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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May 1, 2015 11:24 AM

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

The House of Representatives and the Senate are 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.

This legislation has received broad support across media organizations, including the Sunshine in Government Initiative, a coalition of which the Newspaper Association of America is a member. And here’s why: Continue>>>
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April 30, 2015 11:29 AM

The State Department has about three weeks to propose a date by which it will release tens of thousands of work-related emails former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sent or received on her personal account, a federal judge said in an order issued Tuesday.

Clinton's former agency has pledged to use Freedom of Information Act procedures to process for release about 55,000 pages of emails the former secretary turned over in December after a State Department official asked four former secretaries to return copies of any official records they had. Clinton has since declared her candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination

State officials have said the email review process would take several months, except for one batch of Benghazi- and Libya-related messages slated to be released sooner. However, State has so far declined to promise any specific date or even month for release of the smaller or larger batch of emails. Continue>>>
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April 30, 2015 11:17 AM

There are several instances where the inaction of the Attorney General’s office leads to the public being improperly denied public records. This is simply another case we decided to highlight today – more are coming:

Last summer Cook County decided it could violate the law and deny access to public records. I filed a request for review with the Attorney General’s Public Access Counselor, and it was assigned file number 2014 PAC 30503.

This deals with Statements of Economic Interest, their online access, and their access thru FOIA. Continue>>>
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April 30, 2015 11:11 AM

Statewide court records maintained by the Supreme Court of Virginia should be publicly available in compiled form, according to an opinion issued by the state's Freedom of Information Advisory Council.

The Supreme Court's Office of the Executive Secretary refused to release compiled court records to the Daily Press and instead required case-by-case requests. The Daily Press has been pushing for access to the entire database for nearly a year, arguing that the information is a public record with critical information about how well and fairly the state's courts work.

After being denied the data repeatedly, the Daily Press worked with the Hampton Roads chapter of Code For America — a nonprofit group that works with governments to make their records more accessible to the public — to compile 110,000 individual cases over a one-year span using the Office of the Executive Secretary's website. Using this database, the newspaper found that black Virginians appear to be less likely than whites to negotiate reduced charges in plea bargains, and are more likely to face stiffer penalties when they violate probation. Continue>>>
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April 29, 2015 12:28 AM

President Barack Obama routinely promises to provide greater transparency within the federal government. Now, Congress is making strides toward achieving this critical goal.

The House of Representatives and Senate are considering nearly identical bills to strengthen the Freedom of Information Act, which provides the general public, including journalists, with access to federal government records.

This legislation has received broad support across media organizations, including the Sunshine in Government Initiative, a coalition of which the Newspaper Association of America is a member. And here’s why: Continue>>>
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April 29, 2015 12:24 AM

You’d think that if you were going to get a timely and adequate response to a Freedom of Information Act request from the federal government, it would be from the Department of Justice’s Office of Information Policy, which oversees the government’s compliance with FOIA requests.

But if you thought that, you’d be wrong.

According to the FOIA Project, operated by Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, the Office of Information Policy was one of 10 agencies that failed to adequately respond to a basic FOIA request, a remarkable failure rate -- that’s nearly half of the 21 agencies queried. Only seven of the agencies fully complied in a timely manner. Continue>>>
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April 28, 2015 12:15 PM

That's easy for him to say — easy for House Republicans to hear — because they were in the room.

The other 19 million people of Florida were locked out. It's their money, their lives, their environment and their schools that are affected by what the Legislature does. It's just none of their business.

Trust is automatic in the lockstep ranks of Republican legislators, who hardly needed reassurance. But public trust is something you'd think politicians would want to cultivate. Public officials privately discussing public business at public expense in public buildings on public time is not a way to make the public trust them. Continue>>>
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April 27, 2015 12:30 AM

In an era where the government collects more information than ever before, the importance of maintaining public access to that information becomes a bigger concern with each passing year.

That point isn’t lost on U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono. Serving as a member of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee — in her freshman term, it should be noted — she has paid particular attention to the Freedom of Information Act, the venerable 50-year-old law that requires the public disclosure of records held by the federal government.

Hirono last year co-sponsored the FOIA Improvement Act of 2014, which would require federal agencies to make FOIA records available for inspection in an electronic format, limit agencies’ ability to charge fees if they foot drag on FOIA requests and establish a legal presumption in favor of disclosure, among other things. Continue>>>
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April 27, 2015 12:17 AM

Akron City Council often flouts rules designed to allow the public to follow city government and weigh in on proposals before they become law.

Akron's city charter requires legislation to be posted online by noon Friday, in advance of Monday City Council meetings, to give residents the weekend to review proposals. But council regularly blows by the deadline, and sometimes legislation is changed or rewritten hours before it's voted into law, without any opportunity for members of the public to respond.

The process is exacerbated by council's habit of suspending rules that require reading legislation three times before passage. More often than not, legislation is either passed after one reading or are bundled with other pieces in what is known as a consent agenda and approved without discussion by a single vote. Continue>>>
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April 24, 2015 12:09 PM

The city of Cincinnati says it is enhancing transparency by sharing the city’s data with the general public in a new way.

Open Data Cincinnati will allow anyone to browse through various datasets of information collected by the city to document how the government operates, officials said at an announcement Wednesday.

"The city believes giving the data to the public will encourage residents to help come up with creative tools to engage, improve and serve the community. The long-term vision is for the new portal to improve customer service, increase accountability and stimulate economic activity through data sharing," the city said in a news release. Continue>>>

April 23, 2015 1:29 PM

Buried in a massive Pew study on the public's feelings about data and open government is this amazing nugget: Just 23 percent trust the federal government to do the right thing "at least most of the time."

Twenty three percent! That's unpopularity-of-Congress territory. Journalist-trust territory! Donald Trump's approval ratings look down on those numbers!

Not surprisingly, how you feel about the federal government depends somewhat on your party affiliation. Twice as many Democrats as Republicans say they trust the government to do the right thing most of the time, a function of the fact that the "government" is currently represented, symbolically speaking, by a Democratic president. Those splits would likely reverse themselves if a Republican was in the White House. Continue>>>
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April 23, 2015 1:19 PM

President Barack Obama once proclaimed his administration to be the most transparent in history, but a new survey suggests Americans have mixed thoughts on whether new initiatives to open government and its data will make a significant difference in holding the powerful accountable.

A report released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center, in conjunction with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, found that most Americans are not engaged with using government data sources. Just 7 percent say local governments share their information effectively.

Even fewer — 5 percent of more than 3,000 American adults surveyed — think federal government agencies are doing a very effective job sharing the data they collect. Continue>>>
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