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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September 12, 2011 4:16 PM

September 12, 2011

From nextgov:

An unofficial analysis of the roughly 1,800 top-level federal Web domains shows nearly a quarter of them are now unreachable.

That may mean those sites have been shut down or that their content has been consolidated into larger sites in accordance with a White House plan to drastically cut the federal Web presence over the coming year, said Benjamin Balter, a new technology fellow at the Federal Communications Commission and graduate student at The George Washington University who designed the analysis tool as a personal project.

Visit nextgov.com for the rest.

September 9, 2011 2:39 PM

September 9, 2011

From The Hill:

A group of Senate Republicans are demanding the supercommittee tasked with finding $1.5 trillion in budget savings make all its deliberations public ... and provide streaming video or audio of each moment of its deliberation.

The supercommittee met for the first time Thursday and voted to allow some private meetings.

Visit The Hill for the rest.

September 9, 2011 1:48 PM

A few items selected from many of interest in the last few days.

Court ruling undermines privacy exemption to FOIA

A ruling Tuesday from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit could signal the death knell for—or at least the erosion of—a two-decade-old Supreme Court case that has stymied many a Freedom of Information Act request.

Visit Politico for the rest.

ACLU wins round in battle against warrantless cell phone location tracking

The ACLU won a significant victory in our battle to ensure that cell phones don’t become Big Brother tracking devices. Following a four-year fight, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit has ordered the Department of Justice (DOJ) to comply with [their] Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request and turn over the names and docket numbers in numerous cases where the government accessed cell phone location data without a warrant.

Visit ACLU for the rest.

DOJ must release records about cellphone location tracking

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia held [this week] that the U.S. Department of Justice must release case docket information in certain criminal cases resulting in convictions or guilty pleas.

Visit RCFP.org for the rest.

Closed work groups are just a bad idea

Opinion from Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, a member of NFOIC:

"More voices are being heard. More opinions are being considered. That kind of transparency can be difficult for some to properly conceptualize, as it is a relatively new way of doing business at the government level."

That's what Gov. Bob McDonnell spokesman Tucker Martin told Washington Post reporter Anita Kumar when questioned about why the Governor's Commission on Government Reform & Restructuring had used closed-door work groups to come up with the dozens of recommendations announced at its Aug. 31 meeting.

Visit Richmond Times-Dispatch for the rest.

Judge says St. Louis Police Board ignored Sunshine Law and court rulings

ST. LOUIS -- Using strong words, a judge ordered Friday that the Board of Police Commissioners release details of the investigation of officers who let family and friends use 2006 World Series tickets confiscated from scalpers.

Visit stltoday.com for the rest.

Voice of the Free Press: Government accountability calls for proper records

The failure to properly maintain public records undermines the whole concept of open government. Public records -- especially those that document actions taken by the city's elected officials and civil servants -- are a key instrument for citizens seeking to keep their government accountable.

Visit BurlingtonFreePress.com for the rest.

September 6, 2011 4:37 PM

September 6, 2011

From OpenTheGovernment.org:

This morning OpenTheGovernment.org released the 2011 Secrecy Report (formerly known as the Secrecy Report Card), a quantitative report on indicators of government secrecy. This year's report chronicles positive changes in some indicators of secrecy as a result of the Obama Administration's openness directives. The indicators tracked by the report also show a national security bureaucracy that continues to expand the size of the secret government.

According to Patrice McDermott, Director of OpenTheGovernment.org, "We are not as yet at the level of 'unprecedented transparency' the Obama Administration promises, but we are beginning to see signs that at least some of the Administration's openness efforts are paying off." For example, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) backlogs government-wide were reduced by 10% in Fiscal Year (FY) 2010 compared to FY 2009.

Positive trends are also prevalent in areas where the Executive Office has control. President Obama is the only President for whom we have records who has not asserted Executive Privilege to deny Congressional requests for information. Additionally, the number of times President Obama has used a signing statement to challenge specific aspects of a new law is significantly lower than other modern presidents. And, in unprecedented moves, the Obama Administration has declassified and released information about the U.S. nuclear stockpile, our nuclear posture review, and the full size of the national intelligence budget.

The statistics also indicate, however, that the Administration's openness agenda has not fully been embraced by the national security bureaucracy. The report highlights how, two years after the effective date of the President's Executive Order on Classified National Security Information, only a few agencies are taking the required Fundamental Classification Guidance Review process very seriously, with others ignoring or deferring it. The amount of classified material created annually by the government stays well above that created prior to 2000, and the declassification system continues to fall farther behind.

Visit OpenTheGovernment.org for more information and the complete report.

September 6, 2011 4:32 PM

September 6, 2011

From NorthCountryNow:

POTSDAM -- SUNY Potsdam hosts its 20th Annual Local Government Conference Tuesday, Oct. 11, with a variety of workshops on topics important to public servants and community leaders alike.

The keynote speaker is former state assemblywoman and current New York State Deputy Secretary of State for Local Government and Dierdre Scozzafava. In this position, the longtime North Country public servant works to streamline municipal government across the state.

Visit NorthCountryNow.com for more information.

September 6, 2011 4:28 PM

September 6, 2011

From IowaPolitics.com:

DES MOINES — In battles statewide, Iowans are fighting for access to government meetings and records. While state and federal right-to-information laws are on the books to help, Iowans say they’re still running into roadblocks.

[...]

Kathleen Richardson, executive secretary of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, a nonprofit organization at Drake University that promotes open government, said laws on open meetings and public records are not consistently enforced statewide.

Visit IowaPolitics.com for the rest of the story.

September 6, 2011 4:21 PM

September 6, 2011

From Joel Campbell, special to the Salt Lake Tribune:

When people start complaining about the burden public records requests place on local and state government, there is usually one element to the conversation that is missing: the evidence.

Salt Lake City’s program to log and track all Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA) requests brings real numbers to the debate. It is also worth copying as local and state leaders analyze the true costs of providing public information. Such record-tracking systems also make government more accountable to the people it serves.

Visit Salt Lake Tribune for the rest of the story.

September 6, 2011 4:18 PM

September 6, 2011

From MediaShift Idea Lab:

At first blush, state legal codes seem pretty simple. You've got titles, which are composed of chapters, which in turn comprise sections -- or something very much like that. It's a straightforward hierarchy, and you might not think that there's a lot of interesting metadata to be extracted from them. But it turns out that a rich mesh of metadata lies just beneath the surface, and by mining that metadata, The State Decoded, a 2011 Knight News Challenge project, is creating an innovative method of navigating state codes.

Here are a few of the most interesting sources of metadata that the project is extracting so far.

Visit PBS for the rest of the story.

September 2, 2011 4:55 PM

A few items selected from many of interest in the last few days.

Open meetings change urged at meeting of Tennessee County Commissioners Association

From the Shelbyville Times-Gazette:

Frank Gibson of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government told the Times-Gazette this morning that most state agencies fall under the exact same rules as local governments under the Tennessee Open Meetings Act, also called the "Sunshine Law." It is only the General Assembly itself which operates under separate rules, said Gibson, and that's because the General Assembly is created by the state's constitution.

Visit Times-Gazette.com for the rest of the story.

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Virginia governor weighing legislation to allow public bodies to meet electronically

From The Daily Progress:

The office of Gov. Bob McDonnell is considering putting forth legislation that would bring significant changes to Virginia's open-government laws by allowing public bodies to meet via telephone, video conference and other forms of electronic communication, according to state officials.

[..]

The governor's Commission on Government Reform and Restructuring, which focuses on improving government efficiency and transparency, recommended "modernizing" the state's sunshine laws at a meeting Wednesday in Richmond. A McDonnell spokeswoman said Thursday that officials are considering turning the proposal into legislation for the next session of the General Assembly.

Visit The Daily Progress for the rest of the story.

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Board members clash over FOI issue

From The Hartford Courant:

PLAINVILLE —— A debate on Monday by the board of education about the release of information under the state's freedom of information laws turned into a confrontation between two members.

The root of the disagreement was a press release the school system issued earlier this month questioning the actions of board member Andrea Saunders that enabled her husband, town council member Scott Saunders, to avoid paying for copies of 224 documents he had requested under the state's Freedom of Information Act.

Visit ctnow.com for the rest of the story.

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Federal report cites state's wrongdoing in nursing-home ombudsman program

From the Sun Sentinel:

Federal investigators have determined the state's Department of Elder Affairs violated the U.S. Older Americans Act by interfering with what is supposed to be an independent nursing-home watchdog program, officials announced Thursday afternoon.

The findings cite a series of violations, including muzzling the program's communication with the news media and restricting its ability to lobby the Legislature on behalf of nursing-home residents. The report also criticized the department's selection and firing of volunteers who make up the bulk of the watchdog program's workforce, saying that "it must be clear to the volunteers that they work for and are answerable only to the Long Term Care Ombudsman."

Visit Sunsentinel.com for the rest of the story.

September 1, 2011 4:54 PM

September 1, 2011

From OMB Watch:

Yesterday, OMB Watch submitted its recommendations for the Obama administration's national plan for the Open Government Partnership (OGP). The administration will unveil its plan, with new concrete commitments to increase transparency, at the international OGP meeting on Sept. 20.

Seven other countries will also announce their national open government plans at that summit, organized around the United Nations General Assembly meeting. For the U.S. as well as the other participants, OGP has been an impetus to action for transparency. The national plan to be released in September is an important opportunity for the administration to expand on its progress in strengthening open government in order to empower Americans and build a better democracy.

Among the ideas offered, OMB Watch encouraged the administration to:

  1. Transform Regulations.gov into a one-stop shop for citizens to learn about rulemaking
  2. Establish federal website standards that encourage proactive disclosure, identification of public priorities, and visualization tools
  3. Improve Data.gov with common data formats, identifiers, and user-friendly interfaces
  4. Strengthen records management with smarter IT investments and email policy
  5. Make regulatory compliance information more user-friendly
  6. Promote corporate accountability with better disclosure

Visit OMBWatch.org for the rest of the story.

September 1, 2011 4:42 PM

September 1, 2011

From Wyoming Tribune Eagle:

SUNDANCE -- A legislative committee advanced two bills here Wednesday that would make significant changes to the state's open-meetings and public documents laws.

The Joint Judiciary Committee directed legislative staff to prepare proposal legislation for its next meeting, Oct. 13-14 in either Evanston or Laramie. At that point, the panel will decide whether to support the bills in the budget session of the Legislature in January.

Visit WyomingNews.com for the rest of the story.

September 1, 2011 9:28 AM

September 1, 2011

From Rome News-Tribune:

ATLANTA — Complaints of illegal government secrecy have more than doubled during last year, Attorney General Sam Olens told the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday.

He was testifying about legislation he drafted to update the state’s Sunshine Law that requires state and local government meetings and documents to be public except in limited exceptions. His proposal, House Bill 397, would boost the fine for violations to $1,000. The current fine for withholding documents is $100 and $500 for illegal meetings.

[...]

One media attorney was not enthusiastic about the whole notion of revising the Sunshine Law. Hollie Manheimer, executive director of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation [a member of NFOIC -- eds.], told the committee the legislation could become a way for open-government opponents to attach amendments that weaken the current law.

Visit RN-T.com for the rest of the story.

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