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

February 10, 2014 5:55 AM

The head of the state Assembly’s colleges committee said Monday he won’t allow the panel to vote on a bill that would largely keep University of Wisconsin System research activities secret, defusing a looming fight between the system and open government advocates.

Rep. Mike Kuglitsch, R-New Berlin, introduced a bill last week that would exempt all materials tied to any commercial, scientific or technical research from the state’s open records law before the research is published.

UW officials say the measure is designed to protect research from competitors. Open records advocates counter that the law already exempts draft research documents and information that would reveal trade secrets. They also contend the law allows universities to keep records secret if officials feel the harm from releasing them outweighs the presumption of public access.

“Wow,” Bill Lueders, president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, wrote in an email to Wisconsin media outlets, open records attorneys alerting them to the bill. “I am asking that we take this seriously and respond with the indignation it deserves.” Continue>>>

February 10, 2014 4:44 AM

Let's face it. Both parties need new ideas.

Take the Republicans. For years, the Grand Old Party has argued that government should be run more 'like a business' to increase government program efficiencies and to end waste, fraud and corruption. Politicians for national, state and local officials repeat the mantra 'we need business ideas' to make government work better and to ensure taxpayer dollars are not being wasted. But, ask yourself, what kind of business processes have they adapted to government and what results have occurred? Not too many. The problem is that too many GOP activists and officials are still reminding people of the glories of America during the Reagan years and are not realistically looking for contemporary solutions. Only a few in the Republican leadership, including especially former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, are thoughtfully attempting to insert new solutions into Republican thinking.

Of course, Democrats are not doing much better. And the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is an egregious example of this lack of new ideas. At its core, it's a program that uses government to bypass basic economic realities to bring health care to millions. But because government does not have incentives to get results or ensure that programs really work, everything from the complexity of the law, the website, the interaction between federal and local healthcare exchanges, and the skyrocketing costs (with more expensive policies and less health benefits for many) is now an albatross. Yes, some Democrats like former New York Lt. Governor Richard Ravitch and former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker have raised issues to bring sanity and performance to government. California Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom has spent real time talking and writing about future ideas to deliver on the historical democratic ideal of using government to solve problems at a reasonable cost. Continue>>>

February 10, 2014 3:33 AM

Last January, Ann Coulter expressed her anger about The (Westchester County, N.Y.) Journal-News’ gun-permit map, which it assembled from public records. “I want them for Manhattan!” Coulter told Sean Hannity. “I want to know how many rich liberals with their bodyguards have gun permits.”

John Cook, then the investigations editor for Gawker, was able to oblige quickly when that news hook fell from the sky. “I’d had those records in a filing cabinet for a year or more,” he said in a phone call. Cook posted a list of names of New York City gun-permit holders he’d received from the New York Police Department in August 2010. The filing didn’t include addresses, though Cook noted those were already online.

So now if you want to see a picture of John Cook’s house, it, too, is online, thanks to an irate blogger. Cook posted the story in the late afternoon of Jan. 8, 2013, and “by the time I got home the voicemail on our phone was already full with people phoning in death threats,” he said. Threats came in to the Gawker office as well. “My wife was pissed off but we were never really concerned,” Cook said of the calls to his house. Continue>>>

February 10, 2014 2:22 AM

The State of Hawaii has launched two applications, “Your 2014 Hawaii State Senate” and “Your 2014 Hawaii State House”, as a response to requests from the members of the public during an Open Government workshop at the Hawaii Digital Government Summit last year.

Sen. Jill Tokuda, who led the breakout group on legislative information, said workshop participants were very interested in an app to help citizens find their legislative representatives.

According to an official statement, the new apps demonstrates the impressive use of the state’s newly modernised GIS infrastructure and Esri’s ArcGIS online platform, to provide solutions in an easy-to-use application in response to a need identified by the public. Continue>>>

February 10, 2014 1:11 AM

Public business must be carried out in the open. That’s self-evident, but it still does not always happen.

The latest example of the failure of a local government in West Virginia to be open about the public’s business comes from the Nicholas County Commission.

Last August, the Commission hired Roger Beverage as the county administrator at a salary of $60,000 a year. A local citizen, Tim Clifford, challenged the hiring, claiming the Commission acted illegally.

Clifford, who represented himself in the legal fight, took the Commission to court, and the court took the Commission to task. The state Supreme Court appointed Webster County Circuit Court Judge Jack Alsop to hear the case, and Alsop unloaded on the commissioners.

Alsop found, among other things: Continue>>>

February 9, 2014 1:11 AM

Sunshine Week is less than six weeks away! Agencies, what are you doing to prepare?

Last year, Archivist of the United States, David Ferriero sent a message during Sunshine Week to National Archives’ staff reminding them that FOIA is everyone’s responsibility and responding to access requests doesn’t rest solely on the agency’s FOIA and archival staff. The message also stressed creating a team culture for responding to FOIA requests by keeping open lines of communication between program offices and FOIA offices.

We at OGIS encouraged heads of agencies throughout the Government to follow the Archivist’s example. Kudos to Energy Secretary Ernest J. Moniz, who last summer sent a memorandum to the heads of all of the Department of Energy’s offices stating his support for FOIA and encouraging Energy employees to do the same. Continue>>>

February 8, 2014 11:00 AM

Three fellows from Code for America – the “Peace Corps for Geeks” – arrived in Lexington today to begin a 10-month partnership focused on improving neighborhood quality of life through more effective and interactive city government.

Winning a highly competitive selection process, Lexington is one of just 10 governments nationwide to get the opportunity to participate in Code for America this year.

Lexington was selected for the 2014 fellowship because “the city’s leadership is forward looking, committed to open government and innovation,” said Luke Norris, government relations director of Code for America. He added that Lexington has “a track record of engaging with its community to help solve problems.” Continue>>>

February 8, 2014 1:44 AM

City of Chicago officials released a report Friday laying out a next set of goals for routine publication of data from city agencies.

The first annual City of Chicago Open Data Report resulted from a December 2012 executive order of Mayor Rahm Emanuel that required city agencies to publish data and metadata to a public portal. The information includes civic employee salaries, lobbyist data, budget data and more.

It's also one implementation of the city's first tech plan, published in October 2013, which charts a course for Chicago's future tech-based progress.

Nearly 600 data sets were accessible by the end of 2013, more than double the number available in December 2011, according to the report. Between May 2011 and October 2013, the portal got 2.9 million page views.

Entrepreneurs have used data regarding bike routes, parking and zoning to create apps and businesses. Continue>>>

February 8, 2014 1:33 AM

During the legislative session that begins Thursday, Connecticut’s General Assembly will consider whether to uphold, repeal, scale back or expand exemptions to the state’s Freedom of Information Act that the Assembly recklessly passed last June.

Let us be abundantly clear: The legislature should repeal the exemptions and restore the Freedom of Information Act to its original, best-in-the-nation form, which was passed unanimously by the legislature and signed into law by Gov. Ella T. Grasso in 1975.

Last June, the legislature passed and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed a bill, Public Act 13-311, that severely hampers the public’s ability to hold law enforcement and government agencies to account during homicide investigations and severely weakens the Freedom of Information Act. Continue >>>

February 8, 2014 1:22 AM

Continuing a recent trend of embracing innovation and open government, Los Angeles shored up its reputation even more by appointing the city’s first Chief Innovation Officer this week. Peter Marx, appointed by Mayor Eric Garcetti, will be tasked with making over the city’s website and mobile app. He will also represent a key cog in the wheel of open government by overseeing the release of the data collected by city agencies.

“Harnessing technology is critical to the future of our economy and improving city services,” said Mayor Garcetti in a statement. “I’m thrilled to have [Marx] on the team and look forward to working with him to better serve Angelenos and foster the already strong tech ecosystem here in the City of Angels.”

This tech ecosystem referred to by the mayor is in reference to LA’s efforts to embrace open data, transparency, and unique ways of using technology to achieve those goals. The Los Angeles City Controller has brought LA’s financial data to the people with easy to use resources. Los Angeles is in the beginning stages of seriously considering free, citywide Wi-fi. This is not a city stuck in the 20th century, and the appointment of a Chief Innovation Officer hammers that home even more. Continue >>>

February 8, 2014 1:11 AM

In honor of Data Innovation Day the city of Philadelphia released a guidebook to provide advice and information to city departments and agencies on releasing open data. The city’s Open Data Guidebook offers suggestions on reviewing data for completeness and accuracy, adding metadata components and terms of use as well as staging the data and using application programming interfaces.

Like Philadelphia, many cities, states and localities have been able to run their own open data efforts. Gainesville, Fla., for example, launched its Open Data portal, which allows the public to access information ranging from city budgets to its utility consumption.

Other government offices have found partners to help them make more data available to users both within and outside government. Cook County, Ill., signed an agreement with the Smart Chicago Collaborative to help county agencies to develop and identify new data sets to publish, prepare the county’s data and post it on a public website, according to a post on the Cook County blog. Continue >>>

February 7, 2014 1:11 AM

Time for open government in the post-2015 debate

A debate is brewing at the United Nations over how and whether to include open government principles in the post-Millennium Development Goals agreement. Governance indicators – either in a standalone goal or embedded in other goals – were notably absent from the first MDGs, but popular citizen demand for greater accountability from their leaders is overwhelming. Domestic reformers in governments are also winning the argument, with the Open Government Partnership now 63 countries strong. Those countries have made over 1000 open government reform commitments between them.

These 63 OGP countries are not the usual suspects associated with advocating the good governance mantra at the UN. Indonesia and Mexico are currently co-chairing OGP and have both expressed strong political support for transparency, accountability and participation, while also walking the talk nationally. Indeed, the majority of OGP Steering Committee government members are low or middle-income countries. This increased the impact of their letter last year to the UN Secretary-General calling for ‘strong institutions and governments that are more open and accountable to citizens’, and endorsing the High Level Panel report chaired by the leaders of Liberia, Indonesia and the UK.

The OGP model provides some valuable lessons for negotiators of the post-2015 UN agreement. First, it is universal. The old rules of North-South, East-West and developed-developing divides do not apply. Innovation and best practice are coming from a geographically and economically diverse group of countries, all eager to learn from each other. This includes civil society, who have an equal seat at the table in OGP at the international level, and increasingly in national-level OGP processes too. Continue >>>

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