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 8, 2015 12:59 PM

For two groups on opposing sides of the political spectrum, requests to the Export-Import Bank for records under the Freedom of Information Act yield different results.

In November 2013, Americans for Limited Government filed a Freedom of Information Act request for correspondence between a consulting firm with ties to the Clinton administration and Export-Import Bank officials. Today—more than 500 days later—the bank has yet to respond to the conservative government watchdog’s request, and Ex-Im’s delayed response has prompted congressional inquiries.

However, an examination of public FOIA logs from the bank found the super PAC American Bridge 21st Century has been more successful in obtaining records from Ex-Im. Continue>>>

May 8, 2015 12:54 PM

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) pressed the State Department on May 6 about compliance with the Freedom of Information Act, specifically with regards to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s email.

Excerpts are below.
Cornyn: “There’s this idea out there that the Freedom of Information Act is something we do for the press. That is a fundamentally flawed way to look at it from my perspective. This is about the public’s information that was generated by people who work for the government and information that was generated by their tax dollars. And I believe there should be a presumption that the information that is held by the U.S. government should be open and accessible to the public. …

“The 37 out of 100 that the State Department has gotten on your score card for FOIA is an embarrassing failure of the agency, and I don’t know how we could call it anything different. But what really bothers me is when people plan in a premeditated and deliberate sort of way to avoid the Freedom of Information Act and federal government requirements that require them to make public information available to the public, and of course we are all familiar the news accounts of what happened with former Secretary Clinton. Ms. Barr, did either you or Undersecretary for Management Patrick Kennedy, know that Secretary Clinton was operating exclusively on a personal and private email server?” Continue>>>

May 8, 2015 12:47 PM

Ever since his early days on the police force in Chesapeake, Va., Kelvin Wright has been intrigued by the idea of using cameras to fight crime. As a traffic officer in the late 1980s, he was the first cop in the department to test them on car dashboards. Chesapeake police then experimented with body-worn cameras as long ago as the late 1990s, but the technology proved impractical. By 2009, Wright was the chief. He decided to equip 90 of Chesapeake’s officers with newer-model body cameras. At the time, such recording devices were in use only in a select handful of police departments around the country.

That is quickly changing. Sparked mostly by the riots following police killings last year in Ferguson, Mo., and Staten Island, N.Y. -- and, more recently, by the shooting death of an unarmed black man in North Charleston, S.C. -- there’s been a national surge of interest in outfitting officers with body-worn cameras. Just two years ago, TASER International, a leading vendor of the devices, only supplied cameras to Chesapeake and a few hundred other agencies. Now the company reports more than 2,500 law enforcement agencies use more than 30,000 of its cameras nationwide. One national expert recently told The Wall Street Journal he estimates that 4,000 to 6,000 police departments, out of about 18,000 nationwide, use body cameras. No state mandates body-worn devices yet, but according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, lawmakers in 29 states had introduced various body camera bills as of March.

Many of the cities interested in equipping officers with body cameras have reached out to Chesapeake to see how the program has worked there. Since the unrest of Ferguson, Wright says his department has received on average a call a week about the cameras from other cities. The New York City Police Department was one of the callers. The District of Columbia Police Department sent a contingent down to Chesapeake last year to visit. Wright thinks it’s not a matter of if but when most police departments will deploy body-worn cameras of their own. “Across this country,” Wright says, “officers will wear these very much as they do their sidearm.” Continue>>>

May 8, 2015 12:42 PM

A state Supreme Court judge has ruled that the state needs to make public statistical information on the number of assault weapons registered in New York.

The April 30 ruling was disclosed today by the Shooters Committee on Public Education, a gun-rights group that sued last year after the state refused to release the details. State Police claimed the information was not public under a gun-control law passed in January 2013.

Paloma Capanna, a Rochester-area lawyer who represented the group, called the decision a major victory for transparency in government. Continue>>>

May 7, 2015 11:36 AM

This hasn’t been a terribly productive year for the South Carolina Legislature.

There has been as much talk about what might not get done this year as about what will get accomplished.

For example, a bill that would dedicate hundreds of millions of additional dollars to South Carolina’s crumbling, dilapidated roads and bridges — supposedly a top priority for legislators coming into 2015 — hit a snag in the state Senate, as a recent vote to give the bill special debate status failed to get the needed two-thirds majority. Continue>>>

May 7, 2015 11:34 AM

The FBI rightfully withheld documents about two terror suspects because they were exempt from disclosure, a federal judge ruled Friday.

Kenneth Dillon filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the FBI in 2011, seeking records about the August 2011 detention and arrest of terrorism conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui. Dillon later narrowed his request for records about Moussaoui referencing cropdusting or biological or chemical terrorism.

He also sought records about the detention of al-Qaida operative Abderraouf Jdey, the ruling states. Continue>>>

May 7, 2015 11:30 AM

The Justice Department’s latest summary of all agency Freedom of Information Act activity in fiscal 2014 shows a record number of requests.

 “Agency FOIA offices received a record high 714,231 requests while also facing several other challenges including reduced staffing, tough fiscal times, and a three-week government shutdown during which requests continued to come in when there was no staff available to process them,” Justice’s Office of Information Policy wrote in a report and compilation uploaded onto “Managing these challenges, the government overall was able to process 647,142 requests while continuing to maintain a high release rate of over 91 percent for the sixth year in a row. The government overall also improved its average processing times for simple and complex track requests.”

The increase of 9,837 requests over the previous year continued a four-year trend of setting a record for requests, Justice said. For the sixth consecutive year, the Homeland Security Department received the most requests, with 291,242, a 26 percent increase. The next highest numbers of requests went to the departments of Justice, Defense, Health and Human Services, and Veterans Affairs. Continue>>>

May 7, 2015 11:27 AM

Florida lawmakers approved 13 new open-government exemptions and re-enacted seven existing exemptions during the annual legislative session that ended last week, according to the First Amendment Foundation, which tracks the issues.

The bills included exemptions (SB 200 and SB 7040) for:

- Email addresses held by county tax collectors and the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. Continue>>>

May 7, 2015 11:21 AM

New regulations from the U.S. Department of Transportation declare that details about crude oil rail shipments are exempt from public disclosure (Tri-City Herald).

This ends DOT’s existing regulations that required railroads to share with state officials, and the public, information about shipping large volumes of dangerous crude oil by rail. These disclosure requirements were put in place last year after a Bakken crude oil train-wreck in Lynchburg, Virginia.

Now, railroads will only have to share this information with emergency responders who will be mum. And the information will be exempt from the Freedom of Information Act as well as public records and state disclosure laws (SSI). Continue>>>

May 7, 2015 11:16 AM

The D.C. Council Committee on the Judiciary hears witnesses at 2:00 today including the press and the D.C. Open Government Coalition opposing D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser's plan to exempt police video from access under public records laws. Live streaming video from the hearing will be available here.

Kevin Goldberg, president, will testify for the Coalition. The police chief, Cathy Lanier, is also expected to testify.

The Washington Post reports today that committee chair, Council Member Kenyan McDuffie, yesterday revealed his opposition to the mayor's plan and plans to draft legislation based on the hearing that will provide "a way to access the appropriately redacted footage." Continue>>>

May 6, 2015 1:05 PM

Oral arguments on the Project Jackson case were presented Tuesday before the S.C. Supreme Court.

The case of Steve Donohue v. the City of North Augusta, Mayor Lark Jones and the North Augusta City Council went before the state’s highest court with the issues of proving blight in a Tax Increment Financing, or TIF, district, and Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, violations coming under question from the five Supreme Court Justices.

Belton Ziegler, lead attorney for the City of North Augusta, said the Supreme Court is taking the Freedom of Information Act cases in order to clear up what the act means. Continue>>>

May 6, 2015 1:03 PM

An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that FOIA requests cost the federal government more than $461 billion last year, and $392 billion in 2009. The correct figures are $461 million and $392 million, respectively.

The backlog of Freedom of Information Act requests grew for the second straight year. But the 70 percent spike in unprocessed FOIA requests easily dwarfs any year-to-year increase over the last half decade.

Between FY 2012 and 2013, the backlog grew by about 23,000 requests, or 32 percent. At the time, it was the largest backlog increase in the past five years. Continue>>>

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