Sunshine Week is often commemorated with reports, events, and articles from the open government community and government alike. This year, 23 groups call on the Obama Administration to go further and take 4 concrete steps to improve government openness and accountability.
We ask that the President:
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is the foundational tool for the public to request information about government activities. There is a bipartisan and bicameral effort in Congress right now to strengthen FOIA. In support of these efforts, the White House should issue a formal public statement of support for Congressional initiatives to codify the Administration’s own directive and its strong presumption of openness. For a more open government, the Administration should support legislation that ensures agencies may not withhold information unless they reasonably foresee that disclosure will cause specific identifiable harm to an interest protected by an existing exemption, or if the disclosure is prohibited by law.
The United States Trade Representative’s negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP) trade agreements have remained shrouded in secrecy. Without access to information about these negotiations, the public has been and continues to be denied the opportunity to express their views about agreements impacting everything from the internet to intellectual property to public health.
The White House rightly supported the reforms outlined in Senator Leahy’s USA Freedom Act in the previous Congress. These reforms would have included a requirement that our intelligence agencies report on the total number of individuals or unique accounts whose information is collected under multiple surveillance authorities, and on the number of those who likely were U.S. persons (or, if that were not technically feasible to determine, the number who likely were located in the United States). Whether or not Congress statutorily requires such disclosures, the Administration can take those steps independently to promote better public understanding and appropriate oversight of US surveillance programs.
Intelligence community contractors are currently defenseless against retaliation for disclosing government waste, fraud and abuse. Congress has worked to expand whistleblower protections throughout your Presidency, and restoration of protections for intelligence contractors would help to safeguard taxpayer dollars and encourage greater accountability. This Sunshine Week, the White House should make clear its support for restoration of these critical protections.
Download the letter here.