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

June 1, 2015 10:30 AM

He was a Repubican State Representative for 10 years but then John Dougall was successful in running for the office of State Auditor. On KVNU's For the People program Thursday, Dougall said as a legislator he tried to be a "Constitutional watchdog" and that effort has continued in his new position.

He said one reason he ran was because he felt the auditor's office should be more transparent and he continues to have that for a goal.

"We can't oversee everything. So getting the data out there so citizens can start seeing the government they care about, how their money is being spent, we think is critical," said Dougall. "Then we're also looking at ways at how do we distill that information into a more usable manner."  Continue>>>


March 16, 2015 12:12 PM

In the typical legislative session, a lot of important work is quietly undertaken outside the glare of attention granted to those high-profile and politically charged issues that grab the lion’s share of news coverage. Such is the case with some meaningful changes to Utah’s records laws that will encourage greater government transparency.

The state’s Government Records and Management Act (GRAMA) has been considered something of a model for open records laws across the country because of its disposition toward making the vast majority of records open and accessible. That posture will be further enhanced by passage of SB157, sponsored by Sen. Curtis Bramble, R-Provo. Among other things, the measure would specifically make records of complaints against telemarketing businesses filed with the Utah Division of Consumer Protection open to the public.

Controversy over how those records are classified arose in the context of the scandal involving former Utah attorneys general Mark Shurtleff and John Swallow, who have been accused of personal entanglements with people tied to allegations of telemarketing fraud. Sen. Bramble’s measure sets forth a mechanism for the public to screen records about such businesses while also respecting the privacy rights of individuals who are the target of consumer complaints. Continue>>>

February 11, 2015 11:19 AM

A proposal to invite all 87 of Utah's Republican state lawmakers into a closed-door debate on health care policy is raising concerns.

State senators appeared Monday to be balking at the idea of a joint behind-the-scenes discussion with their House counterparts about Gov. Gary Herbert's Healthy Utah Medicaid expansion plan before voting on a hallmark issue of the 2015 legislative session.

Newly installed House Speaker Greg Hughes said last week the proposed caucus would be a "roll-your-sleeves-up, speak bluntly meeting" to thoroughly vet Herbert's proposals on health care funding for tens of thousands of low-income Utahns. Continue>>>

January 20, 2015 12:50 PM

People seeking to request open records from state agencies can now go online to do so.

State administrators opened the Open Records Portal at last week in an effort to make it easier for residents to identify which agency is responsible for which records and to submit a request.

Developed in response to legislation passed last year, the portal was created by the Department of Administrative Services, Division of State Archives, with consultation from the Utah Transparency Board. Continue>>>

August 22, 2014 7:45 AM

A new study puts the Beehive State near the top when it comes to making government data accessible. The Center for Data Innovation gave Utah a score of 8, which is the highest possible, for its open data policies.

From Roll Call: "Here’s why the report thinks having both a detailed open data policy and open data portals that provide data in machine-readable formats and through a single location are important:

"The purpose of open data portals is to provide government accountability and data that can be used for socially and economically beneficial purposes, and they are more likely to continue to be updated and maintained if they are backed up by state policies, just as policies are more likely to be effective if there is a place to publish the data they require."

The other states that scored at the top of the study were Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, New York and Oklahoma. The bottom scoring states are Alabama, Alaska, Kansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Nevada, South Dakota and Wyoming. Continue>>>

August 7, 2014 7:38 AM

Laws such as the federal Freedom of Information Act and the Utah Government Records Access and Management Act were designed as ways to keep the things government entities do in the sunlight. The idea is that people should have access to what their government is doing. Being able to see what government entities are doing is vital to maintaining a society that embraces democratic principles.

However, too often bureaucrats hide behind FIA and GRAMA as a way to put off, obfuscate or just not be bothered. A recent example is the United States Department of Labor Mine Safety and Health Administration’s refusal to comment on an industrial accident in Richfield. One of the jobs of newspapers, is to dispel false rumors through finding accurate information from credible sources.

When MSHA refuses to comment on something, citing that it is an active investigation, it is adding fuel to a fire of possible false rumors. This is especially true when there is no timeline or even an estimate as to when an investigation will be concluded. Sometimes, governmental agencies use tactics like keeping an investigation open to outwait journalists and others in an effort to avoid giving out information. Continue>>>

March 23, 2012 3:09 PM

A few open government and FOIA news items selected from many of interest that we might or might not have drawn attention to earlier. Be sure to check out Sunshine Week 2012 News while you're at it.

Hacking as a Civic Duty

With cities still weathering the effects of the recession, making the pitch for innovation and transparency to budget-conscious city officials can be difficult. Compounding the issue is that citizens embittered toward civic institutions may not see or understand the benefit of such initiatives.

Visit Shareable:Cities for the rest.

Utah Joins Iowa in Protecting Factory Farms From Cameras

Utah this week became the second state to impose criminal sanctions against anyone taking photos or making videos inside factory farms without permission. Coming less than a month after Iowa became the first state to adopt a so-called "ag-gag" law, the Utah bill signed into law by Gov. Gary Herbert is designed to thwart animal welfare groups that have planted employees inside big farms to document incidents of animal abuse.

Visit Food Safety News for the rest.

Operation Midnight Climax: How the CIA Dosed S.F. Citizens with LSD

SAN FRANCISCO—It's been over 50 years, but Wayne Ritchie says he can still remember how it felt to be dosed with acid.

Now in his mid-eighties and living in San Jose, Ritchie may be among the last of the living victims of MK-ULTRA, a Central Intelligence Agency operation that covertly tested lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) on unwitting Americans in San Francisco and New York City from 1953 to 1964.

Visit SF Weekly for the rest.

U.S. Documents Describe Monitoring Effort Going Back to Early Cold War Years

Washington, D.C.—A central element of the current debate over how to deal with Iran's nuclear program has focused on the possible difficulty of destroying the Qom underground uranium enrichment facility via air strikes. However, documents posted today by the National Security Archive show that Qom is only the latest in a long series of alleged and real underground facilities that for decades have been a high priority challenge for U.S. and allied intelligence collection and analysis efforts, as well as for military planners.

Visit The National Security Archive for the rest.

Review of 738 county election websites shows need for improvement

In an average year, there are over 5,000 local ballot measures on ballots across the country. These include school district bond and tax votes, local LGBT issues, red light cameras, smoking bans, zoning, pensions,, marijuana taxes, to whether it is okay to raise backyard chickens. To make informed choices, voters need to know what’s going to be on their ballot.

However, our review of 738 county election websites between January-March 2012 shows that as many as 32% of county websites do not display any local ballot measure election information. Typically, it is the county election office that administers elections for the political jurisdictions within the county.  This includes school districts, cities, towns, villages, park and recreation districts, and other special districts, as well as the county itself.

Visit Sunlight Foundation for the rest.

Grassley: Wall Street insiders profit from secrecy

More than 12,600 lobbyists are registered with the federal government. You can track who they represent, what they lobby on, and how much they are paid. Registration has been the law since 1946. No one seems to argue its benefits. That’s why it’s puzzling that my effort to apply the same disclosure to a shadowy industry working for Wall Street is being treated as if the sky is falling.

Visit Des Moines Register for the rest.

Hillary Clinton's Remarks at the Transparency International-USA's Annual Integrity Award Dinner

"First, we’re expanding and mobilizing a global consensus in support of greater transparency – a global architecture, if you will, of anticorruption institutions and practices. Along with Brazil, we launched the Open Government Partnership. It is a network of support for government leaders and citizens working to bring more transparency and accountability to governments."

Visit U.S. Department of State for the rest.

After Massacre, Army Tried to Delete Accused Shooter From the Internet

The military waited six days before releasing the name of U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians earlier this month. One of the reasons for the somewhat unusual delay: to give the military enough time to erase the sergeant from the internet — or at least try to. That’s according to several Pentagon officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to McClatchy newspapers about the subject. The scrubbed material included photographs of Bales from the military’s official photo and video distribution website, along with quotes by the 38-year-old sergeant in the Joint Base Lewis-McChord newspaper regarding a 2007 battle in Iraq “which depicts Bales and other soldiers in a glowing light.”

Visit Wired for the rest.

March 22, 2012 4:30 PM

From The Salt Lake Tribune:

Last year about this time, most Utah media organizations, and a great many of our readers, listeners and viewers, were in the middle of a knock-down, drag-out political battle with members of the Utah Legislature. The issue was HB477, a stealth measure that leapt out in the closing days of the session and tore the heart out of the state’s open-records act.

The response was both a concerted campaign by the professionals in the Utah Media Coalition (including The Salt Lake Tribune) and a popular outcry by a great many others, all urging that the law be repealed. In less than a month, it was.

February 3, 2012 10:26 AM

From Deseret News:

SALT LAKE CITY — An advocate for open government, Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber City, is sponsoring two bills aimed at that goal, one serious and the other to make a point.

HB89 requires a political caucus to be open to the public if a quorum of the body is present and legislation is being discussed.

open government, Utah
January 25, 2012 3:01 PM

From The Daily Herald:

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Democrats are making one final push to get the government records that were used in last year's redistricting process.

After being denied once by the Legislature on their request to obtain the records without cost, the Democratic Party decided to pay the $5,000 fee requested by Legislative staff for the records to be processed. Democrats argued, though, that the records are an interest to the public and they should be made available to the public for free.

public records, Utah
January 23, 2012 11:47 AM

From The Salt Lake Tribune:

Utah’s news media learned the public is passionately interested in protecting open government during 2011’s legislative session, when lawmakers rewrote Utah’s records law.

Public outcry forced lawmakers to repeal HB477, which had revised the Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA) to protect text messages, instant messages and video chat from public release. It passed the Legislature within days with little public input.

December 30, 2011 10:45 AM

From Salt Lake Tribune:

Debate over Utah’s Open and Public Meetings Act — specifically on how to get around it — enlivened recent meetings of the staid Defined Contribution Risk Adjuster Board, or RAB.

The discussion offered an unusually candid glimpse at a ploy used by government entities to skirt the law: meeting without a quorum in closed subcommittees.

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