” summary

II. Legislative Update

News from Coalition Partners & Others

I. “Government Secrecy: Censoring Your Right to Know” summary

OpenTheGovernment.org would like to thank our panelists, moderators, audience, viewers, host-site coordinators and participants, planners, and volunteers for helping create a terrific event, “Government Secrecy: Censoring Your Right to Know” this past Wednesday. We had over a hundred attendees at the National Press Club, twenty-two host-site events including hundreds of participants around the country, and over seven hundred registrants for the webcast. OpenTheGovernment.org is also pleased to announce that the “21st Century Right-to-Know Initiative” – a collaborative project with OMB Watch – has, with the aid of survey responses from the public, winnowed a field of twelve open-government questions to five main issues of transparency and integrity for political candidates this year. Read the summary and report for more information – and visit our webpage, and OMB Watch, for updates.

We encourage people to watch the webcast of our event if they haven’t already, check out and use our pages of resources (books and articles, legislation, and websites), and become more active on these issues in their communities, including reaching out to our co-sponsoring organizations and their local chapters/affiliates where possible: American Association of Law Libraries, American Booksellers For Free Expression, American Library Association, Association of Research Libraries, League of Women Voters, National Coalition Against Censorship, National Freedom of Information Coalition, National Press Club, Project On Government Oversight, Public Citizen, Special Libraries Association, the Sunlight Foundation, and Sunshine Week.

The webcast remains available for viewing at the National Press Club’s webcast page (brief registration still required), http://www.visualwebcaster.com/thepressclub-GovtSecrecy2008-031908, for a few months.

The webcast will be available on our website by the end of this week, at http://www.openthegovernment.org, for unlimited future access.

II. Legislative Update

Fresh off their success with the OPEN Government Act (P.L. 110-175), Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and John Cornyn (R-TX) are aiming to upgrade another aspect of FOIA to promote transparency in government. Section (b)(3) of FOIA allows Congress to create exemptions to FOIA’s requirements by legislation (without openly amending FOIA), and every year, hundreds of these exemptions are included in laws, with little fanfare or publicity. S. 2746 seeks to change that by requiring lawmakers to state, “explicitly and clearly,” when they are establishing such additional exemptions to FOIA. Similar legislation passed in the 109th Congress by unanimous consent in the Senate, but went no further (see related story, Cornyn-Leahy introduce new FOIA reform, Cox News: The Secrecy File, 3.12.08).

On Friday, March 14, the House of Representatives approved H.R. 3773, the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 (originally the RESTORE Act), to modify the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (“FISA”). OpenTheGovernment.org and over forty other groups wrote Congress, urging them to reject unconstitutional and unnecessary alterations to FISA, as the statute already grants immunity for legal, constitutional cooperation by telecommunications providers. We thank the House of Representatives for rejecting the politics of fear and secrecy, and we urge the Senate to follow their lead.

OpenTheGovernment.org joined fifty signatories to a letter from the Union of Concerned Scientists to Congress in support of whistleblower protections for scientists when the Senate takes up H.R. 985. The letter urges Senators to preserve language defending federal scientists against retaliation for exposing suppression and distortion of their work, especially in light of a recent questionnaire from the Union of Concerned Scientists showing that more than a third of federal-agency scientists who responded feared retaliation for expressing concerns “about their agency’s mission-driven work.”

News from Coalition Partners & Others

Survey Examines Results of Bush FOIA Executive Order

The National Security Archive summarized findings from its survey of agency compliance with President Bush’s 2005 executive order (#13392), titling the evaluation, “Mixed Signals, Mixed Results.” The executive order sought to reshape the FOIA system as “citizen-centered” and “results-oriented,” but progress has been uneven. The ninety federal agencies surveyed noted improvement in providing FOIA service centers and public liaisons/contacts, but progress on backlogged FOIA requests was spotty, and many requirements from E-FOIA (the 1996 FOIA Amendments) remains ideals, rather than implemented.

NFOIC 2008 FOI Summit in Philadelphia

The National Freedom of Information Coalition and the Pennsylvania Freedom of Information Coalition announce the 2008 FOI Summit in Philadelphia, on May 9-10. Registration is available online, as are details about the panels and panelists: http://nfoic.org/2008_summit.

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