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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February 6, 2015 1:09 PM

Governor Rick Scott is getting pressure from media organizations and open-government advocates who filed a lawsuit over the ouster of Florida’s top cop.

The lawsuit alleges the handling of the forced resignation of the state’s top law-enforcement officer violated the Sunshine Law and is calling for an independent investigation.

The two separate moves came ahead of a Thursday meeting in Tampa, where Scott, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Attorney General Pam Bondi are set to discuss new steps for hiring and reviewing agency heads. Continue>>>
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February 6, 2015 12:22 PM

Both Republican and Democrat are motivated by concern about public trust - and efficiency. Reps. Darrell Issa of California and Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland - also a ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform - have introduced legislation to shore up the Freedom of Information Act, simply known as “FOIA” among journalists seeking information.

The FOIA Oversight and Implementation Act of 2015 would “establish a presumption of openness” in America, while improving electronic accessibility for pertinent information, the lawmakers say.

“At a time when the American people’s trust in the federal government is at an all-time low, we must strengthen and refine our laws that enable transparency and openness in government,” says Mr.Issa. “Requests through the Freedom of Information Act remain the best tool for the American people to hold their government accountable. In this information technology driven era, it should be easier, not harder for citizens to have simpler and broader access to government information.” Continue>>>
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February 6, 2015 12:16 PM

Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy, Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman and state Comptroller Kevin Lembo — a card carrying FOI advocate — have signed the Freedom of Information Pledge proffered by the nonprofit advocacy group Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information. It took several weeks for Malloy to decide to sign on. Lembo asked immediately, “where do I sign?”

But too few have.

Only 24 of 187 state legislators (about 12 percent) have signed the pledge, initially issued last October during the election campaign and again last month. None of the top leaders of either house have signed, though some key veteran state senators and representatives have. Continue>>>
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February 5, 2015 1:43 PM

Knowledge is power, but it can also be profitable. According to a recent study by academics at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland, Hedge Funds are using Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to get access to information that frequently leads to trading profits.

Most people associate the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) with investigative reporters looking for a story, not Wall Street hedge funds. However, it turns out that FOIA requests regarding government interactions wiith drug companies are another method for professional investors to get an edge according to a new study by Univ. of Maryland academics Alberto G. Rossi and Russ Wermers, as well as coauthor Antonio Gargano from the University of Melbourne.

Members of the public (including the investment community) can request many kinds of information that the government doesn’t routinely make public using FOIA. The information received falls into a gray area in terms of financial markets as it’s generally considered public but not broadly disseminated. Continue>>>

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February 5, 2015 1:38 PM

The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Connecticut, and the Service Women’s Action Network filed a lawsuit today against the Department of Defense for failing to release records under the Freedom of Information Act that would show how three military academies maintain policies that result in an underrepresentation of women in the student population.

The lawsuit aims to capture information about the admissions and recruitment policies at the U.S. Air Force Academy (USAFA), the U.S. Naval Academy (USNA), and the U.S. Military Academy (USMA) at West Point, with the ultimate goal of ending the gender disparities and discrimination that women who aspire to become military officers face. The Veterans Legal Services Clinic at Yale Law School, the ACLU, and the ACLU of Connecticut represent the plaintiffs.

DOD has a long history of denying women opportunities to serve equally and in leadership roles. Cadets and midshipmen attend the military service academies tuition-free, graduate with a bachelor of science degree with a commission as a second lieutenant, and must serve a minimum of five years on active duty. Yet, the percentage of women at West Point has remained between 14 percent and 17 percent for over 25 years, women are less than a quarter of the Brigade of Midshipmen at USNA, and the USAFA has limited its enrollment of women cadets to at or below 23 percent since 1976, despite commissioning its graduates into a service in which over 99 percent of career fields have been open to women for two decades. Continue>>>
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February 5, 2015 1:33 PM

The government produces petabytes of data every day and the administration is looking to strengthen the collection and analysis of that information and release more of it to the public.

Included in the president's 2016 budget proposal are several initiatives to increase access to data and improve the government's evidence-based decision making.

"The administration is committed to continuing cost-effective investment in federal statistical programs in order to build and support agencies' capacity to incorporate evidence and evaluation analyses into budget, management and policy decisions," the budget reads. "The 2016 budget includes a package of proposals that would make additional administrative data from federal agencies and programs legally and practically available for policy development, program evaluation, performance measurement and accountability and transparency efforts." Continue>>>
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February 5, 2015 1:27 PM

Gov. Tom Wolf pledged to be an “unconventional leader,” but one of his first actions in office smacks of an all-too-familiar brand of politics.

He removed the executive director of the Office of Open Records, firing him with Donald Trump-like flair: swiftly and seemingly with little justification.

In a perfect world, this important but relatively new office would remain above the political fray, acting impartially on behalf of all Pennsylvania residents. Its staffers train state government employees to handle Right-to-Know requests for documents and other information generated by the government; it also handles appeals when government officials deny someone access to records that, in many cases, rightfully belong in the public domain. Continue>>>
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February 5, 2015 1:24 PM

In a hearing Thursday morning at the John Marshall Courthouse, attorneys representing the city sought to have the lawsuit thrown out. They argued that documents detailing an employee dispute – in this case, Marshall – are exempt from public disclosure.

“The city, like any other, has the right to resolve disputes privately,” Stephen Hall, an attorney representing the city, told the court. That appeared to be a revelation regarding Marshall’s departure from the city’s highest profile unelected position. Previously, his exit was described by city officials and Marshall himself as a friendly resignation.

No other information was disclosed about the dispute between Marshall and Mayor Dwight C. Jones’ administration. Judge Joi Jeter Taylor didn’t officially rule on the city’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, saying, “I’m going to take the demurrer under advisement.” Taylor said she would schedule another hearing in the civil case within 10 days. She will consider the city’s motion to throw out the suit before the next hearing. Continue>>>
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February 5, 2015 1:20 PM

House Oversight Committee chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) have introduced bipartisan legislation to reform the Freedom of Information Act.

The FOIA Oversight and Implementation Act of 2015 would, among other things, require agencies to process FOIA requests with a "presumption" of openness, putting the burden on the agency to demonstrate an identifiable harm in releasing it.

It would also require information released to be posted online if it is in the public interest, strengthen the FOIA ombudsman office, strengthen oversight of FOIA compliance, and strengthen dispute resolution. Continue>>>
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February 4, 2015 10:31 AM

Attorney General Brian E. Frosh is promising to make government documents more accessible under the Maryland Public Information Act.

“We want to make government open,” Frosh said during an appearance Friday at the Annapolis Summit hosted by Marc Steiner. “We want to make (government) transparent. We want to make it easy for people to get information. I think my office can help do that.”

As attorney general, Frosh leads what is arguably the state’s largest law firm. The agency’s lawyers advise every state agency on a variety of issues including how to respond to requests filed under the act. Continue>>>
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February 4, 2015 10:27 AM

Despite earlier failed efforts, Republican Darrell Issa of North County and Democrat Elijah Cummings introduced legislation Monday in the House to strengthen the nation’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) laws.

The FOIA Oversight and Implementation Act of 2015 would establish a presumption of openness for releasing information while creating electronic accessibility for frequently released information.

The Issa-Cummings bill also would strengthen oversight and review of FOIA compliance, as well as dispute resolution from the Office of Government Information Services. Continue>>>
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February 4, 2015 10:19 AM

An effort to make nonprofit tax forms and data more accessible and searchable online took a potentially big step forward after a judge’s ruling last week.

U.S. District Court Judge William H. Orrick of the Northern District of California gave the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) 60 days to comply with a nearly two-year-old Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) request seeking Form 990s of nine tax-exempt organizations in a searchable, electronic format.

Public.Resource.Org submitted a FOIA request in March 2013, seeking release in Modernized E-file (MeF) format of Form 990s for nine nonprofits that had been filed electronically. The IRS argued that the MeF format was not a “recognizable record,” included confidential information, and the agency did not have a process to convert the releasable portions back into MeF. It also estimated a cost of $6,200 – including one-time expenses – to disclose the nine returns in MeF format, which would include developing a new protocol and training staff. Under the current process, IRS said it costs about $1.63 per Form 990 to produce image files, which doesn’t make it searchable as a .pdf. Continue>>>
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