Policy and News Updates for November 3, 2009


News from Coalition Partners & Others

I. PATRIOT Act Extension Introduced in the House

II. NARA Launches OGIS website

III. Help Open Access to CRS Reports

IV. Senate Homeland Security Committee Approves Archivist Nomination, Ready to Act on Over-classification Bill
 

News from Coalition Partners & Others

 

National Security Archive Launches Blog: Unredacted

The National Security Archive has launched Unredacted: The National Security Archive, Unedited and Uncensored. The new site features commentary and analysis from the Archives’ experts, and will regularly highlight some of top document collections – including unpublished collections donated by top journalists and authors. The new blog also highlights the Archives’ global activities, including reports from Archives’ staff in the field.

 

Sunlight Foundation to House Leadership: Read the Bill

On October 20, the Sunlight Foundation, delivered a letter, signed by OpenTheGovernment.org and several coalition partners, to leadership of the House of Representatives asking they call for a Rules Committee hearing to explore the benefits of amending House Rules to require that legislation be posted online for 72 hours prior to consideration. The letter was accompanied by a petition with 21,000 signatures of individuals who joined Sunlight’s Read the Bill campaign. Read the letter, and learn more about the current status of the bill here.

 

November 20: GAP Sponsors Food Integrity Conference

The Government Accountability Project (GAP) and the American University Washington College of Law will host a symposium examining the interplay between food integrity and workers’ rights on Friday, November 20. David Kessler, best-selling author and former FDA Commissioner, will be one of a number of experts who will explore how issues as diverse as whistleblower rights, collective bargaining, humane handling, immigrant rights, corporate farming, and regulatory and legislative reform affect the food we put on our plates. You can register for free before November 14; registration after November 14 is $15.

 

ARL Releases Interim Report on a Federal Depository Library Program for the 21st Century

The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) has released Documents for a Digital Democracy: A Model for the Federal Depository Library Program in the 21st Century Interim Summary. The report, prepared by Ithaka R+S for ARL, summarizes top-level findings from interviews with more than 80 individuals from 30 libraries, the Government Printing Office (GPO), and a number of other key organizations, and makes preliminary recommendations.

 

I. PATRIOT Act Extension Introduced in the House

On October 20, legislation to extend and modify provision of the PATRIOT Act, H.R. 3845, was introduced in the House. The new bill, introduced by Representatives Conyers, Nadler and Scott, will enhance reporting and judicial oversight of law enforcement powers, including the National Security Letter process. The Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) has created a side-by-side chart comparing current law to H.R. 3845 and the Senate bill, S. 1692, as approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee in early October. We continue to urge Congress to take advantage of the opportunity to revise PATRIOT Act authorities to roll back government secrecy and protect citizens from unwarranted intrusions into their privacy.

 

II. NARA Launches OGIS website

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has created a virtual home for the newly-created Office of Government Information Services (OGIS). The office was created by the 2007 OPEN Government Act to act as a mediator between the government and FOIA requesters, and to improve FOIA implementation by reviewing agencies FOIA policies, procedures, and compliance, and recommending policy changes to Congress and the president to improve FOIA administration. While the content of the current site is limited to resources and contact information, the head of the new office, Miriam Nisbet, testified to Congress that she intends to use new online technologies both to improve FOIA performance and to mediate disputes.

 

III. Help Open Access to CRS Reports

Ask Your Representatives to support free online access to taxpayer-funded Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports. These high-quality reports are made accessible to Members of Congress and their staff through on an internal system, and are never released to the public directly from the CRS. Members of the public can ask for these reports through their member of Congress, but they must first know that the report exists. While third party nonprofit websites, such as Open CRS, now collect and share the reports as they are released for free, for years the only way to get reports was to buy them from third party, for profit companies that somehow get access to all the non-confidential reports. Congress should direct CRS to release these reports to the public proactively and directly. Bills to accomplish that goal have been introduced in the House (H.R. 3762) and the Senate (S. Res. 118). You can help: write a letter asking your representative to support these bills and help move them through Congress today.

 

IV. Senate Homeland Security Committee Approves Archivist Nomination, Ready to Act on Over-classification Bill

On October 28, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs held a business meeting where Members approved David S. Ferriero to be Archivist of the United States. The nomination still must be approved by the full Senate. Track the progress of his nomination here. When the Committee resumes the meeting on November 4, it plans to mark up H.R. 553, the Reducing Over-Classification Act of 2009, a bill passed by the House in February. The Senate Committee plans to replace the underlying bill with a significantly modified amendment. The House bill requires the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in consultation with the Archivist, to develop training programs to prevent overclassification and a series of penalties for federal employees and contractors that abuse the classification system; the proposed Senate amendment creates a new office within DHS’ Office of Intelligence and Analysis to develop training programs. Given the culture of overclassification at DHS, we are concerned that DHS personnel will not be able to effectively address the problem. Additionally, OpenTheGovernment.org and several of our partners have expressed disappointment that the scope of the legislation (both the underlying bill and the proposed Senate amendment) is confined to the "information sharing environment." While overclassification’s role in limiting information sharing became apparent in the wake of the September 11th attacks, the problems caused by overclassification reach much farther. Overclassification across the Executive branch causes the government to waste billion of taxpayers’ dollars protecting information that should never have been classified, and to lose the public’s trust.

 

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