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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August 16, 2011 12:06 PM

NFOIC Executive Director Kenneth F. Bunting delivers keynote address

By Kelley Shannon, Special to the San Angelo Standard-Times:

AUSTIN — Open government advocates celebrated legislative victories this year in large part by blocking "bad bills" that would have reduced Texans' access to basic government information, activists say.

"We didn't have any horror stories," said media attorney Paul Watler, describing efforts to battle legislation that would have carved out more exemptions in the Texas Public Information Act and placed more information off limits.

Watler and other advocates reviewed the 2011 legislative session during a discussion at the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas state conference late last week in Austin.

[...]

During the keynote address of the conference, Ken Bunting, executive director of the National Freedom of Information Coalition, urged open government advocates to keep pressing for more transparency.

A new congressional super committee appointed to work on the national debt problem should pledge to conduct all its business in the open, Bunting said.

Visit San Angelo Standard-Times for the rest of the story.

Also see this from the Texas Press Association.

August 15, 2011 3:57 PM

Happy Birthday, MFOIC!

from Kenneth F. Bunting
Executive Director, NFOIC

Commendably, the Maine Freedom of Information Coalition is marking and celebrating 10 years of existence by committing itself to more good work.

According to a Kennebec Journal column by MFOIC president and NFOIC board member Mal Leary, the organization will complete its endeavor to hold forums to discuss freedom of access in all 16 of the state's counties before the end of the year.

The NFOIC sends a hearty birthday salute to our friends and colleagues in Maine. More from Leary's column, chronicling a bit of the organization's history listing a few of its endeavors and accomplishments, can be found below.

The author, Mal Leary, is a member of the board of directors and treasurer of NFOIC, and the Maine Freedom of Information Coalition is a member of NFOIC.

It is your government, and you have a right to know how it is operating and how it is spending your tax dollars. Not everyone in government, however, agrees.

Maine Freedom of Information Coalition In 2001, the Maine Freedom of Information Coalition was founded by groups and individuals as diverse as the Natural Resources Council of Maine, the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine, the Maine Civil Liberties Union, the Maine Press Association, the Maine Broadcasters Association and the Society of Professional Journalists.

We set up our first website and started our educational outreach efforts and decided we needed to prove what we already knew: There were problems with the existing laws.

Lawmakers were not convinced there was a problem, so we looked to the public records audits in other states and worked with University of Maine faculty to develop an academically sound audit methodology.

We used a grant from the National Freedom of Information Coalition along with contributions from member organization to conduct the first comprehensive statewide audit, with volunteers from university campuses, the League of Women Voters and news media organizations.

It had an impact. Embarrassed that some of the public documents sought by the audit were withheld by two-thirds of the municipalities audited, legislative leaders sought to address the problem.

There were hearings in 2003, and lawmakers overwhelmingly passed legislation requiring police agencies have a written policy for inspection of records. More important was a unanimous vote of the Legislature to establish a commission to study public access.

Several Freedom of Information Coalition members served on the panel with a broad group of stakeholders. The panel found more than 600 exceptions to the public records law, scattered through out Maine laws, a surprise to most lawmakers and the public.

In 2005, using the recommendations of the study group, lawmakers created the Right to Know Advisory Committee and adopted what we believe is the most comprehensive review process in the nation.

Visit Kennebec Journal for the rest of the story.

August 11, 2011 11:06 AM

From the Burlington Free Press:

Judge Helen Toor is considering whether to release secret details about a Medical Practice Board inquiry into allegations that a Vermont doctor engaged in conduct that might have exposed the public to harm, but she acknowledged that state law seems to protect the information from disclosure.

At issue is a lawsuit filed by William Wargo, a former director of the board, who claims he was wrongfully forced to resign in September 2010 because he went against the wishes of Health Department officials and authorized that investigation, along with a second inquiry into another doctor's practice of medicine.

Visit Burlington Free Press for the rest of the story.

August 11, 2011 10:42 AM

From Talking Points Memo:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) appointed three Democrats to a 12-member deficit Super Committee Tuesday, giving observers and advocates an early indication of how the committee will function as it seeks over a trillion dollars in further deficit cuts by the end of the year.

Just as important as who serves on the panel, though, is the question of whether it will function like most Congressional committees do—open to press and voters, with conflicts of interest disclosed publicly, if not always swiftly or conveniently.

Visit TPM for the rest of the story.

August 10, 2011 5:18 PM

From Talk of the Sound:

Three basic understandings were promoted at the Forum sponsored by Assemblyman George Latimer and the Larchmont-Mamaroneck League of Women Voters on Open Government: freedom of information (FOIL), open meetings and personal privacy laws.

Elizabeth Radow, President of the Larchmont-Mamaroneck League of Women Voters, made introductory remarks challenging the group saying: how can elected officials be up front on all issues. Why can or can't we get access to information we need?

The featured speaker, Bob Freeman, Executive Director of the New York State Committee on Open Government, introduced himself to the large crowd which had gathered at he Weaver Street firehouse in Mamaroneck on July 21 by saying, "I am here for you." He emphasized his agency was very small and consisted of only two people.

Visit New Rochelle Talk for the rest of the story.

August 10, 2011 5:11 PM

From Philly.com:

HARRISBURG - A Northeastern Pennsylvania woman wants to restore her dog's reputation. A man wants to ferret out corruption in his borough south of Pittsburgh. What do they have in common?

A recent court case makes it harder for them to look at government records.

[...]

Critics say a recent court decision makes it harder for the typical citizen to fight City Hall—or the state, or the local sewer authority—when it comes to obtaining government records. Open-records advocates say the ruling has rendered the process so burdensome as to turn on its head the assumption that government agencies have the burden to prove why a record should be shielded from public view.

Visit Philly.com for the rest of the story.

August 10, 2011 4:55 PM

From ReadWriteWeb:

Last month, open government technologists at the non-partisan Sunlight Foundation released three new Roku applications that bring audio and video from the White House, Congress and Supreme Court to television. Roku is an Internet TV appliance.

"We know Americans want the kind of immediate access to government that the Internet can provide - they're connecting with Congress on Facebook, asking President Obama questions over Twitter and can now bring Washington right into their living room using our new Sunlight Roku apps," said Gabriela Schneider, Sunlight's communications director. "We hope to prove to all branches of the federal government that they should make their work available in open formats, because Americans are, indeed, interested in knowing and engaging more with their government."

Visit ReadWriteWeb for the rest of the story.

July 29, 2011 4:12 PM

On July 28, a dozen organizations wrote to House and Senate leadership urging them to restore the bipartisan Faster FOIA provisions in S. 627, now known as the Budget Control Act of 2011.

We understand Speaker Boehner opted to use S. 627 as a vehicle to move his debt relief package because it could shave a few days off of Senate consideration. However, in doing so, the Speaker unnecessarily stripped the Faster FOIA Act from S.627, completely replacing the language with the budget bill. If the Faster FOIA language is not restored in S. 627, the bipartisan progress made by the Senate on the legislation will be completely wiped out. This is a setback for openness and accountability in the executive branch, and bipartisan action in Congress.

The Senate unanimously passed the Faster FOIA Act, authored by Senator Leahy (D-VT) and Senator Cornyn (R-TX) in May. The legislation would establish the Commission on Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Processing Delays (the Commission) to examine several thorny issues that create unreasonable bars to public access under the FOIA and recommend to Congress and the President steps that should be taken to reduce delays and make the administration of the FOIA equitable and efficient throughout the federal government.

The Faster FOIA Act enjoys strong support among a broad range of non-governmental organizations. Recently, more than 35 organizations joined to urge the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to act on the legislation. A recent editorial in the Washington Post also called on the House to embrace the bill in the same bipartisan spirit as the Senate in the interest of improving the FOIA process.

Read the letter in its entirety here.

July 29, 2011 3:22 PM

from Burlington Free Press:

MONTPELIER -- It's well-established in law that most government records are public, but what about the records of contractors who do government's business? If a private company is housing state prisoners, how much of that company's records are available to state residents?

Those are among the questions that a special panel of lawmakers mulled [July 27] as they met for the first time to try to tackle public-records issues left undone during the legislative session that ended in May. The summer study committee also plans to study exemptions to the state public-records laws -- numbering 239 -- and determine if they are needed.

The six-member committee plans to delve more deeply into the exemptions at its next meeting in September, but Wednesday the panel wrestled with what to do about private contractors that essentially are fulfilling the function of government. Lawmakers left the issue out of legislation passed this year after running into complications.

Visit Burlington Free Press for the rest of the story.

July 29, 2011 3:09 PM

from Government in the Lab:

Last month, we wrote about how the state of Illinois was erecting barriers to such knowledge by passing House Bill 1716. Sponsored by both House and Senate representatives, HB 1716 is an amendment bill to the Illinois Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) which will require people who request information to pay for the actual cost of retrieving public records.

Several watchdog groups, including For the Good of Illinois, are concerned that the bill labels citizens who request information more than 50 times a year as “recurrent requestors”. This label jeopardizes their chances of actually getting the information they request, because once someone has been labeled, the government may delay fulfilling the request for up to one year!

The Citizen Advocacy Center (CAC), another vocal transparency organization in Illinois, has rallied Illinoisans asked Governor Quinn to reject HB 1716. Last week, the group met with the Governor’s legislative staff last week to express their concern about the bill. CAC has a history of fighting for the freedom of popular information: in 2009, CAC worked with the Attorney General’s Office to reform Illinois’ FOIA — turning it from one of the country’s worst FOI laws into one of the strongest.

Visit Government in the Lab for the rest of the story.

July 29, 2011 3:00 PM

from Federation of American Scientists:

“Congress must take the lead in challenging the laws and practices that have allowed excessive secrecy to become the dominant feature of our national security culture,” the American Civil Liberties Union urged in a new report on government secrecy.

“The excessive secrecy that hides how the government pursues its national security mission is undermining the core principles of democratic government and injuring our nation in ways no terrorist act ever could,” wrote Mike German and Jay Stanley, the authors of the ACLU report. “It is time for Congress to make the secrecy problem an issue of the highest priority, and enact a sweeping overhaul of our national security establishment to re-impose democratic controls.”

The report provides a fluid account of current secrecy policy, along with a critique from first principles as well as from recent experience. Highly readable and thoroughly footnoted, the 51 page report covers a spectrum of secrecy issues, from the state secrets privilege to secret law to the role of national security whistleblowers, and a lot more. It concludes with a menu of recommended reforms that Congress could and, the authors say, should undertake.

Visit FAS for the rest of the story.

July 29, 2011 2:56 PM

from Government Security News:

A bill introduced on July 26 by Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-CT), ranking committee member Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) would make Congressional reports available so the public could monitor how tax dollars are being spent.

The Congressionally Mandated Reports Act, S.1411 covers thousands of statutorily-required reports submitted each year to Congress so it can monitor agency implementation of various laws, ranging from homeland security to food safety to environmental protection, said a joint statement on July 26 by Lieberman and Collins.

Under the legislation, the Government Printing Office (GPO) would establish a website that would publish all reports within 30 days of being submitted to Congress, they said. The reports would have to be searchable by text, key words, agencies writing the reports, and Congressional committees receiving the reports.

Visit Government Security News for the rest of the story.

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