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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October 20, 2014 12:04 PM

I learned many things last Tuesday. A young gentleman proudly told me of a youth-led initiative in Cameroon supporting government reforms by leading regulatory trainings for public healthcare providers. A young woman shared with me her desire to learn how to analyze the budget data her government recently made available. And another gentleman currently working at an NGO in India shared with me how social media has revolutionized the way local governments are responding and enhancing their service delivery.

These are all stories from last week's World Bank Group's Youth Summit 2014: The Need for Open and Responsive Governments. Over 300 young leaders from government, academia, civil society and the international community convened to hear speakers, engage with peers and learn new tools to support their work in promoting open governments. Hundreds more participated through our livestream broadcast and in World Bank offices from Tbilisi, Georgia to San Salvador, El Salvador.

I had the distinct pleasure to chair this year's conference and moderate the first session with Erion Veliaj, minister of social welfare and youth in Albania. He energized the audience by sharing part of his story, the motivations and challenges of entering Albanian politics, and how it's in the best interest of governments to be more transparent as it's the people who hold the voting power. Continue>>>
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October 16, 2014 11:38 PM

Meet Ben Balter. He's a Government Evangelist at GitHub, where he leads the efforts to encourage adoption of open source philosophies, making all levels of government better, one repository at a time.

Ben was a member of the inaugural class of Presidential Innovation Fellows and also served as a Fellow in the Office of the US Chief Information Officer, helping to draft the Presidentís Digital Strategy and Open Data Policy. As both an attorney and a developer, he's probably spent more time pondering and writing about Federal IT Procurement rules than most people would agree is healthy.

Ben will be talking about Software Development as a Civic Service at next week's All Things Open conference, and he answered a few questions for us about what the US government is doing right (and wrong) in terms of open technologies and policies. Continue>>>
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October 13, 2014 1:49 PM

The League of Women Voters of Calvert County released a nearly 80-page report on its findings regarding the transparency of the Calvert County government, using three 'case studies' in the group's analysis: the expansion of the Dominion Cove Point facility in Lusby, development surrounding the former Calvert Middle School property and the preparation of the annual county budget and Capital Improvement Plan.

The report lists areas of improvement the county can make for public participation and transparency. Roberta Safer, the league's first vice president and editor of the study, said the purpose of the report is not to take a stance on issues but, rather, to encourage dialogues with the county government about transparency.

ìWhat we want is a dialogue with the commissioners,î Safer said in an interview Wednesday. ìÖ We have no beef with anybody or anything.' The study is the result of months of work by the 'eague's observer corps and other members and was given to the Calvert County Board of County Commissioners at its regular meeting Tuesday, Oct. 7. The league was expected to hold a town hall meeting on the study on Thursday, Oct. 9, after time of press. Continue>>>
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October 13, 2014 1:43 PM

Gov. Terry Branstad on Thursday proposed creating a Government Accountability Portal to make state government more open, transparent and accountable to Iowa citizens. Branstad said the new entity would be a 'one-stop shop' housed within the Iowa Public Information Board for Iowans to register comments, concerns, questions or suggestions regarding state government and its operations.

The new approach would require a response to an 'input' from Iowa citizens within 24 hours and would require acknowledgment from the appropriate state agency within 48 hours, so that the citizen knows with whom the discussion will continue, according to a news release from the Branstad-Reynolds campaign.

Branstad said he and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds have made transparency a hallmark of their administration, beginning with the resumption of weekly news conference to directly respond to questions from the media and naming former Iowa Newspaper Association executive Bill Monroe as the state's first transparency adviser to the governor. Continue>>>
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October 8, 2014 12:53 PM

Many people continue to be surprised that the voters of San Jose, Calif., a city with twice as many Democrats as Republicans, approved a public-pension-reform ballot measure in June 2012 with a nearly 70 percent yes vote. How is this possible in liberal California, despite stringent objections from public-employee unions?

Two words: open government.

Before the vote, San Jose experienced 10 years of cutting services to balance the budget. Thousands of city jobs were eliminated. Layoffs included police officers and firefighters.

In 2011, the city council adopted a fiscal reform plan that saved San Jose from service-delivery insolvency. The pension-reform ballot measure is just one element of this plan. The resultant savings have allowed San Jose to avoid insolvency and improve services for three straight years. Continue>>>
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September 23, 2014 8:51 AM

The more transparent and open governments can be, the better for everyone. To most people, transparency has to do with disclosure. Providing information about an issue, event, project, policy, program etc. and then providing a way for people to find and view that information.

Typically, that would suffice. However, when the term is applied in our system of government that particular definition does not go far enough to meet the publicís (expected) definition of transparency. In a democratic government, transparency should be defined as disclosure and discussion.

Transparency means helping the public understand how and why decisions that influence them are made. It means being accountable to the taxpayer. It's much easier to issue edicts with little or no explanation, give canned responses (we appreciate your input..), and clock out at the end of the day without a care because you have the power and no one is allowed to question you. Continue>>>
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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 5, 2014 8:50 AM

NEWS RELEASE

September 5, 2014
For immediate release
Contact: Hyde Post, President, NFOIC
hyde.post@gmail.com· 404.216.2661 or 573.882.4856

State Open Government Activist is 2014 FOI Hall of Famer

      Well known for his public advocacy and a frequent panelist and speaker throughout New Jersey, John Paff this year becomes the 15th inductee into the State Open Government Freedom of Information Hall of Fame.Known as the “Heroes of the Fifty States,” the joint initiative of the National Freedom of Information Coalition(NFOIC) and the Society of Professional Journalistsrecognizes the recipient’s“long and steady effort to preserve and protect the free flow of information about state and local government that is vital to the public in a democracy.”  Formal induction takes place on October 24 at the 2014 NFOIC Freedom of Information Summitin St. Petersburg, Florida.

       Paff has been dubbed “New Jersey’s busiest open government activist” by reporter Colleen O’Dea, who featured him this February in her New Jersey Spotlight article “Profile: The Man Who Makes Sure Government Works – Right Out in the Open.”

       Paff’s interest in government transparency began in 2002 shortly after the New Jersey Open Public Records Act was passed. Since then, he has taken a lead role in the work of the New Jersey Libertarian Party’s Open Government Advocacy Project and has served as Project Chairman since 2003.  He has also served for the past five years on the board of trustees for the New Jersey Foundation for Open Government, a non-profit organization devoted to improving compliance with the state’s Open Public Records Act and Open Public Meetings Act. Paff is also is a gifted writer and blogs about noteworthy issues at NJ Open Government Notes.

      Having earned a reputation as a government watchdog, Paff typically juggles five public records requests at any one time. He has filed and won numerous lawsuits against non-compliant public agencies and, in doing so, has made a significant contribution to the body of case law giving teeth to the statutes. “The award judges had a wealth of riches this year in choosing its ‘hero,’ but John Paff stood above the crowd,” said Sarah Nordgren, Director of Content Development for the Associated Pressand one of the NFOIC judges who reviewed the nominees. “John is tireless not only in his support of open government, but also in imparting the deep knowledge he has to others, so that they, too, can work to ensure transparency.”

      NFOIC’s president, Hyde Post said “John joins a distinguish group of 14 deserving men and women: outstanding individuals who selflessly volunteer their time to ensure open, transparent government, and freedom of information in their states and for their communities.”

       The FOI Summit, which also serves as the national coalition’s annual conference, brings together state and regional FOI coalitions and advocates of open government.  Tom Blanton, Director of the National Security Archive at George Washington University, is this year’s keynote speaker. Visit NFOIC onlineor call NOW to register for this year’s FOIA Summit. Travel scholarships are available to early registrants.

July 14, 2014 10:22 AM

President Barack Obama promised to create “a new era of openness” on the first day of his first term. It’s a sad irony that his administration has continued the 20-year trend of being less and less open to journalists. It has prosecuted leaks and leakers, threatened journalists with jail, denied credentials, and established policies that restrict federal officials from talking to reporters.

The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), which I belong to, sent the president a letter July 8. It said, “You recently expressed concern that frustration in the country is breeding cynicism about democratic government. You need look no further than your own administration for a major source of that frustration – politically driven suppression of news and information about federal agencies. We call on you to take a stand to stop the spin and let the sunshine in.”

Even today the White House website trumpets the beauty of openness. It says, “President Obama is committed to making this the most open and participatory administration in history. That begins with taking your questions and comments, inviting you to join online events with White House officials, and giving you a way to engage with your government on the issues that matter the most.” Continue>>>
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July 1, 2014 1:05 PM

In an effort to be more transparent and participatory, governments are making more data publicly available in machine-readable formats and under open licenses, but such noble aims are not immune to privacy issues, says a paper published June 18 in Future Internet, a Switzerland-based scholarly journal.

The open government movement faces several privacy challenges, including responsibly handling "public" personal information, distinguishing between public and private-sector actors, and the potential for monitoring and profiling of citizens through big data, writes Teresa Scassa, the report's author and a law professor at the University of Ottawa.

Governments handle large volumes of personal information and in some cases the principles of open government have required its disclosure, creating so-called public personal information, says Scassa. Continue>>>
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June 27, 2014 7:05 AM

It’s become more than apparent since its passage in 1998 that Pennsylvania’s Sunshine Act has holes that need to be filled if we are ever to ensure truly open government. Efforts have been made to amend the act and tighten its language, but it seems our Legislature has had more important things to do.

Jim Christiana is the latest state representative to propose changes to improve transparency and participation in open meetings. You may recall that Christiana is the Beaver County legislator who, through shameless gerrymandering, represents a portion of Washington County, some of which is a half day’s journey from his home.

Christiana proposes to amend the law to mandate making agendas available to the public at meeting locations and online, requiring items to be voted on to be advertised before meetings and ensuring that items omitted from the agenda are not voted on during meetings. The legislator cited continuing issues in Beaver County as his chief reason for seeking the reform. Continue>>>
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June 16, 2014 7:43 AM

The Open Government movement has captured the imagination of many around the world as a way of increasing transparency, participation, and accountability. In the US, many of the federal, state, and local Open Government initiatives have been demonstrated to achieve positive results for citizens here and abroad. In fact, the White House’s science advisors released a refreshed Open Government plan in early June.

However, a recent study in Sweden says the benefits of transparency may vary, and may have little impact on citizens’ perception of legitimacy and trust in government. This research suggests important lessons on how public managers should approach the design of transparency strategies, and how they work in various conditions.

Jenny de Fine Licht, a scholar at the University of Gothenberg in Sweden, offers a more nuanced view of the influence of transparency in political decision making on public legitimacy and trust, in a paper that appears in the current issue of “Public Administration Review.” Her research challenges the assumption of many in the Open Government movement that greater transparency necessarily leads to greater citizen trust in government. Continue>>>
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