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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June 10, 2015 9:57 AM

In the global fight against corruption, the US has long enjoyed a reputation for transparency, rule of law and accountability. That reputation has suffered at home and abroad with growing concern that political finance, lobbying and weak congressional ethics rules unduly favor those with means, distorting the democratic process. Some see recent laws and judicial decisions as contributing to a system of legalized corruption, or a form of ‘state capture’. Decades of effort to reform the system seem only to create more concern.  Continue>>>

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June 9, 2015 9:37 AM

Bills that would expand two government transparency laws to cover quasi-governmental agencies, like the New Jersey League of Municipalities and New Jersey School Boards Association, were the subject of an hourlong Senate committee hearing Monday.

The legislation would make changes to the state’s Open Public Meetings Act and the state’s Open Public Records Act, renaming it for longtime advocate Martin O’Shea, who died in 2009. One significant change to both measures is the expansion of the definition of a “public body,” which would cover groups like the League of Municipalities and, potentially, Choose New Jersey, a non-profit Christie helped create after taking office.  Continue>>>

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June 9, 2015 9:26 AM

At the Treasury Department, the memo came down from the deputy executive secretary, Wally Adeyemo, in December of 2009. Going forward, the memo stated, “sensitive information” requested under the Freedom of Information Act was to be reviewed not only by career FOIA officials but also by a committee of political appointees, including Adeyemo and representatives from the public-affairs, legislative-affairs, and general counsel’s office, before release.

What followed was an unusual review of Treasury FOIA requests by high-ranking political officials. And it didn’t just happen at Treasury, but at the IRS and the Department of Homeland Security, too. Current and former FOIA attorneys at these agencies say documents requested by the media have come in for special scrutiny, called “sensitive review,” often holding up release for weeks or months. At times, these officials say, political officials delayed the production of documents for political convenience.   Continue>>>

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June 9, 2015 9:11 AM

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said the Obama administration refused to provide information more than 550,000 times in response to Freedom of Information Act requests.

“I worry that over the course of several administrations but certainly this administration, the stiff arm that is being given to the media, that has been given to the public has become excessive. In this administration there were more than 550,000 times that the administration has claimed some sort of exemption and not let that information out,” he said at a National Journal event focused on Chaffetz’s chairmanship.  Continue>>>

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June 9, 2015 8:27 AM

When she testified at a hearing last month in favor of making police body-worn camera videos accessible to the public, the District’s chief open government advocate, Traci Hughes, suggested the police department’s reasoning for limiting access to the footage was flawed.

While Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier has said that editing the footage to make necessary redactions would be too labor-intensive for her department — and, as a result, no videos should be released to the public — Ms. Hughes noted that low-cost video-editing technology is so prevalent that the Metropolitan Police Department “will be hard-pressed to assert it does not have access to the very same technology." Continue>>>

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June 8, 2015 12:24 PM

Hackers are not usually associated with the civil sector, but a hackathon organized by the Civic Data Alliance on Saturday brought together coders, designers and non-profits to create data projects for the public good.

As part of the national Code for America Day, more than two dozen volunteers hunkered down for eight hours of designing, coding and sifting through publicly available data at Code Louisville, 252 E Market Street. Representatives from the non-profit sector and Louisville Metro Government, including Mayor Greg Fischer, also participated in discussions about how apps and data could improve the flow of information and resources to the public.  Continue>>>

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June 8, 2015 12:09 PM

Since the United States joined the Open Government Partnership in 2011, U.S. agencies have been working alongside civil society to develop and implement commitments to increase transparency, improve participation, and curb corruption. From opening up Federal spending data to make it easier to see how taxpayer dollars are spent, to the We the People online petition site where the public can propose U.S. policy changes, to strengthening efforts to deny safe haven in the U.S. to corrupt individuals, our efforts to advance open government are making an impact.

Consistent with the commitment to the Open Government Partnership, later this year the United States plans to publish a third Open Government National Action Plan (NAP) including new and expanded open government initiatives to pursue in the next two years. The first U.S. NAP was published in 2011 and the second NAP — which is still being implemented through the end of 2015 — was published in 2013.

These plans are a true team effort — governments work alongside civil society in all 65 OGP countries to develop and implement the efforts within the plans. Over the next several months, we encourage you to contribute your ideas and work with us to build an ambitious third NAP!  Continue>>>

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June 8, 2015 9:43 AM

Vermonters deserve good government —and that includes an open and transparent government.

We are proud of our state and our collective ability to overcome any difficult issue we may encounter. As Vermonters, when we see a problem, we know we can fix it through hard work and a dose of common sense. We expect the same of our government.

Vermont’s constitution (Chapter 1, Article 6) states that the power is “derived from the people, therefore, all officers of government, whether legislative or executive, are their trustees and servants; and at all times, in a legal way, accountable to them.”  Continue>>>

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June 8, 2015 9:25 AM

For advocates of government transparency, there’s a particularly delicious paragraph in a judge’s written decision upholding the lawsuit that this news group and its sister organization filed against the state Senate.

The lawsuit was made necessary by the Senate’s refusal to turn over information from the calendars of two suspended senators who are under federal indictment. The Senate cited “legislative privilege” to keep the public from learning with whom the senators met on particular days when they are accused of wrongdoing. The Legislature has long held that such information is private.  Continue>>>

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June 8, 2015 8:44 AM

What should the public know when an accident calls into question the safety of a rail system that moves 700,000 of the region’s residents every day?  Does reliable information really need to take years?

The Open Government Coalition has been monitoring transparency of related agencies -- transit (WMATA, operated by an independent organization governed by all three jurisdictions involved, and without any statutory information release policies in place), D.C. government (where FOIA is ill-suited to breaking news), and federal investigators (tight-lipped engineers, typically staying mum for months in all safety investigations, as legal liability can rest on findings) -- in the wake of the tunnel fire and related train evacuation at the L’Enfant Plaza rail station on January 12, 2015. The accident led to one death and great public concern over basic transit operations, especially maintenance, of the aging rail system that started service forty years ago in 1976.  

The Coalition’s annual Open Government Summit, held in D.C. on March 17, featured a panel on WMATA transparency questions (see "Metro's Secrecy Highlight of Summit"). Earlier OGC blog posts on the issues include this one.  Continue>>>

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June 5, 2015 12:37 PM

SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois Attorney General’s Office has finally determined that the now-dissolved Ford-Iroquois Public Health Department improperly denied a Freedom of Information Act request filed nearly two years ago by the Paxton Record.

The weekly newspaper based in Paxton, Ill., filed its FOIA request with the health department that served Ford and Iroquois counties on Sept. 25, 2013, almost a year before the bi-county agency was dissolved.

The Paxton Record sought “a list of the addresses of every property that applied for and received grant money” from the health department in connection with a massive flood that struck Iroquois County in 2008.  Continue>>>

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June 5, 2015 9:51 AM

Federal lawmakers are once again considering the first major changes to the Freedom of Information Act since 2007 after similar efforts stalled late last year.

John Gavin, a financial analyst based in Plymouth, is paying close attention to how the debate goes. That's because his business relies in large part on information gleaned from FOIA requests submitted to the SEC.

While Gavin is professionally invested in the FOIA process, he's also personally interested in issues surrounding public release of government records. He joined MPR News' Tom Weber to talk about why you should care about FOIA.  Continue>>>

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