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 27, 2014 11:19 AM

When it comes to transparency, Florida Governor Rick Scott hasn't always been crystal clear. So says President of the First Amendment Foundation, Barbara Petersen. She says some of that stems from the governor's long history working in the private sector.

ìWe had a few bumps along the way there early in the administration if you remember," Petersen says. "We had problems getting access to the transition team e-mails and it turns out they had been deleted. The governor did a good job of trying to go back to get those e-mails ñ the ones he could."

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigated the issue and found no wrong doing and Petersen says Scott asked the legislature to help protect against future mistakes by clarifying officers elect are subject to open government laws once the election results have been certified. Continue>>>
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October 23, 2014 9:43 AM

As the editor of Plymouth Universityís student union paper, the Knowledge, Katie French felt she had a duty to hold her university to account. But four weeks before the deadline for her final-year dissertation she was threatened with expulsion when she printed a story that made Plymouth look bad.

The offending article, published last year, uncovered planned cuts of £260,000 to student services at the institution, including disability support. French says that the studentsí union bombarded her with angry calls, texts and emails demanding that she remove it from the website. In one email, seen by the Guardian, a vice-president of the union warned: 'Some things are sensitive for business reasons. Stage 3 dismissal from university or suspension.'

She recalls: 'I panicked and burst into tears. I felt very isolated but at the same time I knew we were doing the right thing. At the end of the day I was just trying to report on things that students have the right to know about.' Continue>>>
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October 23, 2014 9:42 AM

Since first taking office more than 30 years ago, Iíve held a firm belief that government should be conducted in an open and transparent manner. Government officials are rightly held to a higher standard of scrutiny and accountability, and that includes being truthful and forthcoming to the men and women theyíve been elected to serve.

A recent poll shows that just 13 percent of Americans agree that the government can be trusted to do what is right all or most of the time. At a time when faith in the federal government is at an all-time low, measures to repair some of that trust are as important as ever. I am cosponsoring legislation to strengthen the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to bring additional transparency and accountability to the federal government.

Now nearing 50 years since being signed into law, FOIA grants the public access to previously unreleased material from the federal government. It is based on the principle that transparency promotes accountability. FOIA allows taxpayers, whose interests federal employees are tasked with representing, an opportunity to evaluate their efforts. Throughout the years, FOIA has been updated to meet changing information interests and systems. Our legislation would again provide much-needed updates. Continue>>>
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October 23, 2014 9:40 AM

Open Access to scholarly research for everyone sounds like a great idea. For libraries, open access means being able to buy more scholarly journals - critical to students and faculty who want to do research. The general public also benefits by having improved availability of information. For publishers, however, the question of open access goes right to their bottom line.

ìA big concern is how do we affordably produce materials that can be made open access in ways that protect the quality of the content when you are not going to be compensated for helping to create it in the end," University of New Mexico Press Director John Byram said. "We need to find ways to balance the benefits of open access with how to compensate the professionals who refine and improve the materials that we disseminate.î

College students like the idea of open access textbooks. It's an important affordability issue for students who pay hundreds of dollars for textbooks, items the New Mexico Lottery Scholarship doesn't cover. But Byram says open access textbooks need to be thought through. ìSomewhere along the line, someone is paying the bills,î he said. If students are getting the textbooks for free, it's worth thinking about who paid to allow that to happen. A foundation? A granting agency? Continue>>>
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October 23, 2014 9:39 AM

As chairman of the Republican Governors Association, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has helped Charlie Baker with millions of dollars worth of ads supporting his Massachusetts gubernatorial campaign. But that's not the only way he may be boosting the GOP candidate in the final weeks of a close election: Christie officials are blocking the release of the findings of New Jersey's pay-to-play investigation into Baker.

The documents being withheld pertain to an investigation of Baker's $10,000 contribution to the New Jersey Republican State Committee. The contributions came just months before Christie officials gave Baker's company, General Catalyst, a contract to manage New Jersey pension money. New Jersey's pay-to-play rules prohibit contributions to state parties from "any investment management professional associated" with a firm managing state pension money.

When the campaign donations and subsequent pension contract came to light in May, Democrats criticized Baker, who was then launching his 2014 campaign for governor of Massachusetts. In response, New Jersey launched a formal investigation into Baker's contributions. The Newark Star-Ledger reported at the time that Christie officials "said the review would take several weeks." Continue>>>
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October 23, 2014 9:38 AM

Rarely is the term "city hall" considered synonymous with the words "innovation" or "efficiency." Too often, the public image of municipal government is of a static bureaucracy staffed with disinterested clock-watchers focused on petty tasks and arcane processes.

But two Harvard authorities on government and technology say it doesn't have to be that way.

In their new book, "The Responsive City: Engaging Communities Through Data-Smart Governance," Stephen Goldsmith, the Daniel Paul Professor of the Practice of Government at Harvard Kennedy School (HKS), and Susan Crawford, the John A. Reilly Visiting Professor in Intellectual Property at Harvard Law School (HLS), offer a road map for managers who want to move beyond the traditional silos of urban government. By embracing the latest tools, like fiber connectivity and predictive data analytics, they posit, the city hall of the future could radically reshape how local government serves its citizens, improving both civic life and trust. Continue>>>
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October 23, 2014 9:36 AM

Those seeking documents from the Department of Homeland Security will likely have to wait for their requests to be filled. According to a new report released this month from the DHS Privacy Office, the agency now has a backlog of more than 50,000 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, The Hill reported, with most of those related to immigration records.

The office, which must report annually to Congress, said for fiscal year 2013, requests went up a record-setting 18 percent, hitting a total of 231,534. It will rely on contractors as well as staff directed at the largest backlogs, according to the report.

The department noted that about 95 percent of the requests were from agencies like the Immigration and Custom Enforcement, Customs and Border Protection and Immigration Services, The Hill noted. Continue>>>

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October 22, 2014 7:36 PM

President Obama's well-publicized national open data policy (pdf) makes it clear that government data is a valuable public resource for which the government should be making efforts to maximize access and use. This policy was based on lessons from previous government open data success stories, such as weather data and GPS, which form the basis for countless commercial services that we take for granted today and that deliver enormous value to society. (You can see an impressive list of companies reliant on open government data via GovLab's Open Data 500 project.)

Based on this open data policy, I've been encouraging entrepreneurs to invest their time and ingenuity to explore entrepreneurial opportunities based on government data. I've even invested (through OíReilly AlphaTech Ventures) in one such start-up, Hipcamp, which provides user-friendly interfaces to making reservations at national and state parks.

A better system is sorely needed. The current reservation system, managed by the Active Network / Reserve America is clunky and almost unusable. Hipcamp changes all that, making it a breeze to reserve camping spots. Continue>>>
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October 22, 2014 7:35 PM

Philadelphia shells out a pretty penny every year to settle lawsuits based on allegations of police misconduct.

MuckRock.com, which bills itself as a "collaborative news site" that helps journalists, researchers and citizens analyze and share government documents, posted an online report yesterday that looked at how Philadelphia's annual payouts stack up against those in a handful of other large cities. The findings might not surprise you.

The city has shelled out more than $40 million to settle 584 of the 1,223 police-misconduct lawsuits - think wrongful-shooting deaths, excessive force or illegal searches - filed since January 2009, the website reported. Continue>>>
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October 22, 2014 7:34 PM

Four key principles-accountability, transparency, participation, and inclusion-have in recent years become nearly universal features of the policy statements and programs of international development organizations. Yet this apparently widespread new consensus is deceptive: behind the ringing declarations lie fundamental fissures over the value and application of these concepts. Understanding and addressing these divisions is crucial to ensuring that the four principles become fully embedded in international development work.

Accountability, transparency, participation, and inclusion represent vital embodiments of the opening to politics that occurred in development work in the 1990s. They bridge three distinct practitioner communities that emerged from this new direction-those focusing on governance, on democracy, and on human rights.

But consensus remains elusive. Democracy and human rights practitioners generally embrace an explicitly political understanding of the four concepts and fear technocratic or purely instrumentalist approaches. Governance specialists often follow a narrower approach, applying the core principles primarily to the quest for greater public sector effectiveness. Continue>>>
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October 22, 2014 7:32 PM

Valdosta Daily Times Editor Jim Zachary began the first in a statewide series of Open Government Symposiums with the words of Thomas Jefferson, ìInformation is the currency of democracy.î

Elected officials, city and county administrative staff, community watchdog groups, college students and journalists convened at the Center for Collaborative Journalism at Mercer University Friday.

Zachary asked the standing room only crowd to give elected officials and government staff applause for taking part in the open government event, saying, 'They are to be commended for taking an interest in and showing some commitment to government transparency.' Continue>>>
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October 22, 2014 7:31 PM

I should have been a lawyer. It's not that I have the smarts or the diligence. It's not that journalism isn't rewarding and challenging. It's just that, during my childhood, I couldn't count how many times my argumentative nature led somebody to suggest that I should become a lawyer. The irony is that my 11-year-old has inherited that nature - which is both a blessing and curse for his parents - and often is told the same thing. Something about the "sins of the father," I'm guessing.

Sure, I digress. It's just that I found myself thinking about all of this - lawyers, lawyering, the law, the ins and outs of legal maneuvering - last week when The Columbian's Editorial Board met with Bob Ferguson. He is the state's attorney general, having been elected in 2012.

Ferguson is not up for re-election; he simply was in town and offered to meet with The Columbian. And, to be honest, after dozens of meetings with candidates for various offices, it was a pleasure to have a more informal session with an official, just shooting the breeze and garnering some insight to what's going on around the state. Continue>>>

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