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 8, 2014 8:09 AM

Last week I noted this story about a judge rejecting government arguments to withhold documents on the Treasury Department's relationship with mortgage giants Fannie and Freddie. FOIA expert Harry Hammitt writes in: "The case they cite to was in the Federal Circuit that doesn’t hear FOIA cases at all, but occasionally deals with some related issue. I read this to mean the court said Fannie Mae’s deliberative process claim wasn’t appropriate under the circumstances, not that the records definitely were not privileged." Hammitt, by the way, writes Access Reports, an in-depth and authoritative publication on freedom of information and privacy law.

Intercepted: The Intercept, Glenn Greenwald's aggressive new outlet, FOIA'd emails between the CIA public affairs office and reporters. The resulting story accuses Los Angeles Times national security reporter Ken Dilanian of being a patsy for the CIA. I won't wade into the thorny ethical issues the story raises, except to say that this is your regular reminder that nearly everything you write in emails to federal agencies can be FOIA'd. Choose wisely. What is more interesting for our purposes, however, is what the CIA redacted from the emails. From The Intercept:

"It’s impossible to know precisely how the CIA flacks responded to reporters’ queries, because the emails show only one side of the conversations. The CIA redacted virtually all of the press handlers’ replies other than meager comments that were made explicitly on the record, citing the CIA Act of 1949, which exempts the agency from having to disclose "intelligence sources and methods" or "the organization, functions, names, official titles, salaries, or numbers of personnel employed by the Agency." The contents of off-the-record or background emails from CIA press handlers clearly don’t disclose names, titles, or salaries (which can easily be redacted anyway); they may disclose sources and methods, depending on whether you view manipulation of American reporters as an intelligence method. (The Intercept is appealing the redactions.)" 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.

June 9, 2014 7:05 AM

All over the world, groups and individuals are using technology in a variety of innovative ways to increase government transparency, fight corruption, open data, hack on civic problems, strengthen economic development, address environmental problems, improve public health and education, and advance the conditions of women and children.

Our name for this trend is "We-government" or "WeGov" for short. Unlike the older practice of e-government, where public agencies are in the driver's seat and use tech to tell citizens what officials want them to know, allow them to upload required information, and invite input but only on government's terms, WeGov is what happens when citizens and NGOs take fuller advantage of tech's affordances to create (and sometimes co-create, with government's involvement) new and better approaches to providing and using vital public information and services.

techPresident's WeGov vertical is where we cover the people, projects, trends and ideas that are shaping this emerging space with a mix of in-depth feature reporting, daily news digests, and the development of a growing archive of articles, modules and pointers to other valuable resources. Continue>>>
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May 19, 2014 7:16 AM

Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker opened the monthly Tribal Council meeting last week with a call for more transparency in government and strengthening of the tribe’s Freedom of Information Act, according to a tribe news release.

A Tribal Council work group will review potential changes to the law, then share its findings at the council’s Rules Committee meeting on May 28.

Baker said as a Tribal Council member he voted three times to strengthen the Freedom of Information Act. “Only four months into my tenure as principal chief, I had the privilege of signing into law even more protections for FOIA. The Cherokee Nation has always been a beacon of progress among all tribal nations, and we should continue to be a leader in all areas, including transparency,” Baker stated in the release. Continue>>>
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May 12, 2014 9:48 AM

For decades Vermont has been at the bottom of the list of states for the public’s right to know the truth about government operations, records and meetings.

Two years ago, with the strong support of Gov. Peter Shumlin, Secretary of State Jim Condos and others, the Legislature passed a new public records law that improved public access to government documents. Since then, the state has seen steady improvements in its rankings for open government.

The time has come to make similar improvements in the second area of government operations — the public’s right to know what local and state boards are doing when they meet, sometimes improperly behind closed doors. A bill, H.497, that has now passed the House and Senate tries to address open meetings; but it also contains some fatal flaws. Continue>>>
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FOIA, transparency, Vermont
May 12, 2014 9:47 AM

Short of rewriting the Virginia Constitution, there is no better way to recast the relationship between citizens and state government than overhauling the Freedom of Information Act. The law enables oversight of officials who operate on the people's behalf, spends public money and should be subject to scrutiny.

Last month, officials began a thorough review of the legislation, looking for ways to streamline it and improve how it functions for the public. We applaud the commitment to this long-overdue effort but we cannot help but be disappointed in its backwards approach, which will review the law as it exists rather than starting with a clean slate.

When the Founding Fathers crafted the Constitution, they constructed a document which limited the size of government. This perspective intended to reserve all additional rights to the states and citizens, narrowing the federal scope to only specifically enumerated powers. Continue>>>
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May 4, 2014 9:52 PM

A string of legal cases against lawmakers that include two Democrats facing political corruption charges has magnified the usually quiet race for the office overseeing California elections and campaign fundraising.

Candidates vying to become secretary of state are offering competing plans to inject transparency and restore public faith in government.

A race that typically exists in the political backwaters of a California election season popped on to the public stage earlier this year when one of the top candidates, Democratic state Sen. Leland Yee, was arrested and later indicted on federal corruption charges as part of a wider probe into illicit dealings in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Yee has since pleaded not guilty and dropped his candidacy, even though his name will remain on the June 3 primary ballot. Continue>>>
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April 24, 2014 7:43 AM

A bill that would bring greater transparency to California’s century-old ballot initiative system was approved on Tuesday, April 22, by lawmakers on the State Senate’s Elections Committee. The Ballot Initiative Transparency Act, SB1253, authored by Senate President pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg (D – Sacramento) was approved on a 4-to-1 vote and moves forward to the Senate Committee on Appropriations.

“California’s commitment to direct democracy through its illustrious initiative process has given citizens a powerful voice in state governance and has enabled the people of California to outflank the corporate self-interests of billion-dollar industries like Big Tobacco” said Senator Steinberg. “This bill offers the system greater transparency and greater collaboration, strengthening our direct democracy for another century to come.”

The measure would give voters more comprehensive information on ballot initiatives, requiring the Secretary of State to post on a website an easy-to-understand summary of the initiative, as well as a regularly updated listing of the ten donors who have contributed the most money to campaigns in support and opposition of the initiative. In addition, once the proponents have collected 25 percent of the necessary signatures to place a measure on the ballot, Senate and Assembly committees will hold public hearings on the proposed initiative at least 131 days prior to the election. Proponents will also be allowed to withdraw a proposed initiative from the ballot at any time before it qualifies for the ballot, even if that occurs after signatures have been submitted for certification. Continue>>>
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April 24, 2014 7:41 AM

A big data transformation is evolving apace in government agencies across the United States, and federal organizations will soon join the movement as the historic Data Act has just cleared a major milestone. Teradata Corp. (NYSE: TDC), the analytic data platforms, marketing applications and services company, announced today that supporters of the legislation will gather one week from today, April 29, for the inaugural Data Transparency Summit at Union Market in Washington, sponsored by the Data Transparency Coalition.

The legislation, passed by the U.S. Senate Thursday, April 10, is expected to help provide detailed data visibility to government agencies, lawmakers and U.S. citizens. Those attending the summit will hear presentations that showcase the valuable insights possible with integrated, centralized data and analytics. The event will feature key legislators and executive branch officials, including U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio).

"During a time of record $17 trillion debt, our bipartisan bill will help identify and eliminate wasteful spending by better tracking federal spending. I am pleased that our bill to improve federal financial transparency and empower taxpayers to see how their money is spent has passed the Senate, and I urge swift passage in the House of Representatives," Senator Portman said. Continue>>>
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March 24, 2014 12:59 PM

The Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association and its leader, Robert Ambrogi, deserve our thanks for their fight to open more of our state and local government to public inspection ("Guest View: A ray of hope for the Public Records Law," March 18). Government works best when it's most transparent. I have been proud to have joined Bob and the MNPA, Common Cause, MASSPIRG and others in that fight. While we have won several important victories, there remains much to accomplish.

In 2009, the Legislature reformed the Open Meeting Law, adopting a proposal contained in legislation I had filed to centralize enforcement of that law with the attorney general. In that same year, I instituted the Capital Spending Transparency Project, as chairman of the Legislature's House Committee on Bonding, Capital Expenditure and State Assets, with the goal of making all state capital spending available online. In 2011, the Legislature created the state "Open Checkbook," a website that allows everyone with Internet access to see state expenditures. Each legislative session, my committee holds nearly a dozen public hearings where the heads of state executive offices and agencies and several of the largest state authorities, such as MassPort, detail their capital projects and plans for future capital spending.

While we've made progress, much work remains. I have filed several bills that would promote government transparency. As Bob noted, the Massachusetts Public Records Law needs updating in very basic ways: requiring that records that are already in electronic form be made available electronically when requested; making sure that fees charged reflect the actual cost of producing documents, not an inflated cost designed to discourage requests; and designating a person in each agency to be responsible for all public records requests. Continue>>>
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March 16, 2014 12:11 AM

As stated in the preamble to the Brown Act, our state’s open government law: “The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.”

In the last few weeks, the city of San Diego has experienced two major failures in providing the public with open and transparent government.

First, the Balboa Park Celebration Inc. committee was given city tax dollars to put together a 2015 centennial celebration. It received $450,000 in 2011 and another $2.3 million in 2013 to stage the event, but there is nothing to celebrate. The committee has nothing to show for all the money spent and is closing its doors and leaving behind a big mess. Worse, when originally asked by the public and media to provide records, they argued they did not have to because they were a private organization. The arrogance of this response was not lost on the public, and litigation was threatened to gain access. The committee finally began providing some records, but only after the threat of litigation. Continue>>>
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March 9, 2014 3:44 AM

 It plans to increase the number of producers from the current 23 to as many as 35, as well as boost the number of plants each can grow, adding 300 seedlings to the 150 plants now allowed.

That growth on the supply side may well be necessary, because there has certainly been growth on the demand side: There are 10,621 patients enrolled in the program, up more than 1,500 from early last year.

A recent DOH-commissioned survey had patients saying they were being turned away by providers with empty shelves and forced to buy the drug illegally from street dealers, which shouldn’t happen in a government-sanctioned program. Continue>>>
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