The Federal Chief Information Officers Council is the 2014 Rosemary Award “honoree.” The annual secrecy award is named for President Nixon’s Secretary Rose Mary Woods, who erased 18 minutes of Watergate recordings. The National Security Archive noted the council’s inadequate efforts to address the federal government’s “lifetime failure” of preserving its emails electronically. The CIO Council is now a two-time winner.
This Sunshine Week, members of Congress stepped up to introduce legislation to increase openness and accountability in all branches of the federal government. Senators Dick Durbin and Chuck Grassley introduced legislation to require the Supreme Court’s open proceedings to be televised. Similar legislation passed the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2012 and 2010. Rep. Gerard Connolly introduced identical legislation (HR 94) in February.
In the House, Illinois Rep. Mike Quigley reintroduced a wide-ranging transparency package, the Transparency in Government Act of 2015 (HR 1381). Similar to the Cameras in the Courtroom Act, the bill would require the Supreme Court to televise and stream arguments on their website. The legislation would also mandate that federal agencies post all FOIA responses online, and ensure Congress implements a consistent data format for legislative information. It also would improve public access to Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports. Follow the extensive legislation here.
However, the month of March wasn’t all about sunshine. Both chambers moved forward with cybersecurity bills that threaten to undermine the Freedom of Information Act. The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence reported the Protecting Cyber Networks Act (HR 1560) out of committee last week. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence reported out the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act of 2015 (S.754) during Sunshine Week. Both bills would create a new – 10th — mandatory exemption to FOIA for any information covered under the cybersecurity legislation. Because these bills create the new exemption through the Intelligence Committees – and not the committees with jurisdiction over the Act, they undermine the integrity of the FOIA.
Last week, the World Justice Project published the Open Government Index, an examination and ranking of governments’ openness. Notably, the index used public surveys to and “in-country expert questionnaires” to score countries. It’s an interesting approach. After all, the theoretical strength of the Freedom of Information Act matters little if the public does not find it to be an effective, useful tool. On the Open Government Partnership blog, WJP’s Alejandro Ponce uses the Index data to illustrate that “OGP participation indeed linked to more transparent, participatory, and accountable government in practice.”
In practice in the US, the administration’s National Action Plans have had mixed, but slowly-increasing success. The President’s promise of a more open government is popularly (and sometimes, rightly) used as a punching bag. But the National Action Plans themselves are useful platforms for openness reforms. At OpenTheGovernment.org, we’ve observed in our evaluations that with the right mix of civil society and government collaboration, OGP commitments can have meaningful results.
With that in mind, we hope you will join our effort to make the most of the OGP’s promise and contribute to a Model Civil Society Action Plan. The previous Model Plan put tougher open government issues on the table, and many of the priorities reflected in the civil society plan were reflected in the administration’s. Together we can push administration to go further. Learn more about contributing at sites.google.com/site/draftingNAP3.