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

May 13, 2015 10:37 AM

First Amendment advocates are asking Gov. Rick Scott to veto three Senate bills his office received on Thursday, arguing that each measure represents another diminishment of Florida’s long tradition of open government and open records.

The First Amendment Foundation, an advocacy group for open government funded by newspapers and other groups and individuals, is asking Scott to veto four bills, including a House bill he has yet to receive.

The FAF wants Scott to reject a bill (SB 248) on his desk that would block the public from seeing certain portions of recordings of body cameras that are now being used more frequently by law enforcement agencies, including city police departments. The exemption would apply to recordings in residences, health facilities or other areas where there was “a reasonable expectation of privacy.” Continue>>>

May 13, 2015 10:30 AM

Five months after Maryland's open-meetings compliance board ruled that the Housing Authority of Prince George's County violated open-meetings law, the public housing agency has been accused again of holding an illegal gathering.

But the compliance board that issued two citations against the housing authority in December is unable to address the new complaint filed by Maryland Legal Aid.

Why? Because the board has no members. Continue>>>

May 13, 2015 10:26 AM

Officials at several agencies told a Senate panel that Freedom of Information Act requests have become unmanageable because of a dramatic increase in the number of requests over the last few years.

The State Department saw its number of requests jump from fewer than 6,000 in fiscal 2008 to nearly 20,000 in fiscal 2014, said Joyce Barr, assistant secretary of the State Department Bureau of Administration, at a May 6 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.

And when the number of requests rise, the number of cases sitting in the backlog waiting to be processed grows as well. Continue.>>

May 13, 2015 10:24 AM

America’s spy chief wants Congress to hurry up and pass a bill that would increase the flow of cyberthreat information between the private sector and the government.

“One of the greatest things I think Congress can do here is to create a legal framework that enhances this idea of the free flow of information both ways,” said National Security Agency director Adm. Michael Rogers on Monday at an event hosted by George Washington University.

Last month, a pair of cyber-sharing bills—H.R. 1560 and H.R. 1731—passed in the lower chamber with vast bipartisan support. However, the Senate's Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act, which appeared to be on track for an expeditious vote, may now be on hold. The delay, according to the Hill, may be caused in part by legislators debating whether to reauthorize the USA Patriot Act’s counter-terrorism measure, Section 215, which is set to expire on June 1. Continue>>>

May 13, 2015 10:21 AM

A bill introduced in the Michigan legislature seeks to keep information secret about oil and gas pipelines, high-powered electrical lines and other key energy infrastructure.

The bill from Republican state Rep. Kurt Heise of Plymouth would exempt from disclosure under the state's Freedom of Information Act any information about existing and proposed energy infrastructure that "could be useful to a person in planning an attack," the Detroit Free Press reported.

Heise said the aim is to keep such information out of the hands of potential terrorists. Continue>>>

May 12, 2015 1:14 PM

Los Angeles County unveiled an open data website last week that provides public access to millions of county records.

The county is the latest municipality to join an open data movement to make government records easily accessible to the public online. The City of Los Angeles launched a similar data portal in 2013.

“Our Open Data initiative represents a tangible milestone in the county’s determination to provide new levels of transparency and accountability in a digital age,” Interim Chief Executive Officer Sachi A. Hamai said in a statement. Continue>>>

May 12, 2015 1:12 PM

At least 29 states post financial disclosure reports for lawmakers and other public officials on the Web, making it easy to see their investments and potential sources of conflicts with a few clicks. Most other states make the filings readily available for free to those who show up in person.

But not Massachusetts, which has set up a virtual gantlet to see the filings, even though the whole point of collecting the financial information is to inform the public.

In this state, residents must first show a photo ID and fill out a written request. And they are warned that a copy of the request will then be forwarded to the public officials to let them know who peeked at their filings. Continue>>>

May 12, 2015 1:09 PM

Limits on transparency in government and the germs of plans to fund road improvements began emerging in bills introduced by members of the state House of Representatives and Senate last week.

One bill would exempt information about pipeline and energy infrastructure from Freedom of Information laws, while another would exempt certain state boards from Open Meetings Act requirements.

Two bills dealing with fixing Michigan's roads were introduced in the wake of a crushing defeat of Proposal 1 on Tuesday — voters rejected the ballot proposal by an 80%-20% margin — which would have raised the sales tax to improve roads and provide funding for schools, local governments and working poor people. Continue>>>

May 12, 2015 1:04 PM

A new report shows a dramatic increase in the federal government's backlog of unanswered Freedom of Information Act requests — and blames it in part on a shrinking federal workforce.

Amid record demand last year for information from federal agencies, the Justice Department's Office of Information Policy found, the backlog grew by 67 percent.

At the same time, the number of workers processing those requests declined by 8.9 percent, to the lowest level in the six years the office has reporting on FOIA requests. Continue>>>

May 12, 2015 12:56 PM

The House Oversight Committee asked nearly two dozen public interest groups to share their complaints about the federal government’s compliance with requests for government documents.

The committee is gearing up for a June 3 hearing on the government’s Freedom of Information Act process and is preparing an analysis of what is broken and what needs to be fixed.

“The committee is aware that executive branch agencies use several tactics to deny or delay responses to FOIA requests and FOIA reform is necessary,” Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said in a form letter sent to groups Friday. Continue>>>

May 12, 2015 12:28 PM

When his first term began in 2009, President Barack Obama issued a directive to federal agencies to treat requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) with “a presumption of openness.” But his White House counsel followed with a memorandum to agencies saying they should consult the White House anytime a request involved what he called executive-branch “equities.”

The result has been an administration that has set records for denying and censoring government information requested under the FOIA. Though the White House hailed the most recent report on FOIA activities as “a lot to brag about” for allegedly improving government transparency, The Associated Press reported that the data instead showed that “the government took longer to turn over files when it provided any, said more regularly that it couldn’t find documents and refused a record number of times to turn over files quickly that might be especially newsworthy.”

And: “It also acknowledged in nearly 1 in 3 cases that its initial decisions to withhold or censor records were improper under the law — but only when it was challenged. Its backlog of unanswered requests at year’s end grew remarkably by 55 percent to more than 200,000. It also cut by 375, or about 9 percent, the number of full-time employees across government paid to look for records. That was the fewest number of employees working on the issue in five years.” Continue>>>

May 8, 2015 1:10 PM

Like motherhood, ice cream and the all-expenses-paid vacation, seemingly everybody should like transparency in government. The specter of elected or unelected officials making decisions behind closed doors conjures up visions of corruption and would seem to signify government on behalf of private interests. For this reason, most democratic governments, to varying degrees, now operate under various laws and rules intended to promote openness.

As a card-carrying good-government type, I am supposed to like transparency, and I generally do think it's a good thing. Certainly there are real downsides to secrecy and backroom deals. There are many positive effects that can come from subjecting public processes to greater scrutiny and from requiring the disclosure of processes and data. Transparency itself, however, is not without its pitfalls. So what's wrong with government in the sunshine? Here are a few of my concerns:

• Freedom of information laws can become excuses for not disclosing information. All freedom of information acts (FOIAs) contain exceptions -- that is, lists (in some cases long ones) of categories of information that a government is not required to provide to the public. There are strong justifications, such as privacy concerns, for many of these exceptions. They can, however, become an excuse for secrecy or (since FOIAs normally give the government specific deadlines for response to requests) delaying action on FOIA inquiries. Continue>>>

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