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 12, 2014 2:22 AM

While there was a lot of hype about a report that the NYPD is testing Google Glass, in the short-term a policy-shift toward more accessible NYPD data has the potential to be more consequential for New Yorkers at large.

At a talk Friday, new NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton promised that the police force would be more open and make its data available in more accessible formats, City and State and others reported. “There should be no secrets in the NYPD. We are going to do more to open up the organization, to make it more inclusive, to make our information more readily available to the public, and to try and format it in a way that is more easily retrievable," he said. City and State also reported that Bratton intends to name a deputy commissioner for information technology in the coming days to work with the City Council to achieve that goal. Bratton, who recently officially started a Twitter account as commissioner and posted about a CompStat meeting, also discussed how social media data could inform the NYPD about attitudes in different precincts.

More accessible NYPD data, especially related to fatal traffic collisions, is already high on the agenda for the new City Council leadership as part of a larger government accessibility and transparency push by Bronx City Council member James Vacca, chair of the technology committee, and Upper East Side City Council member Ben Kallos, chair of the government operations committee. Continue>>>

February 12, 2014 1:11 AM

 Leaders of Latin America have called for more transparency in governments, as it is the key to building trust between the state and its citizens.
In a session moderated by Sultan Bin Saaed Al Mansouri, Minister of Economy, representatives of Latin America discussed the future outlook for service innovation and the next generation of government service design and delivery, on the second day of the Government Summit.
“There are three pillars essential for developing a digital strategy in governments. They have to bring the government closer in representing the social needs of citizens, have an efficient system of management, and form private partnerships that will in turn make them become transparent,” said Alvaro Ramirez Alujas, researcher at the Research Group on Government Administration and Public Policy, and Professor at the Institute of Public Affairs, University of Chile. Continue>>>

February 11, 2014 3:33 AM

With policy cutoff behind us, the list of living and walking dead bills (nothing is really dead till sine die) is being compiled. Among the proposals that didn’t even receive a hearing, however, is a bill based on WPC’s recommendation for the Legislature to truly provide Washingtonians the opportunity to participate in the legislative debate while also ensuring lawmakers live by the same open government rules the rest of the state’s public officials operate under.

As noted by Peter Callaghan of The Tacoma News Tribune:

“Lots of stuff gets introduced in the Washington Legislature that is never heard from again.

Most of the time, that’s OK. But one bill that should have at least gotten some discussion was House Bill 2369. The measure would have imposed on the Legislature the same transparency requirements that local governments and state administrative bodies already face. Continue>>>

February 11, 2014 2:22 AM

An open government organization that has waged a successful legal challenge to the Delaware Court of Chancery’s secret arbitration forum is opposing a U.S. Supreme Court review of the case, saying it doesn’t rise to the highest court’s level.

The Delaware Coalition for Open Government Inc., which called into question the constitutionality of the confidential arbitration program in the lower federal courts, argues the issue is confined to Delaware and not a matter of national concern, according to a brief filed Monday. Because no other state has an arbitration program like the Delaware forum, the federal courts are not in conflict, said David Finger, the lawyer for the coalition. One factor influencing whether the high court takes up a matter is whether several of the lower federal courts have reached different conclusions.

“This program is created to take advantage of the reputation of the Court of Chancery, that makes it unique to Delaware and not the type of case the Supreme Court should take,” Finger said. Continue>>>

February 11, 2014 1:11 AM

A debate in the technology world that's been simmering for years, about whether mapping vendor Esri will allow public geographic information systems (GIS) to access government customers' data, finally has an answer: The mapping software giant will take an unprecedented step, enabling thousands of government customers around the U.S. to make their data on the ArcGIS platform open to the public with a click of a mouse.

"Everyone starting to deploy ArcGIS can now deploy an open data site," Andrew Turner, chief technology officer of Esri's Research and Development Center in D.C., said in an interview. "We're in a unique position here. Users can just turn it on the day it becomes public."

Government agencies can use the new feature to turn geospatial information systems data in Esri's format into migratable, discoverable, and accessible open formats, including CSVs, KML and GeoJSON. Esri will demonstrate the ArcGIS feature in ArcGIS at the Federal Users Conference in Washington, D.C. According to Turner, the new feature will go live in March 2014. Continue>>>

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>>>

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