FOI Advocate News Blog

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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 30, 2014 4:07 PM

A report commissioned by the Homeland Security Department's Science and Technology Directorate says barriers to using and developing open source software must be addressed as IT budgets across government continue to tighten.

Security and the perceptions of security are just as problematic as "non-security" challenges to open source software, or OSS, says the report's authors ñ David Wheeler, a research staff member at the Institute for Defense Analyses, and Tom Dunn, senior research engineer at the Georgia Tech Research Institute.

The report ñ based on interviews with 31 OSS experts, suppliers and potential users ñ exposed fears about low-quality code and malware, concerns about commercial support, inertia, procurement issues, and certification and accreditation, or C&A, problems. Continue>>>
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October 30, 2014 4:06 PM

In the absence of a hospice consumer guide from the government, The Washington Post has created one using available Medicare data. The newspaper unveiled the quality tool Sunday, in an article criticizing a lack of transparency around hospice quality.

The Post's tool compiles data that hospices are required to report to Medicare, but which 'the government has yet to publish in a form that consumers can easily use,î wrote reporters Peter Whoriskey and Dan Keating. It breaks hospices down by state and county, and includes several quality measures. These include daily spending for patient care, the percent of crisis care provided and the live discharge rate.

The information is put in the context of the state ó for example, one Idaho hospice spends an average of $12 a day on therapy, compared to the 'typical' state amount of $10. Users also can create comparison tables to see how selected hospices stack up against each other. Continue>>>
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October 30, 2014 4:04 PM

It isn't often that insurers and hospitals come together on an issue involving payments, but that's what seems to be happening in reaction to a new study being funded by the state's Department of Financial Services.

Both groups worry that this project, which aims to add transparency to contract process between private hospitals and private insurance companies, could reveal proprietary information, and produce results that will be taken out of context.

"We're very concerned that the study's narrow focus would lead to faulty, incomplete conclusions," said Kathleen Shure, senior vice president at the Greater New York Hospital Association. Continue>>>
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October 30, 2014 4:03 PM

Caroline County's school board members went into a closed session last week to discuss, among other matters, their own performance. It's probably not a bad idea to evaluate themselves occasionally, but they shouldn't keep it secret from county residents.

In fact, using a closed meeting under the personnel exemption to talk about themselves is not permitted under state law. Virginia's Freedom of Information Act permits closed meetings to discuss ìspecific' people they have the authority to hire, fire, discipline or evaluate.

The exemption doesn't include one another. There are at least two legal opinions-one from the attorney general, another from the state's Freedom of Information Advisory Council-that explain why such discussions can't be held in closed sessions. Continue>>>
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October 30, 2014 4:02 PM

This author wrote previously on the status of sexual harassment investigations under the Freedom of Information Act ['FOIA']. In a case that has grabbed some notoriety; the Freedom of Information Commission ['FOIC'] has offered further guidance and reminders as to the public nature of sexual harassment complaints.

In Wotjas v. Department of Administrative Services, Town of Stonington, #FIC 2013-558 (July 23, 2014), a citizen requested a copy of a sexual harassment complaint made by a former Town of Stonington employee against the First Selectman, along with any correspondence that the complaining employee had with the Town about her reason for departure. The Town denied the request, asserting (among other things) that the complaining employee had been notified and objected to the disclosure of these records.

After a complaint was filed, the FOIC issued a decision ordering disclosure of the requested documents. The FOIC rejected the Town's claim that the requested records were exempt from disclosure pursuant to Connecticut General Statutes ß1-210(b)(2), which provides that disclosure is not required of 'personne' or medical files and similar files the disclosure of which would constitute an invasion of personal privacy.î The FOIC rejected an assertion that a privacy right for the First Selectman existed in light of the unsubstantiated nature of the allegations, and concluded that there is a legitimate public interest in the behavior of public officials in relation to public employees, whether or not reasonable minds might differ as to whether such behavior constitutes harassment. Continue>>>
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October 30, 2014 4:01 PM

Fifty transparency organizations and watchdog groups are pressing the White House to state its position on a number of core reforms they say are needed to fix the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

In a letter released last week, the 50 groups requested the White House's opinion on legislative efforts included in the FOIA Improvements Act of 2014, which is currently awaiting a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

ìEach of these provisions is critical to achieving your stated goal of a more open and accountable government and would strengthen your legacy,î the letter states. ìWe believe, working together, we can breathe new life into your commitments. But we need this legislative component to move forward. Accordingly, we respectfully seek your position on the codification of each of these specific provisions through legislative means.î Continue>>>
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October 29, 2014 11:49 AM

The federal government's disability fund is set to run a $75 billion cash-flow deficit this year, and the program's own judges are reportedly responsible for running it into the ground. Congressional reports have highlighted allegations of disability judges' rubber-stamping cases, snoozing on the job, sexually harassing colleagues, and colluding with corrupt lawyers - but the Social Security Administration continues to be more concerned with shielding questionable judges from much-needed scrutiny that it is with protecting the disability fund's financial integrity.

In August, on behalf of National Review Online and the Franklin Center, I submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the SSA, asking for correspondence that could potentially reveal misconduct, conflict of interests, or other worrisome, illegal, or unethical behavior on the part of some of the top rubber-stamping disability judges identified by the House Oversight Committee. But the SSA refused to offer even the most minimal response, telling me it 'can neither confirm nor deny the existence of such records.'

The SSA's justifications for this nonresponse are quite simply hogwash, and we're fighting back, submitting an appeal today, as we attempt to investigate this issue affecting millions of Americans, and billions of dollars. Continue>>>
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October 29, 2014 11:45 AM

Forty years ago, the New York State Legislature adopted the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) and declared the government needed to be 'responsive and responsible to the public,' but most of all that 'the government is the public's business.'

The Legislature got it right. And 40 years later, it is almost impossible to imagine any citizen arguing against the sentiments expressed in that legislative declaration.

Yet on the front page of Saturday's Post-Star, The Associated Press reported Gov. Cuomo and his administration ó which four years ago promised the most transparent administration in history ó had been just the opposite. Continue>>>
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October 29, 2014 11:42 AM

Last year, Ron Nixon discovered a small-business owner whose mail was being monitored by the United States Postal Service. After looking deeper, he realized that the snail-mail monitoring program is more common than he thought. Mr. Nixon describes the year-long reporting process. He also spoke to WNYC's The Takeaway about the subject this morning.

The idea for a story on the Postal Service's century's old mail cover program, in which all the information on the outside of letters and packages are recorded for law enforcement purposes, actually started over a year ago. I was discussing the government's mass surveillance programs with colleagues in the Washington bureau and looking for those beyond the National Security Agency's well-known program, which was in the news at the time.

I had heard about a case in Buffalo where a book store owner had found a card attached to his mail telling letter carriers to copy all the information on the outside of his letters and packages before delivering them. There was also a mention in a court filing of how the Postal Service surveillance program had played a role in catching Shannon Richardson, an actress who had sent ricin-laced letters to President Barack Obama and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg. With these examples I was able to write a front-page article for The Times last year, but I wanted to know more. Continue>>>
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October 29, 2014 11:39 AM

Wen legislation passes the Maryland General Assembly unanimously, it usually means that it doesn't do much aside from make lawmakers look good. Such was the case with House Bill 658, which started life as an effort to make state government more transparent and was ultimately reduced to another summer study last spring.

Perhaps we're wrong. Maybe the Joint Committee on Transparency and Open Government ó which was given the chore of studying ways to reform the appeals process when a reporter or member of the public is refused government records under the Maryland Public Information Act ó will recommend bold ideas that lawmakers will approve when they reconvene in January. But that's not the usual outcome for such efforts.

News organizations including The Baltimore Sun can lobby as hard as they want to strengthen public access to records held by state and local governments, but legislators are usually reluctant to make waves. The majority make a kind of political calculus ó if average citizens aren't storming the gates over the issue, why take the chance that you might cause potentially embarrassing information to be released? Continue>>>
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October 29, 2014 11:36 AM

The Port of Tacoma could pay up to $50,000 to defend its commission members against a lawsuit alleging they violated the state's Open Meetings Act by holding confidential meetings with the Port of Seattle commissioners over a planned operations alliance.

The commission unanimously approved last week an authorization for the port to pay legal fees of up to $50,000 to defend commission members in a lawsuit brought by Olympia open government advocate Arthur West. Any costs beyond $50,000 will be paid by the port's legal liability insurance carrier.

That same authorization also would allow the port to pay any fines or judgments against individual commissioners if the courts decide those confidential meetings violated the Open Meetings Act. State law allows governments to pay legal defense costs and judgments in cases brought against their governing officials if those officials acted in good faith as part of their official duties. Continue>>>
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October 29, 2014 11:34 AM

In September, the White House announced a series of new initiatives as part of its second Open Government National Action Plan. Among them was a commitment to developing and implementing a governmentwide open-source software policy by the end of 2015.

But two of the leaders of that initiative -- Todd Park and Steven VanRoekel -- left the White House toward the end of the summer, raising questions about whether the program will stay on track.

Former U.S. Chief Technology Officer Park and former U.S. CIO VanRoekel were in their respective positions for more than two years and played a role in the launch of the Digital Government Strategy, the Presidential Innovation Fellows program and the U.S. Digital Service. They also had a hand in writing the second open-government plan, which set a Dec. 31, 2015, target for developing an open-source software policy that, with the Digital Services Playbook, "will support improved access to custom software code developed for the federal government." Continue>>>
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