Program Description



Hurricane Katrina highlighted massive government failures to provide up-to-date and accurate information to the public both before and after the failure of the levees. Recent news accounts of tragedies in mines show public safety threats are exacerbated when government inappropriately withholds information. Transparency can help government and the public get timely information before a disaster strikes – and help it cope after. What about your community? Is government at all levels telling the public enough to enable us to keep our families safe?


In celebration of Sunshine Week, a panel of experts from around the country will discuss open government and secrecy – the problems confronted, the impacts on communities, and what the public can do. Locally-sponsored programs in communities around the country will continue the discussion of openness issues in their communities


Are We Safer in the Dark? An Overview


During the 90-minute national conversation, speakers & video segments created to spur discussion will address:

  • Do federal laws such as the Freedom of Information Act fulfill their promise to guarantee openness in government? How do laws passed and policies/regulations implemented since 9/11 encourage secrecy or openness?
  • How does transparency (or a lack thereof) affect the government’s readiness and response to disasters such as Sago Mines and Hurricane Katrina? What about the public’s ability to plan and respond – or to prevent disasters?
  • How do secrecy and openness influence the personal choices you make to ensure the education, safety and well-being of your families?
  • What tools and resources work effectively in safeguarding the public’s ability to hold government accountable?


Program Outline


INTRODUCTION: The program will start with a short video previewing the topics to be discussed. After the video, our moderator Geneva Overholser will introduce the program and panelists.


VIDEO: New Orleans environmental reporter Mark Schleifstein talks about his frustrating experience getting information from EPA during Hurricane Katrina using the Freedom of Information Act.


DISCUSSION: Tom Blanton and Tom Susman will talk about the public’s rights and how the system works.


Q & A: Panelists will take questions from the audience, including from host sites around the country.


VIDEO: A TV news investigative reporter tries to get background checks of volunteers in Florida public schools only to discover they are not available.


DISCUSSION: Barbara Petersen will speak about some of the positive provisions that Florida has in place and why the public should care.


Q & A: Panelists will take more questions.


VIDEO: This video spotlights Joseph McCormick, who was refused access to key information about a proposed oil and gas pipeline to run right through his community.


DISCUSSION: Panelists will discuss the issues addressed in this video.


Q & A: A final period for questions.


CONCLUSION: Wrap up of discussion and any final comments from the panel.


At 2:30 pm EST, the national portion of the program will conclude and you may begin your local program if you have one planned.




Geneva Overholser

  • Overholser holds an endowed chair in the Missouri School of Journalism’s Washington bureau. She is a former editor of the Des Moines Register, ombudsman of the Washington Post and editorial board member of the New York Times.


Speakers include:
Thomas S. Blanton, National Security Archive

  • Blanton is Director of the National Security Archive at The George Washington University in Washington D.C.

Thomas M. Susman, Ropes & Gray

  • Before becoming a partner in the Washington, DC office of Ropes & Gray, Susman served on Capitol Hill for over 11 years.

Barbara Petersen, Florida First Amendment Foundation

  • Petersen is executive director of the Florida First Amendment Foundation, a state coalition that protects and advances the public’s constitutional right to open government by providing education and training, legal aid and information services.

Categories: Uncategorized