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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April 7, 2015 1:07 PM

The expanding reach of the Freedom of Information Act has introduced a new dynamic at federal agencies, and it is driving the need for IT professionals in the public sector to understand and conduct electronic discovery for records being requested by individuals and private parties under FOIA.

According to the Justice Department, more than 440,000 FOIA requests were fulfilled (either in full or partially) in 2013, yet a backlog of more than 95,000 from that year remains. The Department of Health and Human Services, the Social Security Administration and Justice fulfilled the most requests, but nearly all federal agencies are subject to the law.

The broadening scope and scale of e-discovery in the public sector brings a new onslaught of challenges and considerations that are well-known among corporate legal and IT teams but relatively new to government agencies. Continue>>>
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April 7, 2015 1:04 PM

The State Department says is it overwhelmed by an increasing number of Freedom of Information Act requests, which it is struggling to process, Politico reports.

Adding to the deluge of requests, FOIA lawsuits have risen 60 percent over the last fiscal year, Politico noted of the increases, which if continued at the current pace could hit a 93 percent increase by year's end.

A total of 73 lawsuits against the State Department were pending as of March 31, Politico said. Of those, 29 came in within the past month. Continue>>>
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April 7, 2015 12:58 PM

As the Garden City Board of Trustees continues to negotiate for a settlement with purchasers of a disputed parcel of land at Franklin Court, the New York State Committee on Open Government issued an advisory opinion this week that said the Board may have violated the law in how it discussed various aspects of the sale.

On December 19, 2013, the Village Board voted unanimously to sell a one acre parcel of open space to a group known as Franklin Mews Group LLC. The closing took place the following day. Residents of Franklin Court who were not members of the LLC were dismayed when, during the summer of 2014, a six foot fence was installed with locking gates and “private property” signs, and they began demanding details about how the transaction was approved.

Among the details that they discovered was that according to the official minutes of Village meetings, the December 19th meeting was the only time the sale of the property was discussed. (However, Trustee Richard Silver, writing in an op/ed in the Garden City News, stated that the Board actually had discussed whether to sell the property during budget meetings in February 2013.) Continue>>>
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April 6, 2015 2:43 PM

A group of government watchdogs filed a lawsuit against College of DuPage on Thursday alleging numerous violations of the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.

The lawsuit -- filed by Edgar County Watchdogs and American Transparency or Open the Books -- claims the College of DuPage has been refusing valid FOIA requests, improperly withholding public documents and backdating responses.

The lawsuit calls into question the college's responses to a dozen FOIA requests sent in February and March. Continue>>>
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April 6, 2015 2:39 PM

Oakley's police department, ground zero for the controversy that's erupted in the small town of about 300, sat quiet Thursday night.

But a judge's order for the village to pay nearly $19,000 for attorney costs has one trustee speaking loud and clear.

"It's terrible; we ain't got that - we ain't got that money," Oakley Trustee Norm Wolfe said. Continue>>>
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April 6, 2015 2:31 PM

D.C.’s Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department (FEMS) is regularly investigated for its inefficient responses to life-threatening emergencies. Recent examples include a man who collapsed next to a fire station and died after receiving no immediate help; a man who died after police apparently shooed away an ambulance; and just last month, a toddler who died after choking on a grape, when emergency personnel a block away were not dispatched.

Yet despite the public scrutiny, FEMS has also proved itself slow on the uptake when it comes to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

Last year, National Weather Service programmer Ryan Schuster and a handful of civic hackers at Code for DC decided to parse through the data to better understand the District’s emergency dispatch system, and where inefficiencies might lie. The project was called the Emergency Response Data Analysis project. Continue>>>
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April 6, 2015 2:24 PM

Wisconsin’s new attorney general, Brad Schimel, recently contended the state’s open government laws “are outdated and do not adequately address today’s technological environment.” He promised to initiate a process to provide “clearer guidance ... without reducing rights to access.”

The Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, a group devoted to protecting public access to meetings and records, supports this effort. The group’s “Legislative Wish-List” calls for establishing clear rules on the use of technologies so they do not make it harder for the public to track the actions of government.

Issues surrounding records access and technology have also enjoyed the national spotlight in recent weeks as former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton defended her use of a private email account for public business. Clinton cited “convenience” as her reason, which she admitted was a mistake. Continue>>>
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April 6, 2015 1:00 PM

The state Military Department has agreed to pay $110,000 to a Seattle attorney and a King County activist to settle a long-running public records lawsuit centered on the Washington National Guard’s counterdrug task force.

Marijuana activist John Worthington of Renton and attorney William Crittenden sought the release of flight records and other documents.

Worthington had requested them since 2008 under the state Public Records Act, which applies to state agencies. News reports show that King County Sheriff’s deputies seized marijuana plants from Worthington’s home in 2007. Continue>>>
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April 6, 2015 12:50 PM

Transparency is inconvenient. It’s inconvenient for the reporter who’s trying to report the news and it’s inconvenient for the government that attempts to hide information.

“It is not unique for federal officials to go to great lengths to get around having to turn over documents or respond,” Sharyl Attkisson said during a keynote address last week at the University of Florida’s public information conference, “Breaking Down Walls: The Fight for Open Government.”

One journalist told the tale of being denied documents about the terrorists who held him hostage for six years because it would infringe upon his captors’ privacy. Continue>>>
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April 3, 2015 2:27 PM

Spring in California brings grunion, swallows and renewed promises that this will be the Giants’ year — again. Maybe the Giants can establish even more of a legacy?

And, in politics, it brings out members of the state Assembly and Senate, talking up their agendas for the legislative season.

We’re deeply interested in the gender equity legislation being promoted by Assemblyman Bill Dodd and other packages which establish pay parity for women, who have been shortchanged when it comes to working for state government. Continue>>>
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April 3, 2015 2:24 PM

The president who came to office claiming he would have the most open and transparent presidency in history is now denying or slowing Freedom of Information Act requests for documents at an unprecedented rate.

In 1966, Congress passed the Freedom of Information Act, a law giving the public and journalists access to government documents in an effort to bring more transparency to our government. It is this law that Obama’s federal government is increasingly circumventing.

Reporters from coast to coast are discovering that the federal government has slowed the release of documents to a crawl in a de facto denial of their release. As one reporter put it in The Washington Post, “They know that to delay is to deny… They know we have to move on to other stories.” Continue>>>
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April 3, 2015 2:19 PM

Microsoft will issue an update to Office 365 to enhance support for the Open Document Format (ODF) championed by the government, allowing users to export files as ODF regardless of the format they were created in.

In a Microsoft blog post, Jesse Stanchak, Microsoft's community manager, revealed the update will arrive later this year having worked with the Government Digital Service (GDS) to understand its requirements.

"While we already have great ODF support in O365, we’ve worked with GDS to understand the need to be able to create or import a document in another format and export it as ODF 1.2 and will be rolling out this new functionality to Office 365 in May," she said. Continue>>>
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