Steering Committee Notes, 1/23/08


Year-end Report – The year-end report met with general approval.

Proposed 2008 Budget – The budget was approved, with minor adjustments. – Development: Recommendation: budget more resources towards development; perhaps involving a consultant; conduct at least NY funders’ briefing this year — consultant to help organize. Several SC members offered to suggest names. – Coalition Partner involvement: Now that we have PayPal for our Sunshine Week event, should we request nominal contributions from Coalition Partner groups/organizations (e.g., $50), to boost a sense of buy-in (and raise a little money)? Is it feasible to make a casual request of individual members as well as partners, especially now that the transaction cost of an ask is so low? The consensus was that this was a good idea generally and staff should explore it.

Miscellaneous: – Do we have a goal of adding new partners, e.g., a numerical goal? Or do we want to manage the number of groups in the coalition more precisely? We have not really addressed these questions. Staff should develop a position paper and present for discussion at future meeting. – We will not do another flash video (last year’s video engendered no substantial coverage); discussions of a game also faltered. – We can also use PayPal to sell "Who Needs To Know?" once it’s been distributed on the Hill.


Digitization – Government/private-sector deals involving the digitization of documents (e.g., with Yahoo! and Google) risk ignoring obligations to public, even when private-sector applicants follow the procedural requirements. EFF and OpenTheGov have submitted FOIA requests to likely agencies. We should continue to monitor the issue.

21st Century Right-to-Know Initiative – Four related projects: collecting past ideas, listening (especially to state/local groups/individuals), using issues to generate panel discussions, and developing materials for the future Congress and Administration. – Part of initiative is to develop questions for congressional/presidential candidates. Not possible, legally, for (c)(3)s to do; OMB Watch is exploring interest of conservative and progressive (c)(4)s. – Also: IRS now claims that mere links to other web sites can affect 501(c)(3) tax status.

Sunshine Week: "Government Secrecy: Censoring Your Right to Know" – Panel #1: John Podesta has accepted; Mickey Edwards remains on the short list of potential panelists [ed. note: Mickey Edwards has agreed to join the panel]; other invitations will be extended, expanding the number of participants and range of experience reflected. Patrice will moderate, as suggested by the SC, instead of only introducing the panel. – Panel #2: The focus is coalescing around a combination of grassroots/activist tools, resources, and experiences, with the potential for video interviews/submissions from around the country. Examples include Knowledge As Power and MySociety. There will also be some brief input from OMB Watch relating to the Right-to-Know Initiative.


FOIA (and related issues, e.g., Smithsonian Institution policy) – New FOIA law: the SC talked about the role of/for the coalition now that the law is changed. – Alters dynamics (litigation, consumer rights/awareness, etc.); certain issues (e.g., contractor-agency conflicts-of-interest/responsibility) remain unsettled. – Can Congress/law/FOIA community change much? Reduce delays, protect OGIS funds from DOJ’s Office of Information and Privacy (OIP) (see below), use appropriations process to restore intended effect of law? – New FOIA law also to be discussed at ASAP conference (in March); Meredith Fuchs of the National Security Archive to go, as a trainer. – What about a handbook, or manual, for lay readers? Consensus: such an educational product would be premature; better to have it follow government/agency interpretations and litigation. – Develop paper on how we think the statute should be implemented, especially in regard to the OGIS.

Consultant to follow FOI (NARA for OGIS) and other openness appropriations. – DOJ-OIP threatens to consume OGIS funding. – Question: if we can influence the appropriations process, would it be better to do so in the service of establishing a National Declassification Office more so than OGIS? Advantages of focusing on Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB): we have a report, from a highly-credentialed, bipartisan group of leaders, with specific policy recommendations. Could anyone on the Hill — i.e., Leahy, Waxman — help push the board’s recommendations? How could we get Congress to get attention and momentum for those? Suggestion: OpenTheGov explore how best to engage on the PIDB issue. – Question: What about a "Historical Records Act" — gathering issues, looking at best practices we can call on for lessons about how to do declassification right, and establishing a new bureaucratic entity, at least for the new Administration? – Consensus that we should consider how to usefully follow and influence the appropriations process — and try to have an impact on several fronts. – Smithsonian/FOIA issue: Letter circulated about contract secrecy provisions in SI Directive. Patrice met with staff of Hill regents. Outcome — the Directive was extensively discussed at the SI Regents Governance Committee and will be revised. As SI is a (c)(3), issues affecting it are also of interest to the charitable community (e.g., Independent Sector).

E-Government issues — digitization issues discussed above and Mary Alice Baish spoke briefly about Pew study.

Robustness of Steering Committee – Discussion: codifying procedures for Steering Committee action and membership? Also, new format (quarterly meetings) seems to elicit greater attendance and discussion. Suggestion: an all-partners meeting — separate from SC meetings. Endorsement of more activity on the steering-committee listserv.

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