In This Issue: [click on the link to go to the corresponding section]
The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) and the National Freedom of Information Coalition (NFOIC) are co-sponsoring a 45-day road tour of the United States (ending June 10) to train journalists and citizens in accessing public records. You can keep up with the latest from the tour by reading the SPJ blog, Access Across America. Also, please check to see the tour will be coming to a location near you here.
On May 11, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a lawsuit against the Department of Justice (DOJ) for failing to provide CREW with records relating to the missing John Yoo emails. A February 2010 report revealed the apparent destruction of emails in the DOJ despite the requirements of the Federal Records Act.
Last week the Senate passed S. 3111, the Faster FOIA Act. This bill, which is supported by a large number of public interest organizations, including OpenTheGovernment.org and several coalition partners, would establish a commission to study the delays in processing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, the system for charging fees and granting waivers, and the increased use of FOIA exemptions to deny access to information. The commission is charged with developing administrative and legislative recommendations to address each of the areas the commission studies. A similar bill, H.R. 5087 has been introduced in the House by Representative Brad Sherman (D-CA), but has not yet been taken up by House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
Last week OpenTheGovernment.org organized support for an amendment by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) to the financial regulatory bill that would ensure the public’s access to whistleblower disclosures on financial fraud. Almost a dozen organizations joined OpenTheGovernment.org in sending a letter to the Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT), asking him to support Senator Leahyâ€™s amendment, and noting that, unless amended, the bill will bar the public from accessing information provided by whistleblowers if the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) decide not to act on it, and would prevent the whistleblower from accessing the information in order to establish a retaliation claim.
There is no justification to hide closed investigations of possible wrongdoing in the financial industry, whether or not provided by a whistleblower. One of the goals of the legislation is make government regulation of the financial industry more transparent and effective. The current provisions in the bill would severely undermine that goal and erode public trust. Moreover, the additional exemptions to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) created in these whistleblower provisions. Forty years of jurisprudence have proven the FOIA’s exemptions (amended in 1986 to expand protection for law enforcement records) have stood the test of time, fairly and effectively balancing the agency’s interests in confidentiality and personal privacy rights with the public’s right to know. Investigations occur across the federal government every day and information pertaining to the administrative stages of these investigations is protected. In more than two decades, no agency has expressed concern over unwarranted access to investigative information during an open investigation.
OpenTheGovernment.org has added a blog to the Evaluating Open Government site set up to host the coalition’s on-going project to measure the bureaucracy’s progress towards meeting fulfilling President Obama’s commitment to "creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government." The blog will offer commentary on general open government issues, and keep you up-to-date on the latest news from the agencies.
Sign Up Now for the Open Government Community Summit scheduled for May 24 at the Department of the Treasury. The day-long conference is the latest in a series of workshops on open government hosted by different agencies each month. One of the primary goals of the workshops is to share knowledge across agencies and between the public, private, and non-profit sectors to address challenges and questions that span agencies. The theme for the May 24 workshop is, ""Building a vibrant inter-agency community of practice focused on open government." Learn more about past workshops, and read notes from the sessions here.