Steering Committee Notes, 7/23/08



Steven Aftergood, Mary Alice Baish, Gary Bass, Beth Daley, Conrad Martin, David Sobel, Leslie Harris (conference), Robert Leger(conference), Patrice McDermott, Amy Fuller

1) Financial Report a) The Committee suggested that Patrice assembler a packet of endorsement letters from Coalition Partners to accompany funding proposals b) The Committee approved changing the format of the financial report so that it is broken out by quarter; the main advantage of the new format is making it easier to account for spending "blips" like Sunshine Week

2) Updates

a) Letters circulated i) HR 5811, the Electronic Message Preservation Act. Sent to RepresentativeWaxman prior to the House vote, expresses support for HR 5811 in that it signals Congress is serious about acting to ensure electronic records are preserved; 23 organizations signed on to the letter. The bill was passed in the House, but there is no companion in the Senate and the President has issued a veto threat

S. 2746, the OPEN FOIA Act.  Sent to the Chair and Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary; endorses the bill because it will give members of the public and open government advocates the tools they need to find, analyze and challenge FOIA exemptions that are tucked into inconspicuous provisions buried deep in proposed legislation; 29 organizations and open government advocates signed on.

Continuation of Snapshots of Federal Websites — (1)Letter to NARA expressing concern that the agency does not intend to keep a "snapshot" of government websites at the end of the Administration; 19 organizations joined the letter. (2) NARA has since indicated it will do the White House and the Library of Congress, but not the agencies (3) Mary Alice Baish reported that a group of non-profits intends to do the job (not ideal, but better than losing the information)

b) Letters signed on i) Bolster Government Whistleblowers Rights — Joined 109 other groups on a Government Accountability Project letter to key members of Congress asking they protect crucial whistleblower protections during the reconciliation of H.R. 985 and S. 274, and urging the preservation of essential language to ensure existing and proposed protections are meaningful.

c) Amicus Briefs signed on: Salazaar v. US ( Case challenges the use of criminal prosecution as a retaliation against federal whistleblowers; brief filed by GAP; Herring v. US  Case challenges arrests based on incorrect government information; filed by EPIC

d) Current Fundraising Efforts

Patrice is submitting a proposal to EFA; March 2009 docket. Proposal must be reviewed by six non-related experts in the field; the Committee urged Patrice to find someone from the environmental advocacy world and suggested: Tom Susman, David McMillan, Kate Martin, Bill Leonard, John Passacantando from GreenPeace, or Rick Hind

Requests to submit proposals were denied by the Annenberg Foundation and JEHT

A proposal to OSI will be submitted once the organization fills the Transparency Officer position

Possible suggestions for other funders: Sunshine Foundation, ARCA v) Funders briefing will be held this Fall in New York.  In preparation for briefing, Patrice is meeting with Geri Manion of Carnegie to discuss what worked/ didn’t work at past briefings and talking with Tom Hilbink at OSI

Patrice will meet with the development team from POGO

e) Transition Work i) 21st Century Right To Know (RTK) Project — Gary Bass explained that the project began with a series of listening tours around the country (the slides sent to the Steering Committee are based on the feedback from these tours); currently, three expert panels are building off these preliminary recommendations to develop white papers on: Incentives & Enforcement (Patrice leading this panel); Usability; and National Security; the recommendations will be released to the larger community at a retreat in early September in order to get feedback from partners; final recommendations will then be released to the public via webcast and packaged into usable products for the next Administration (a) The final project is likely to be released as an alliance effort rather than an OMB Watch effort; if appropriate, could be one of the banners it is released under. As the next Steering Committee meeting will not be until after the recommendations are released, Gary asked the Committee for their initial impressions from the slides. (a) The Committee agreed that the recommendations must get to the heart of how to make the policy one of affirmative disclosure and agreed that they should include recommendations to improve corrective mechanisms (ie- ensure the system has checks and balances (i) The Committee expressed concerns that citizen suits could be used by corporations to delay disclosure and that not all court decisions are positive, especially in current judicial atmosphere (setting bad precedents) (ii) The Committee expressed general support for suggesting a public review board be established. It would give citizens a place to challenge agency rulings without having to go to court; again, however, there was concern that it could be used to delay disclosure 1. The Committee also suggested modeling a board to handle appeals based on the ISCAP model- it would be within the executive branch, but an interagency effort (reducing parochialism); the current problem with ISCAP is minimal capacity. (b) The Committee approved using the unused resources had set aside for the listening sessions to fly in state partners for the fall community meeting

National Security Archive Meetings — NSA has held a series of meeting to discuss how the community can help (guide) the new Administration in setting policy on FOIA, presidential records, and classification (a) Patrice has participated in the presidential records and FOIA meetings iii) Possible Overlap between RTK and Archive work: recommendations from the Archive groups are much more detailed and focused on creating usable products for the next Administration (ie- draft Presidential Directives); some overlap between work, but, given we do not know who will be in charge of particular policies, that may not be bad (may create echo, or, at least increase the chance that a document ends up in the right hands); more concern that the recommendations may contradict each other

Patrice is convening a meeting to discuss electronic records recommendations for Congress in the 111th Session

f) Other

Committee urged Patrice to circulate a letter in support of the Grassley bill making the Smithsonian subject to FOIA (and FACA and the Privacy Act). Leahy is fighting Grassley’s efforts to attach the Smithsonian bill to S. 2746, the OPEN FOIA Act, because Leahy wants to pass S. 2746 under UC and the Smithsonian bill may be controversial; Patrice feels the (b)(3) bill is too important to our community for the Smithsonian bill to be supported as an amendment that could endanger passage of S.2746; in principle Leahy supports the bill; we should encourage Grassley to find another vehicle– and push Leahy on SI and FOIA.

New Waxman CUI legislation — Patrice, with Meredith Fuchs from the Archive and Mike German from ACLU, have been working with Michelle Ash on a government-wide CUI framework bill; Waxman introduced the bill because they object to the bill moving through the Homeland Security Committee (jurisdiction issue and believe it is not right to do one agency at a time); the bill is similar in a number of aspects to the Restore Open Government Act, includes tracking, says markings are non-determinative for FOIA purposes, and includes some whistleblower protection. Marked up by full Oversight and Government Reform Committee on July 23rd 3)


Possible TRAC project i) The goal of the project would be to pull together data that allows for an evaluation of the FOIA process on hard data rather than self-made reports; TRAC has a history of cleaning up data and packaging it into useful forms; would be in charge of community outreach and publicity . There is some doubt that the data even exists; could waste precious resources and come up with something we all already know; may be better to do a pilot study of a few (responsive) agencies; no significant work should be done until funding for the project has been explored and should make sure that this proposal does not pull away any general support the organization currently receives

Funders briefing in NY i) The briefing program must be sensitive to the election; if Obama is winning, must (gently) remind funders that the systemic bureaucratic problems will not go away; if briefing is after the election, must have someone from the transition team; possible theme: Making Change Happen ii) Possible speakers: Tim Weiner; John Podesta; Susan Rice; and Jane Mayer of the New Yorker

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