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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April 11, 2014 10:20 AM

Wisconsin received an A- when it comes to government spending transparency, according to “Following the Money 2014: How the 50 States Rate in Providing Online Access to Government Spending Data,” the fifth annual report of its kind by the WISPIRG Foundation.

The state of Wisconsin has made great progress in becoming more transparent about where public money goes, providing citizens with the information they need to hold elected officials and recipients of public subsidies accountable.

Officials from Wisconsin and 45 other states provided the researchers with feedback on their initial evaluation of state transparency websites. Based on an inventory of the content and ease-of-use of states' transparency websites, the “Following the Money 2014” report assigns each state a grade of A to F. The leading states with the most comprehensive transparency websites are Indiana, Florida, Oregon, Texas, Massachusetts, Iowa, Vermont, and Wisconsin. Continue>>>
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April 11, 2014 10:04 AM

The United States Senate approved an amended version of the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act (S. 994) today by unanimous consent. Advocates expect the landmark open data legislation, known as the DATA Act, to earn swift approval in the U.S. House of Representatives, where an earlier iteration of the bill passed by a 388-1 vote in November 2013. The DATA Act would mandate the publication of all federal spending disclosures as standardized open data. In many cases, that information is currently locked behind inaccessible document-based formats.

"The DATA Act takes a structured data model that has delivered unprecedented accountability in stimulus expenditures and applies it across all domains of federal spending," said Hudson Hollister, who drafted the initial version of the DATA Act in 2009 and now champions the bill as the Executive Director of the Data Transparency Coalition. "We're excited to welcome this bipartisan and now, bicameral endorsement for delivering reliable, accessible data about how taxpayers' dollars are being spent. The DATA Act will turn federal spending information into open spending data a valuable new public resource that strengthens democratic accountability and spurs innovation."

The Senate's final version of the DATA Act places the White House Office of Management and Budget alongside the U.S. Treasury Department in joint control of the development of government-wide data standards, a change opposed by the Data Transparency Coalition. However, the final bill retains the Coalition's key goals: strong and comprehensive mandates to standardize and publish the executive branch's whole portfolio of spending information. The final bill also invites the Treasury Department to set up an accountability platform modeled on the innovations of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board. President Barack Obama is expected to sign the DATA Act, because it provides a legislative mandate for many elements of his May 2013 Open Data Policy. Continue>>>
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Federal Government
April 11, 2014 10:03 AM

NASA writes a lot of software, and that software performs a wide variety of functions. The nation's space agency also makes much of that software available to other federal agencies, organizations, businesses, and the public through approximately 1,500 software usage agreements. Now NASA wants to make better use of its intellectual asset portfolio and is releasing a software catalogue with more than 1,000 applications that are available for free to the public.

Software makes up about a third of reported NASA inventions each year, and by publishing a software catalogue the agency hopes to increase the ability of others to make use of its software significantly, said Daniel Lockney, who manages NASA's Technology Transfer Program. The TTP, which oversees the agency's intellectual property and the transfer of technology for commercialization and public use, is part of the agency's Office of the Chief Technologist.

"Traditionally our [apps] were distributed at different offices and labs around the country. So we needed to gather everything in one place," said Lockney in an interview with InformationWeek Government. "We're more excited about the potential of this catalogue because of how valuable it can be. It's our best solutions to the problems we've encountered." Continue>>>
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Best Practices, NASA
April 11, 2014 10:02 AM

Despite designating pregnant undocumented immigrants as “low-priority” targets for incarceration, officials with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) imprisoned 40 pregnant women at a detention facility in Texas while claiming not to keep “specific records” on detainees’ pregnancy status, Fusion reported on Tuesday.

Records obtained via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request showed the women were held at the El Paso Processing Center last year, following a January 2014 report that 13 pregnant women were being detained at the facility during a four-month period, despite ICE officially stating that they should not be placed in detention centers “absent extraordinary circumstances.”

When Fusion filed a FOIA request looking for data on how many pregnant women were being detained in the agency’s 250 centers around the country, ICE responded with a statement saying it did not “maintain specific records” regarding that kind of information. Continue>>>
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customs, ice, immigration
April 11, 2014 10:00 AM

The Lakeland Ledger has received the prestigious Brechner Center for Freedom of Information award for its successful battles to keep public records and government accessible.

This is a coveted national award, it recognizes excellence in reporting about freedom of information, access to government-held information or the First Amendment and it's a significant effort on behalf of all Floridians.

The Ledger submitted five stories, including ones on the Polk County School Board requiring people to present identification before entering meetings; the Lakeland Fire Department making people who want public records fill out a form to get them; and the city of Winter Haven failing to keep written minutes of its meetings. All three organizations changed their practices after The Ledger wrote stories as part of its weekly investigative Eye on Polk series. Continue>>>
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April 8, 2014 12:49 PM

Sen. Fred Dyson’s bill would make it so all criminal cases that result in a dismissal or an acquittal are considered confidential. They won’t appear on the Internet, and you won’t be able to access them at the courthouse unless you are a state worker who deals with child welfare.

The Eagle River Republican presented it on the Senate floor as a justice issue. “This one is about Amendments Four and Five: privacy and due process,” said Dyson, referencing the United States Constitution.

The rationale behind the bill is simple: If a jury does not find a person guilty of a crime, then that person should not be punished by the court of public opinion.

According to data from the Department of Law, about a third of misdemeanor charges and a fifth of felonies never go trial. Dyson said over time, that adds up to a lot of people with publicly available criminal records who never saw the inside of a courtroom but might be judged negatively when applying for a job or an apartment. Continue>>>
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April 8, 2014 12:18 PM

The National Security Agency (NSA) has been flooded with thousands of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests from journalists, civil rights groups and private citizens who have asked the agency to turn over the top-secret records that former contractor Edward Snowden leaked to the media, Al Jazeera can reveal. 

In response to an open records request filed in November, the NSA has just released its FOIA logs to Al Jazeera. The hundreds of pages of documents describe post-Snowden requests that have been filed with the agency — on matters from its bandwidth consumption and it sprawling new data center in Utah to metadata records and contracts with Booz Allen Hamilton, Snowden’s former employer.

Since details about the NSA’s spy capabilities were revealed by The Guardian and The Washington Post 10 months ago, the agency’s FOIA office has been the subject of several national news stories noting that the leaks have resulted in thousands of new FOIA requests. Continue>>>

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journalists, NSA, Snowden, spying
April 8, 2014 12:04 PM

A report published by the nonprofit Center for Effective Government (formerly OMB Watch), has ranked 15 agencies on how well they are implementing the Freedom of Information Act, and it gave seven of them failing grades.

The report rated agencies on: how quickly they responded to requests, how quickly it granted requests, and how well their appeals process worked; the effectiveness of agency policy in terms of communication, the review process, and level of disclosure of records; and, website design in terms of facilitating information flow, online services and availability of maintained reading rooms.

The National Archives and Records Administration was among those receiving an F – perhaps not surprising considering its relatively heavy FOIA burden. Also receiving F's: the EEOC, and the Departments of Labor, Veterans Affairs, Defense, Homeland Security, and State. Top performers were... Continue>>>
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April 8, 2014 12:03 PM

Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu filed an ordinance aimed at providing greater transparency on municipal data. Right now, Boston has an open data portal, but the data on that site only shows information obtained through Freedom of Information Act obligations. The new ordinance would resemble other open data policies in cities nationwide, by disclosing datasets without first requiring a FOIA request.

46 datasets are currently available on the open data portal site but they do little to give the public much information on a city as large and diverse as Boston. The lack of data is surprising given previous transparency efforts under Mayor Menino, not to mention the healthy developer community in Boston and the surrounding metro area.

The proposed ordinance would set up similar open data processes and procedures common to municipalities with one. Boston would have a Data Coordinator role ensuring that datasets are posted and comply with applicable Open Data policies. The coordinator role would also be tasked with creating an open data plan for appropriate agencies including release timelines. Continue>>>
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April 8, 2014 12:01 PM

NASA is set to release on April 10 a comprehensive catalogue of software code that runs some of the most sophisticated robotics and rockets on the planet.

The agency, in line with the White House's Open Government policy, is also aiming to make the free online catalogue of more than 1,000 projects one of its most easily accessible.

According to Dan Lockney, NASA's Technology Transfer Program executive, the release is not a historical archive, but a collection of recent software solutions developed by the space agency. Continue>>>
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NASA, open data, open source
April 8, 2014 12:00 PM

The SC Republican Party filed a request for emails regarding the Richland County 2012 Election Debacle.

The SC GOP previously had requested internal communication emails regarding the November, 2012 Richland County Elections troubles residents faced.

When the GOP received emails from the County Election Commission, portions had been redacted, or whited-out. Specifically, one email in particular is of interest to the SC GOP, and their Freedom of Information Act request cites that email. Continue>>>
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April 8, 2014 11:59 AM

U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) announced that he has sent a letter to Pennsylvania Secretary of State Carol Aichele pressing the state government to engage in a transparent process as it participates in an effort to purge voter rolls.

The state is participating in the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program.

In his letter, Casey cited previous efforts by the state Administration to restrict access to the ballot through the state’s voter ID law in making the case for a transparent process that instills public confidence.

“I’m concerned that this program could be implemented in a way that adversely impacts Pennsylvanians who are simply trying to exercise their right to vote,” Senator Casey said. Continue>>>

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