FOI Advocate Blog

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/.
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April 17, 2015 1:02 PM

President and CEO, Newspaper Association of America

President Obama has routinely promised greater transparency within the federal government. Now, Congress is making strides towards achieving this critical goal.

The House of Representatives and Senate are currently considering nearly identical bills to strengthen the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which provides the general public, including journalists, with access to federal government records. Continue>>>
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April 14, 2015 12:56 PM

The Department of Homeland Security has experienced a 182 percent increase in the number of requests it receives under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) since President Obama first took office in 2009, according to the DHS 2014 Freedom of Information Act Report published Thursday.

The DHS says it received a record 291,242 FOIA requests in fiscal year 2014, spending about $51.5 million to process and fill them. It fully granted only 16,651 of these requests, or about 5.7 percent, partially granted another 128,603, and denied 6,212 requests, the report stated.

According to DHS, the vast majority of requests were directed to three agencies: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) – 143,794 requests; Customs and Border Protection (CBP) – 47,261 requests; and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) – 85,081 requests. Continue>>>

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March 23, 2015 12:04 PM

On his first day in office in 2009, President Obama promised that transparency would be one of the "touchstones of this presidency."

Advocates for open government were ecstatic at the promise of less secrecy and the president's directive to all government agencies that "in the face of doubt, openness prevails."

THE WHITE HOUSE: We're committed to openness. Continue>>>
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March 19, 2015 9:35 PM

On his first day in the White House six years ago, President Obama promised that his administration would “usher in a new era of open government,” making it easier than ever to obtain information from federal agencies.

That is not how it has turned out at U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

The agency was woefully unprepared when a flood of immigrants began requesting their records as Obama signaled his intent to loosen the nation’s immigration policies. As a necessary first step in the process of applying for residency, immigrants often must request their own immigration files and enforcement records from CBP and other agencies. Continue>>>
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March 6, 2015 12:48 PM

Two top congressional chairmen demanded Wednesday that the IRS turn over all its emails that might have given private taxpayer information to the White House, after President Obama’s lawyer last week passed the buck to the tax agency, insisting they would be able to search for the emails.

The IRS last year had claimed it didn’t have the technological ability to search for those emails, so Senate Finance Chairman Orrin G. Hatch and House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan went to the White House for them. In letters last month White House lawyer W. Neil Eggleston declined, saying he was certain the IRS would be able to respond.

So the two lawmakers went back to the tax agency in a letter Wednesday, saying it’s up to them to comply. Continue>>>
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February 5, 2015 1:33 PM

The government produces petabytes of data every day and the administration is looking to strengthen the collection and analysis of that information and release more of it to the public.

Included in the president's 2016 budget proposal are several initiatives to increase access to data and improve the government's evidence-based decision making.

"The administration is committed to continuing cost-effective investment in federal statistical programs in order to build and support agencies' capacity to incorporate evidence and evaluation analyses into budget, management and policy decisions," the budget reads. "The 2016 budget includes a package of proposals that would make additional administrative data from federal agencies and programs legally and practically available for policy development, program evaluation, performance measurement and accountability and transparency efforts." Continue>>>
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January 20, 2015 12:56 PM

IN EARLY December, President Obama announced a series of measures aimed at closing the gap between citizens and law enforcement. One of those measures was a plan to distribute $263 million in funding for agencies to purchase body cameras that can be used during police interactions with citizens.

Immediately, there was discussion among my counterparts in other states about whether video captured by the cameras would be subject to release under state public records laws (in Virginia, it’s called the Freedom of Information Act). On one side is the need for public accountability, on the other side are privacy concerns for victims, witnesses and informants (certainly there are other issues on both sides, but for now, those are the two biggies).
In Seattle, instead of gathering talking heads like myself in a room to hammer out statutes or regulations, the police department there convened a “hackathon” to figure out a technological solution. Continue>>>
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January 12, 2015 11:41 AM

Upon assuming the office of the presidency, Barack Obama promised the most transparent administration ever. Nobody asked him to do that, but given the unpopularity of the secrecy of the George W. Bush administration, it was a safe bet that such a promise would be received warmly. President Obama laid out his rationale in a memorandum which included the following key points (emphasis in original):

Government should be transparent. Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their Government is doing.

Government should be participatory. Public engagement enhances the Government's effectiveness and improves the quality of its decisions. Continue>>>
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November 19, 2014 1:40 PM

From President Obama’s first day in office, he has established himself as the first open data president. On day one, he issued a memorandum to create an “unprecedented level of openness in government” and affirmed that information collected and used by the federal government is a national asset. In the nearly six years Obama has been in office, he has taken a series of executive actions to further the ideal of open government through data, and there is still much to be done. With the presidential election season just around the corner, it remains to be seen if the progress made over the past few years will continue in future administrations, or if President Obama will be the last open data president.

President Obama’s initial memorandum served as the framework for the Administration’s Open Government Directive launched in December 2009, which requires federal agencies to adhere to three main tenets: publish government information online, improve the quality of government information, and create and institutionalize a culture of open government. The directive established specific goals and milestones for making high-quality government data accessible to the public. For example, in the first 45 days after the directive was created, agencies were required to identify and publish three previously unavailable, high-value data sets via Data.gov, which was launched in May 2009 by the Federal Chief Information Officer. Importantly, many of the requirements of the directive are ongoing processes, such as a requirement for agencies to update and publish an Open Government Plan every two years, ensuring that the commitment to open data becomes ingrained in government agency culture.

Recognizing that simply publishing government data online was not sufficient for making the data valuable, President Obama issued an executive order in May 2013 which required government data to be published in an open and machine readable format by default. Publishing machine readable data not only helps government agencies fulfill their Open Government Directive requirements more completely, but it also allows the data to be more easily searched and analyzed by the public. With open license to use and reuse this data, the range of organizations that can access, analyze, share, and derive value from this data broadens dramatically. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy released its Open Data Policy in conjunction with this executive order to establish good data management practices throughout the data lifecycle, such as enhancing information safeguards and clarifying information management responsibilities. Continue>>>
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November 5, 2014 11:54 AM

The Freedom of Information Act is supposed to make it easier for journalists and ordinary Americans to obtain documents and other information about how the federal government conducts its business. As such, it is one of the bedrocks of our democracy. “It is often described as the law that keeps citizens in the know about their government,” boasts FOIA.gov, a website dedicated to the law.

Unfortunately, as has been woefully apparent for years, the law is not particularly user-friendly, and instead of making information more accessible, its application has resulted too often in information that should be made public becoming nearly impossible to obtain. In a May 2010 column for The New York Times, I wrote about my own difficulties in obtaining public documents from the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Reserve.

I also recounted President Obama’s determination, on his first full day in office, to change FOIA’s bad reputation by issuing an executive order to make the law easier to use by encouraging bureaucrats to err on the side of releasing information. His optimism was palpable. Continue>>>
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August 25, 2014 8:24 AM

Judicial Watch announced Thursday that is has filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security to uncover reports of sexual misconduct by airport screeners.

The legal action is connected to a March FOIA request that asked DHS for information about passenger complaints about sexual harassment. While Judicial Watch agreed to narrow its request for information in March, TSA did not produce any documents at all, “or respond in any other substantive way as required by law.”

The government watchdog group said the issue of sexual misconduct by TSA came to light in January, when a Colorado woman filed a complaint that a frisking she received was sexual assault. Judicial Watch cited a press report in which Jamelyn Steenhoek was quoted as saying the agent touched her in place she’s “not comfortable being touched in.” Continue>>>
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August 25, 2014 8:21 AM

President Barack Obama’s White House has interfered with Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests over the release of communications with a dozen federal agencies, according to a lawsuit filed on Monday by Cause of Action, a government watchdog organization.

Cause of Action has sued ten cabinet agencies — including the Departments of Justice, Treasury, and Health and Human Services — the Internal Revenue Service, and the White House Office of Management and Budget for allowing the White House to influence the FOIA process and delay response to document requests.

“Accountable and transparent government does not involve instructing agencies to send politically sensitive records to the White House for review,” said Dan Epstein, executive director of Cause of Action, in a press release announcing the lawsuit. “The bureaucracy has violated the law by stonewalling the public’s access to documents for political reasons.” Continue>>>
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