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

March 18, 2016 5:52 PM

When we kicked off Sunshine Week, we noted that FOIA reform — already passed by the House — was being considered by the Senate.

Now, with some important modifications, it has passed the Senate, so let's take a look at what will change for requesters.

The first thing to know is that the FOIA reform that passed the House and Senate is actually two different bills, S.337 and H.R.653. Continue...


March 18, 2016 5:40 PM

It’s easy during Sunshine Week, the national effort to promote awareness of open-government issues, to feel exasperated by the many recent and ongoing attempts to shield public information from public view.

State lawmakers tried to kill a program that helps citizens resolve FOI disputes. States are keeping secret their execution protocols. A police chief prohibited a citizen from photographing public records as he reviewed them. The list is long, and I even wrote in January that government secrecy was the most serious threat last year to a free press in the US.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. There is also cause for celebration this week—bright spots around the country where people are using FOI laws to great effect, where smart-minded FOI bills are being passed or introduced, and where judges and other public officials are breathing life into the right to know.

So, instead of focusing on the clouds over Sunshine Week, as I’ve done in the past, I want to take stock of some FOI success stories that show the importance of toiling in these vineyards, of working to ensure that government remains open. Continue...


FOI, opengov, sunshine week
March 18, 2016 5:27 PM

The Obama administration set a record for the number of times its federal employees told disappointed citizens, journalists and others that despite searching they couldn't find a single page requested under the Freedom of Information Act, according to a new Associated Press analysis of government data.

In more than one in six cases, or 129,825 times, government searchers said they came up empty-handed last year. Such cases contributed to an alarming measurement: People who asked for records under the law received censored files or nothing in 77 percent of requests, also a record. In the first full year after President Barack Obama's election, that figure was only 65 percent of cases.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Friday he was not familiar with the figures showing how routinely the government said it can't find any records, although the Justice Department also highlighted them in its own performance report. Continue...


March 17, 2016 5:47 PM

Is Wisconsin tough on doctors who make big mistakes, costing people their lives? No.

Is soil at the former Royster-Clark plant on Madison’s East Side still contaminated? Yes.

Was a Waupun prison guard suspended for making a lynching joke about President Barack Obama? Yes. '

Was a UW-Madison football player really acting in self-defense — as the athletic department contended — during a fight last fall at his off-campus residence? No. (He actually threw the first punch.)

State Journal reporters were able to answer these questions and many more during the last year, thanks to Wisconsin’s open records law. Continue...


March 17, 2016 5:33 PM

To commemorate Sunshine Week and the National Freedom of Information Day, the First Amendment Foundation and The Poynter Institute have launched a new online “Sunshine Certificate” to help educate elected officials, attorneys, journalists and citizens on open government laws.

The online “Sunshine Certificate” programs combine the best of the First Amendment Foundation’s training with the flexibility of online learning. Florida public officials, attorneys, journalists and citizens are able to choose the training that meets their needs.

  • The Florida Public Officers and Staff certificate meets the open government training required by Florida law.
  • The Florida Attorneys program offers 14.5 CLEs, including 5 ethics hours.
  • The Journalists and Citizens program offers a series of three courses on the Sunshine Law. Journalists and citizens can choose to take the courses individually or purchase all three for a discounted price. Continue...


March 17, 2016 5:25 PM

In various locales around Missouri, government officials have engaged in wanton violations of the state’s Sunshine Law either through carelessness or willful defiance. Whatever the excuse, there is no excuse.

The public has a right to know how decisions are made and taxpayer dollars are spent. Keeping tabs on officials becomes much harder when they cloak their activities in secrecy. The denial of public access serves as an open invitation for corrupt practices and mischief.

An audit report released in November by Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway underscored why the public needs reminding. Galloway’s report on local and state compliance with Missouri’s Sunshine Law suggested that several governing bodies have engaged in patterns of abuse. Continue...


March 17, 2016 5:04 PM

New Jersey taxpayers are on the hook for more than $1 million for the state’s failed attempts to keep records secret over the last four years, according to data obtained by The Associated Press.

The information, obtained through the state’s Open Public Records Act, shows that the state paid out $1,076,013 in taxpayer money reimbursing plaintiffs’ lawyers fees in 54 cases from January 2012 through March 4.

That includes $360,780 from 12 cases in which individuals and media organizations successfully fought decisions by Gov. Chris Christie’s office not to release information. Other cases involved requesters forced to go to court to get information from the state police, Department of Education and other state agencies. Continue...


March 17, 2016 4:53 PM

In honor of Sunshine Week, investigative reporter Kelly Hinchcliffe asked fellow journalists on Twitter to share their favorite open government stories from around the country.

Here are some of their top picks along with a few of her favorites, including a story she worked on with several news organizations in North Carolina.

Continue on for story summaries and links highlighting some of the best state and national investigative reporting made possible with open records access. Continue...


March 16, 2016 7:06 PM

When the editor of a gay-oriented newspaper in Florida requested records that he thought should be public, he cast a wide net, asking that the email of every employee of the Broward County Sheriff’s Office be searched for specific gay slurs over a five-month period.

The sheriff’s office initially told Jason Parsley that his request would cost $399,000, take four years and require the hiring of a dedicated staffer. The response set off a public-records marathon that lasted nearly a year. The Associated Press featured Parsley’s effort last year during Sunshine Week, a national government-transparency initiative that takes place each March, and then decided to join forces with his newspaper, the South Florida Gay News.

The goal was to determine whether such police emails were indeed public and, if so, how the public and media could obtain them in a timely and cost-efficient way. Continue...


March 16, 2016 6:59 PM

A South Carolina bill that would force public bodies to respond more quickly to state Freedom of Information Act requests is headed to the Senate floor after approval by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The 17-1 vote for a favorable report on the bill comes after years of attempts by lawmakers to reach agreement on changes to the law governing access to public records in the state.

The legislation requires public bodies to respond to FOIA requests within 10 business days, down from the current 15 days. If the records at issue are older than two years, the agency would have 20 days to respond to an FOIA request under the bill. Continue...


March 16, 2016 6:55 PM

Transparency in government is essential to upholding American democracy. When citizens have access to behind-the-scenes information about local and federal administrations, politicians are held accountable. The public is educated and engaged. And our nation is strengthened.

It is popular to pledge honest and open leadership while on the campaign trail, but America does not have the best track record in keeping these promises. In fact, Pew research finds that just five percent of Americans believe the government is doing a good job of sharing key information.

Public access to information is vital in preserving the values upon which our nation was founded. It is also critical in enabling journalists to fulfill their role as the watchdogs of society. While citizens and journalists can personally obtain public records through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) system, the process is both outdated and inefficient. Continue...


March 16, 2016 6:51 PM

Correspondence related to public business by elected officials is public record. All of it. That means "snail mail," faxes and emails.

But muddying the public records law process is perhaps the most popular, quickest and often most creative way people communicate — text messages.

By Florida law, texts are public records, whether sent or received on a county-issued communication device or on a personal one paid for by the elected official. Public officials must archive the correspondence and turn it over on demand. Continue...


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