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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September 17, 2014 1:57 PM

Data.gov has taken open source to heart. Beyond just providing open data and open source code, the entire process involves open civic engagement. All team ideas, public interactions, and new ideas (from any interaction) are cross-posted and entered in Github. These are tracked openly and completed to milestones for full transparency. We also recently redesigned the website at Data.gov through usability testing and open engagement on Github.

Today, I want to share with you just five of the hundreds of applications that have been developed by the public using open government data. These are examples of the kind of apps, visualizations, and analyses that are created from working with developers, educators, and businesses on a specific challenge at events that pull the community together, like data jams, meetups, and conferences.

Archimedes

Archimedes makes tools that give quantitative models to doctors and patients so that they can find effective interventions, predict how interventions will affect an individualís health risk, and help decision-makers analyze health outcomes. These quantitative models are key to improving medicine and optimizing treatments by enabling more effective individualized medicine rather than general guidelines. Archimedesí products use federal open data from the National Health and Nutrition Survey; the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; trial datasets from the National Institutes of Health such as the Framingham Heart Study; and Medicare datasets. Continue>>>
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apps, Github, oped data
September 17, 2014 1:55 PM

South Carolina's top cop asked legislators Tuesday to ensure that agents who investigate child deaths continue to have access to records like autopsy reports and birth certificates, saying he hopes a recent court ruling won't change that.

"There is no higher mission than the protection of our children," State Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel told a special Senate panel Tuesday. "This is paramount to the department's ability to continue to fulfill its purpose and duties."

Keel testified before the Senate's Freedom of Information Act Study Committee. During its first meeting, the panel discussed the effects of two recent rulings that deal with interpreting the state's FOI law. Continue>>>
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September 16, 2014 2:00 PM

A Philadelphia-based law firm says that the National Transportation Safety Board's current method of releasing plane crash data and information unfairly favors airplane and component manufacturers at the expense of victims and their families, according to a Freedom of Information Act suit filed at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

Attorneys at the Wolk Law Firm, located on Locust St. in Philadelphia, submitted the FOIA on behalf of several plaintiffs looking for more details surrounding various fatal plane crashes that occurred in the last few years.

The complaint says that the NTSB relies on the expertise of the manufacturers to interpret certain data before releasing it to the plaintiffs, sometimes denying requests based on those recommendations. This method creates a conflict of interest, the complaint says, because many times the manufacturers are named defendants in the suits, and receive the opportunity to review and alter possible incriminating evidence. Continue>>>
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airplane crash, FAA, NTSB
September 16, 2014 1:58 PM

A recent Illinois appellate court decision should remind government entities that charging a fee for a FOIA request should not be assessed without due care. In Sage Information Services v. Suhr, 2014 IL App (2d) 130708, the plaintiffs requested "a copy, on CD or similar electronic media, of the current real property assessment record file for the entire county, together with an electronic copy of the sales file" from the Supervisor of Assessments.

The requestor asserted that under section 6(a) of the FOIA, the defendant could charge no more than the cost of the disc. However, the defendant responded that the plaintiff would have to pay $6,290.45 (five cents per parcel) to obtain the records, relying on section 9-20 of the Property Tax Code.

The parties disagreed on which statute governs how much the defendant should charge for electronic records. Defendant asserted that the governing statute was section 9-20 of the Property Tax Code, which provides that, "In all counties, all property record cards maintained by...the chief county assessment officer shall be public records.... Upon request and payment of such reasonable fee established by the custodian, a copy or printout shall be provided to any person." 35 ILCS 200/9-20. The plaintiff contends the governing statute is section 6(a) of the FOIA, which provides, "When a person requests a copy of a record maintained in an electronic format, the public body shall furnish it in the electronic format specified by the requester, if feasible.... A public body may charge the requester for the actual cost of purchasing the recording medium, whether disc, diskette, tape, or other medium... Except to the extent that the General Assembly expressly provides, statutory fees applicable to copies of public records when furnished in a paper format shall not be applicable to those records furnished in an electronic format." 5 ILCS 140/6(a). Continue>>>
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FOIA fees, illinois
September 16, 2014 1:55 PM

After sifting through the 123 pages provided to me by the Evansville (IN) Department of Metropolitan Development (DMD) in response to a Freedom of Information Request concerning grants and loans in the Haynieís Corner and downtown areas, I must admit that I am mystified. There were apparently no grants of any kind given in the target areas between 1999 and 2004, as none are shown in that time period. I only find records of two facade grants, each in the amount of $5,000, given in the area during that ten years. I have doubts that is the whole story, but in defense of DMDís long-suffering staff, I can certainly see how a perfectly legitimate oversight could occur in providing the information I asked for. I have reason to believe that there were several relatively small grants given to businesses in the target area over the past decade, to generally ìspruce upî the curb appeal of the area. I will be delving further into the facade grant program with another Freedom of Information Act Request specific to that program to be filed before the close of business on Friday of this week.

There are, however, records of grants in the area that deserve mention. The largest is for a perennial favorite among City County Observer readers. It is in the amount of $800,000 to Centre City Development of Indianapolis, toward the renovation of the McCurdy Hotel into luxury apartment units. We all know how that turned out. The date on the grant is October 2, 2007 and the McCurdy may have deteriorated beyond salvation since the ìgiftingî took place. We continue to hear occasional rumors of interest on the part of new developers, one as recently as about a month ago.

The Alhambra has been the recipient of $196,000 in gifts from DMD in December of 2010, most of which went for HVAC and structural repairs. The old movie theatre, with its minarets, has always been a fascinating piece of architecture for preservationists, and has been an on-going object of various private and public community fund-raising drives. It currently serves as a gallery and is an attraction for the area. The adjoining ìSculpt EVVî project, was carried out by USI. It was a two year project that began in September of 2011. There are several pieces of outdoor sculpture on vacant lots that add to the ìArts Districtî atmosphere that is being created for the block. On a recent visit to the area, I observed that all of the houses left on that block of Adams Avenue were displaying For Sale signs, most "by owner". Continue>>>
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September 16, 2014 1:53 PM
The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania (ACLU) has issued a plea to the US government to open records about the drugs used in executions in the state of Pennsylvania.
 
"The ACLU of Pennsylvania, on behalf of four newspapers, including the Guardian, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and the Philadelphia City Paper, has asked a federal judge to unseal court records that contain information about the source of the drugs used for lethal injections in Pennsylvania", a statement published on the union's website Thursday said, adding, "The first execution in 15 years in the commonwealth could occur as soon as September 22. The newspapers seeking this information argue that keeping that information under seal violates their First Amendment rights."
 
The ACLU stated that because the Federal Drug Administration-approved version of the starting drug for execution, pentobarbital, is not sold to correction departments, states can only purchase them from a compounding pharmacy through a special order. But since there is less control exercised over compounding pharmacies than on pharmaceutical companies, the ACLU doubts the substances that the compounded drugs contain. Continue>>>
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September 16, 2014 1:50 PM
A consumer rights advocacy group has lost a Freedom of Information Act fight to access the compliance records Pfizer Inc. and Purdue Pharma LP filed with the government as part of their settlement of health care fraud cases.
 
U.S. District Judge Beryl A. Howell of the District of Columbia agreed with the pharmaceutical companies and HHS that the records were exempt under FOIAís exemption for trade secrets and confidential commercial, financial information.
 
In 2009, Public Citizen requested the annual reports both drugmakers filed as part of their corporate integrity agreements. The accords were reached to resolve claims against the companies for the illegal, off-label promotion of drug prescriptions that were reimbursed by federal health care programs. Continue>>>
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September 16, 2014 1:47 PM

When Gov. Mike Pence unveiled his new $9 million government management system, he ran down a list of ways it would make state government work better before ending with the promise that state government will also be more ìtransparent.î

But last weekís rollout of the new Management and Performance Hub, which Pence vowed will make Indiana the best state in the nation at crunching big data, was plagued with confusion - and a lack of transparency. Pence said it would help eliminate duplicative programs but didnít identify which programs heíd targeted to cut. Even the most basic question - how much the state had paid for the program - proved problematic.

The promise of ìtransparentî government is almost universally popular among politicians. It evokes the vision of a truly ìsmall dî democratic government that is answerable to the people and supports the concept of public trust. Continue>>>
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September 15, 2014 7:23 PM

School police in several California public school districts are ready for anything -- including, apparently, a small invasion.

The open news website MuckRock found through a recent Freedom of Information Act request that not only are California state and local police departments receiving military-grade equipment from the Department of Defense, but several school police departments are as well.

According to the inventory published by MuckRock, six California school district police departments received equipment from the Department of Defense Excess Property Program, also known as the 1033 Program. The details: Continue>>>
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FOI request
September 15, 2014 7:21 PM

Veteran journalist Donnis Baggett, former publisher and editor of The Eagle, was honored Friday by the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas for his work in fighting for open government and the First Amendment.

Baggett, who is executive vice president of the Texas Press Association, leads the group's governmental affairs program, which focuses on protecting open records, open meetings and public notice at all levels of government.

"When you wrap yourself in the First Amendment for four decades, it's always front of mind, and it's easy to assume that it's front of mind for everybody else, but it isn't. I'm still surprised that we have to constantly explain how important it is -- especially to some of those in the pink building who are too willing to shrug it off in the name of efficiency or privacy or security," Baggett told foundation members, referring to state legislators. Continue>>>
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September 15, 2014 7:07 PM

The Chicago Public Schools have been hit with a lawsuit accusing the administration of violating the law when it comes to providing the public with information about how the district is run.

WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports Matt Topic, an attorney for the Better Government Association, said the lawsuit alleges CPS has violated the Illinois Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by either delaying responses to requests for district records, or not responding at all.

ìThereís individual instances in which CPS has failed to provide records to BGA and to NBC Chicago, but we think that is just the tip of the iceberg. Weíve seen dozens of instances in which CPS has failed to respond to FOIA requests in a timely manner, he said. Continue>>>
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September 15, 2014 3:15 PM

There are a lot of things that government doesnít want you to know: It can be a relatively simple thing, such as the details of a $6.8 million no-bid contract for a D.C. firm to basically run the state Medicaid program after the McCrory administration excused most of the people who knew what floor the break room was on.

Weíve written about this contract several times, in July in our ìCritical Conditionî series, later when we learned that the contract had been doubled in amount, and again Wednesday, after Department of Health and Human Services chief Aldona Wos appeared at the legislature to defend it.

DHHS held up information about this contract as long as it could. But now that the details are public, Sen. Floyd McKissick of Durham was able to point out that Rudy Dimmling of Alvarez & Marsal, a firm with scant Medicaid experience, will bill about $800,000 himself this year. At $473 an hour, the meter spins pretty quickly. Continue>>>
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