A study by the Transactional Records Clearinghouse (TRAC) found that Freedom of Information Act lawsuits by news groups have declined. The slump does not seem to indicate a decline in government secrecy, but rather the effects of minimized newsroom budgets and other industry changes.
Two OTG partners heralded Sunshine Week with reports on the state of the FOIA and open government. The Center for Effective Government published “Freedom of Information Act Performance, 2012,” and a larger overview of government openness, “Delivering on Open Government: The Obama Administration’s Unfinished Legacy.” Cause of Action submitted FOIA requests to 16 different federal agencies and examined their responses, assigning grades for their report “Grading the Government.” Cause of Action found that the majority of agencies were not compliant, earning a “C-“ average.
The Union of Concerned Scientists has released an analysis on the status of agencies four years after President Obama signed a memorandum for the heads of executive departments and agencies on scientific integrity and the Office of Science and Technology Policy released guidance for agencies in writing policies and implementing the memo’s principles. UCS’s report sets a higher bar than OTSP, and evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of the policies made.
Protecting our nation's cyber systems does not have to come at the cost of transparency and accountability is the message of 35 organizations that joined OpenTheGovernment.org last week on a letter to the Chair and Ranking Member of the House Select Permanent Committee on Intelligence. Unfortunately, however, the primary cybersecurity bill up for debate in the House makes just that terrible trade.
In the interest of encouraging companies to share cyber information with the federal government, the current version of the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), HR 624, cuts off all public access to any information shared. As we have written about previously, such a provision is bad policy because it ignores that much of the truly sensitive information companies are likely to share is already protected from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and that the public will likely need access to at least some of the information in order to understand whether the government acted appropriately to protect our cyber systems against threats. Furthermore, as the terms used in the bill are defined in an incredibly broad manner, we have no way to know what types of information may be covered by this provision.
We continue to urge Chairman Rogers and Ranking Member Ruppersberger to work with openness advocates and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which has expertise in the FOIA, to craft a bill that protects both our cyber systems and openness and accountability.
Sunshine Week has grown from a day of freedom of information commemoration to a week-long celebration of government openness, and the public’s right-to-know. The Congress and agencies have also gotten in on the action, and the spirit of the week brought several legislative proposals to the table.
FOIA Oversight and Implementation Act (The FOIA Act)
On Tuesday, March 12, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform released a draft of a bill that seeks to improve agency administration of FOIA and better the requester experience through amendments to the Freedom of Information Act. The bill codifies the Obama administration’s 2009 directives, establishing the presumption of openness in law and placing the burden on agencies to justify withholding information. The Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) and FOIAonline would also receive additional support. OGIS would be granted greater independence in terms of reporting to Congress, and a pilot program review of FOIAonline would also be required. Read the draft bill’s text here.
Public Online Information Act (POIA)
The Public Online Information Act was reintroduced by Senator Jon Tester. The bill instructs that all public information must be available online in accessible formats. The bill would also create a government-wide special advisory committee to coordinate online disclosure policies. The text of the FY12 Senate and House bills can be viewed here.
Public Access to Congressional Research Service Reports Resolution of 2013
Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports are unreliably available to the public. They can be released by Congress members, and sometimes can be found through non-profit organizations (thanks, Secrecy News!) or even through third parties for a price. This resolution would require reports to be published on a website maintained by the House Clerk. OpenTheGovernment.org and more than 30 organizations joined the Sunlight Foundation in support of the resolution.
Readable Legislation Act of 2013
This bill was introduced just ahead of Sunshine Week, but it still serves to shine a light on government information. Introduced by Rep. Justin Amash, the bill would require draft legislation to clearly present the intent and effect of the legislation, and incorporate “track changes” to show how the bill would change the law. Harlan Yu broke down the idea in three minutes at a recent Transparency Caucus event. The bill’s text is available here.
Federal Advisory Committee Act Amendments of 2013
Congressman Wm. Lacy Clay introduced the FACA Amendments Act of 2013 on Wednesday. The bill, authored by Clay and Reps. Elijah Cummings and Gerald Connolly, closes the loophole in the current FACA law by clarifying that FACA applies to subcommittees as well as committees. The bill also requires FACA appointees to fully comply with all conflict of interest rules and federal ethics laws. The bill can be viewed here.
Presidential Records Act
On Monday, March 18th, Rep. Elijah Cummings introduced H.R. 1233 to amend the Presidential Records Act to establish procedures for the consideration of claims of constitutionally based privilege against disclosure of Presidential Records. The 2013 text is not yet available, but the 2011 text can be viewed here.
A House markup of many of these bills is scheduled for tomorrow, Wednesday March 20, 2013.