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 23, 2016 12:53 PM

Hey, federal open data enthusiasts — here’s one for you.

Data Transparency 2016 (DT2016), the Data Foundation’s fourth annual open data policy conference, will convene at the Washington Convention Center on Sept. 28. As in previous years, the conference “will bring together government leaders, transparency advocates, and the technology industry to transform government information from disconnected documents into open data.” Continue...

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August 22, 2016 1:27 PM

In 1966, Congress enacted the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to create a legal regime under which the American public could gain access to information about its government’s activities. In keeping with Justice Brandeis’s observation that “sunlight is the best disinfectant,” FOIA has become an invaluable tool in forcing information of national interest into the open, and of revealing instances of government waste, fraud, and abuse.

Despite the general ethic of openness, FOIA exempts, among other things, national security (i.e. classified) information, trade secrets and commercial or financial information, information related solely to the internal personnel rules of an agency, and personnel and medical files. In addition, FOIA exempts information “specifically exempted from disclosure by statute.” 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(3) (such statutes are referred to as “Exemption 3” statutes). Continue...

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August 22, 2016 1:21 PM

In two Loop office buildings about eight blocks apart, a pair of University of Chicago research teams are analyzing big data to answer a thorny question that has become especially charged in recent months: Will a police officer have an adverse interaction with a citizen?

The team from the university's Crime Lab is in the first stages of working with the Chicago Police Department to build a predictive data program to improve the department's Early Intervention System, which is designed to determine if an officer is likely to engage in aggressive, improper conduct with a civilian. Continue...

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August 22, 2016 12:43 PM

The Data Foundation, the sister organization of the Data Coalition that launched this winter, is teaming up with the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Sunlight Foundation to hold a “California Database Hunt.”

The goal? California’s local government agencies are now (as of July 1, 2016) required to publish a list of all “enterprise systems” they use to store data and information on the public. Continue...

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August 22, 2016 12:23 PM

It should come as little secret to regular readers that governments often work to confound the public’s right to know when asked to make available information that might embarrass or cause them legal troubles.

In too many disputes over access to information under the Colorado Open Records Act, citizens, advocacy groups and media organizations don’t proceed, fearing high court costs and attorney fees. Even in cases where a government body is acting improperly by denying records or violating open meetings laws, the only alternative is to go to court. Continue...

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August 19, 2016 1:19 PM

Through August 31, 2016 the U.S. Department of State is conducting an online discussion between federal employees and the public on the initiatives proposed for inclusion in the State Department’s 2016 Open Government Plan. The goal of this dialogue is to engage with the public on the topics of transparency, participation, and collaboration and to show how these objectives are represented in the Department’s upcoming Open Government Plan.

Using the online GovUp platform hosted by TechChange, participants in the online discussion are able to review the State Department’s proposed Open Government initiatives, make comments, and share ideas prior to the publication of the State Department’s 2016 Open Government Plan in mid-September. Continue...

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August 19, 2016 1:08 PM

The title of “Chief Data Officer” – once uncommon in state and municipal governments – is becoming less uncommon. And that’s a very good thing for public sector innovation.

As recently as a few years ago, Chief Data Officers were found almost exclusively in big city governments like Chicago, New York and Philadelphia. Municipal governments provide services that touch citizens’ lives in more intimate ways than states or the federal government, and big cities have a critical mass of data that is attractive to the growing community of users with powerful tools for mapping and analyzing data. So it’s no surprise that cities have led the way in creating new, data-focused positions like CDOs, and in releasing open data to the public. Continue...

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August 19, 2016 12:53 PM

A small committee going line-by-line through Virginia's open records laws decided to punt Thursday on a months-long effort to rein in one of the laws vaguest sets of rules.

These are the parts of Virginia Freedom of Information's Act that deal with proprietary records and trade secrets – the things government keeps secret on behalf of private companies it works with. State Supreme Court Justice William C. Mims wrote in a 2014 opinion that the current law is too confusing to be consistently applied, but an effort to rework things foundered on the objections of state agencies and private sector lobbyists fighting for the status quo. Continue...

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August 19, 2016 12:48 PM

The Department of Defense (DOD) needs to improve its policies on responding to public-records requests, according to a new inspector general report.

The Pentagon’s inspector general evaluated the department’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) policies at the request of Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who wanted to know whether political appointees were adversely affecting responses from January 2007 to July 2015. Continue...

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August 18, 2016 1:34 PM

Transparency advocatees from D.C., Maryland and Virginia jointly urged legislators to ensure the public and news media have access to meetings and documents of the Metrorail Safety Commission proposed to oversee the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (“WMATA”). The D.C. Open Government Coalition; the Maryland, Delaware, D.C. Press Association; and Virginia Coalition for Open Government sent letters Aug. 18 to key lawmakers in the three jurisdictions seeking amendments to a proposed interstate compact to establish the safety commission.

Legislation is already pending in the District (Bill 21-828), and lawmakers are expected to introduced identical bills when the Maryland and Virginia legislatures' 2017 sessions begin. The current bill alludes to an expectation of openness as a matter of policy, but falls short of mandating public access, and does not provide any enforcement mechanism. Continue...

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August 18, 2016 1:26 PM

In a July 21, 2016, opinion, the D.C. Office of Open Government directed the District's Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) to end plans for months of private meetings of a school funding “working group” of officials and the public called for by law.

Established to pore over data to advise the mayor and the D.C. Council on the right funding levels to reflect different costs of educating students with diverse needs from pre-K through high school, the group had held its first session June 29 behind closed doors, without public announcement or agenda. Continue...

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August 18, 2016 1:19 PM

The Tennessee Coalition for Open Government (TCOG) says more than 9 in 10 Tennesseans (92%) support public access to police body camera video when it records use of force that results in a citizen’s serious injury or death. That's according to a new poll by icitizen in collaboration with the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government. The support crosses partisan, age and regional lines.

TCOG says the results demonstrate strong citizen agreement that such video be disclosed to the public. Continue...

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