The NFOIC open government blog is a compendium of original concepts and analysis as well as ideas, edited excerpts and materials from a variety of sources. When the information comes from another source, we will attribute it and provide a link. The blog relies on the accuracy and integrity of the original sources cited; we will correct errors and inaccuracies when we become aware of them.
For Advocate posts prior to July, 2011, visit http://foiadvocate.blogspot.com/.
Regulating is an inherently legislative exercise, in that it entails the promulgation of rules that control private behavior. Indeed, most policy now is rendered via regulation, thanks to the geometric growth of the executive branch during the post-war years.*
However, unlike legislators in congress, executive agency bureaucrats are unaccountable to the electorate. As a result, there’s a danger that executive agencies are effectuating policy absent a popular mandate and away from the public eye.
In theory, the hazard of unaccountable policy-making could be mitigated largely by the 1966 Freedom of Information Act, which enables any person to request, without explanation or justification, access to existing, identifiable, and unpublished executive branch agency records.
In practice, however, federal agencies routinely circumvent information requests, and the censors’ primary tool for achieving opacity is a statutory exemption from disclosing “deliberative process.” Colloquially, it’s known as the “b(5)” exemption, after its statutory provision (5 U.S.C. §552(b)(5)); among information seekers, it’s known as the “withhold it because you want to” exemption. Continue>>>
For decades Vermont has been at the bottom of the list of states for the public’s right to know the truth about government operations, records and meetings.
Two years ago, with the strong support of Gov. Peter Shumlin, Secretary of State Jim Condos and others, the Legislature passed a new public records law that improved public access to government documents. Since then, the state has seen steady improvements in its rankings for open government.
The time has come to make similar improvements in the second area of government operations — the public’s right to know what local and state boards are doing when they meet, sometimes improperly behind closed doors. A bill, H.497, that has now passed the House and Senate tries to address open meetings; but it also contains some fatal flaws. Continue>>>
Short of rewriting the Virginia Constitution, there is no better way to recast the relationship between citizens and state government than overhauling the Freedom of Information Act. The law enables oversight of officials who operate on the people's behalf, spends public money and should be subject to scrutiny.
Last month, officials began a thorough review of the legislation, looking for ways to streamline it and improve how it functions for the public. We applaud the commitment to this long-overdue effort but we cannot help but be disappointed in its backwards approach, which will review the law as it exists rather than starting with a clean slate.
When the Founding Fathers crafted the Constitution, they constructed a document which limited the size of government. This perspective intended to reserve all additional rights to the states and citizens, narrowing the federal scope to only specifically enumerated powers. Continue>>>
The National Archives and Records Administration will create a committee to improve the way the government process Freedom of Information Act request, a May 5 Federal Register notice says.
"NARA has determined that the creation of the FOIA Advisory Committee is in the public interest due to the expertise and valuable advice the Committee members will provide on issues related to improving the administration of FOIA," the notice says.
The notice doesn't go into detail about the makeup of the committee or what specific issues it will take on, but it does say NARA will share with agencies and the public the committee's recommendations on issues related to FOIA. Continue>>>
The law allowing residents and business to request public records may be dubbed the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, but as municipalities are seeing more and more requests come in each year, officials say the cost to comply with the law is anything but free.
A Daily Herald survey of 55 municipalities showed that the number of Freedom of Information Act requests received has increased in nearly all towns over the past few years that officials have been tracking the numbers. Between 2011 and 2013, 17 suburbs saw an increase of more than 25 percent. Towns including Aurora, Hampshire, Des Plaines and Prospect Heights saw the number of requests increase by more than 50 percent.
Municipal clerks and lawyers said that responding to these requests takes staff time and money away from other responsibilities to the point of being a burden, but First Amendment experts say it is worth the cost to increase transparency of government. Continue>>>
A resolution has been reached in the case of an Iron County Medical Care Facility (ICMCF) resident who filed a civil lawsuit against the facility, alleging that it had not lawfully complied with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
Enacted federally in 1966, FOIA allows citizens to obtain access to public records with some exceptions. The state of Michigan passed its own version of FOIA in 1976.
ICMCF's attorney Kenneth Lane had claimed that resident Patrick Ward's prolific FOIA requests to the facility, which amounted to about one per day, were "overly broad" and "overly burdensome." As a result, he advised ICMCF to discontinue responding to the requests. Continue>>>
A report published by the nonprofit Center for Effective Government (formerly OMB Watch), has ranked 15 agencies on how well they are implementing the Freedom of Information Act, and it gave seven of them failing grades.
The report rated agencies on: how quickly they responded to requests, how quickly it granted requests, and how well their appeals process worked; the effectiveness of agency policy in terms of communication, the review process, and level of disclosure of records; and, website design in terms of facilitating information flow, online services and availability of maintained reading rooms.
The National Archives and Records Administration was among those receiving an F – perhaps not surprising considering its relatively heavy FOIA burden. Also receiving F's: the EEOC, and the Departments of Labor, Veterans Affairs, Defense, Homeland Security, and State. Top performers were... Continue>>>
Black columns run vertically down 700 pages, devoid of any information about the federal workers who spent thousands of hours doing union work while on the government payroll.
This is what the U.S. Department of Agriculture considers public disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.
In the name of protecting employees’ privacy, USDA withheld their names, duty stations, job titles, pay grades and salaries. It even deleted names of the unions benefiting from the hours spent by these USDA workers who continued to draw full pay and benefits, courtesy of the taxpayers. Continue>>>
Two weeks ago, the city of Ann Arbor took a deliberate step to remove a document that had been publicly available on its website for nearly half a decade. Why?
Allegedly, that document contains information that – if it were disclosed – would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of someone’s privacy. Never mind the fact that the context of the document itself makes clear that the information in question is clearly and deliberately intended to be publicly available.
To erase any possible doubt about that, I resorted to an advanced investigative technique: I asked the guy. And it turns out that current Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board member John Splitt had been content to have firstname.lastname@example.org publicly disclosed as his email contact information in the document – the same as elsewhere on the Internet. Continue>>>
Judicial Watch announced today that on March 18, 2014, it filed two new Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuits against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to obtain government records about the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
One lawsuit seeks information about the December 19, 2013, decision by the Obama administration to establish new "hardship exemptions" that could allow most consumers to escape the Obamacare individual mandate without penalty (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (No.1:14-cv-00429)). The second suit seeks records about security and privacy concerns surrounding the Obamacare healthcare.gov web portal (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (No. 1:14-cv-00430)).
The "hardship exemptions" suit was filed after a December 20, 2013, Judicial Watch FOIA request to HHS was ignored contrary to law. The lawsuit seeks the following information: Continue>>>
The easiest and most common form of government communication is often the most expensive and difficult for the public to access.
Email has transformed government operations in ways that the state’s Freedom of Information Act never anticipated when it was last revised in 1999, said Maria J.K. Everett, executive director of the state’s FOIA Council.
While the vast majority of simple requests for information such as accident or spending reports are routinely made public for free to anyone who asks, public bodies in the Richmond area sometimes quote prices of hundreds or thousands of dollars to produce sets of emails. Continue>>>