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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May 12, 2017 3:07 AM

A group of government watchdogs sent a letter to Congressman Jeb Hensarling Tuesday afternoon urging him to rescind the letters he sent government agencies informing them about Freedom of Information guidelines.

Hensarling, a Republican from Texas, sent letters in April to the heads of several federal agencies the House Financial Services Committee oversees, declaring that communications and documents produced between the two offices will remain in the committee's control and will not be considered "agency records" — therefore exempt from Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

Twenty organizations — including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Project on Government Oversight, and the Campaign Legal Center — signed on to a letter calling Hensarling's actions "a troubling precedent."

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May 12, 2017 3:07 AM

Crucial details about the location and depth of certain California water wells can be kept secret, and out of the hands of an environmental group, a top federal appeals court ruled Tuesday.

Although targeting a specific request for California information, the ruling by what’s sometimes called the nation’s second-highest court could shape at least a few of the other Freedom of Information Act requests nationwide. More than 700,000 FOIA requests were filed in Fiscal 2014, and the question of what can be denied recurs often.

Tuesday’s unanimous decision lumped water wells with those drilled for oil and gas production. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said that the water well information fits under a long-standing exemption to FOIA. The decision thwarted AquAlliance, the Chico, Calif.-based group that sought the information.

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May 11, 2017 2:50 AM

Legislation to modernize Colorado’s open-records law underwent a significant makeover Tuesday night with a little more than a day left in the 2017 session.

The Colorado House gave preliminary approval to a completely reworked, shorter version of Senate Bill 17-040 designed to satisfy both records requesters and the government entities that have opposed the measure.

While the bill no longer references “structured data,” it is still intended to clarify the public’s right to obtain digitized government records in useful file formats that make it easier to analyze the information contained in those records.

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May 11, 2017 2:43 AM

At least three federal government agencies have agreed to seemingly conceal official communications with a congressional committee from public information requests, following letters sent last month by the chairman of the House Committee on Financial Services.

Congressman Jeb Hensarling, a Republican from Texas, sent letters in April to the heads of several federal agencies his committee oversees, declaring that communications and documents produced between the two offices will remain in the committee's control and will not be considered "agency records" — therefore exempt from Freedom of Information Act requests.

"The Committee expects that the [government agency] will decline to produce any such congressional records in response to a request under the Freedom of Information Act or any other provision of law or agreement," the letter reads in part.

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May 11, 2017 2:43 AM

The Florida First Amendment Foundation worked hard throughout Florida's legislative session to advocate for open government and freedom of information. They just released their final report for the 2017 session, which can be found with their weekly reports.

The reports can be found here.

May 10, 2017 1:12 AM

Optics aside, Greitens isn't the only governor connected to supportive nonprofit organizations.

Groups in Arizona, Illinois and Georgia have sprung up to help the states' governors, while avoiding traditional donation requirements. Robert Maguire of the Center for Responsive Politics said the groups are the "unlimited, undisclosed arm of the administration that basically ... bolsters the agenda of the governor."

Many 501(c)(4)s were created over the years to help push specific issue or ideological causes. But more recently, the state-based nonprofits came to life to help individual candidates. Since most states don't require 501(c)(4) to reveal much about what they're doing, they've become increasingly popular fundraising mechanisms to help governors.

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May 10, 2017 12:46 AM

In the first study of its kind, we used the Obama administration’s White House visitor logs from 2009–2015 to identify 2,286 meetings between federal government officials and corporate executives from S&P 1500 firms. We found that money can buy you greater access to the White House, and that for corporations, that access translated into big returns on Wall Street.

Our findings also underlined a simple fact: Without transparency from the Obama administration, we would have never known any of this. And lacking that transparency from the Trump administration, the American people will be left in the dark while many insiders profit from their White House meetings.

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May 10, 2017 12:42 AM

Tuesday morning is a significant moment in the long history of making the spending of the United States government more transparent to the American public.

On May 9th, federal agencies will officially begin reporting data in compliance with the open standards created under the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act, the landmark legislation that cleared Congress in 2014. (It’s called the DATA Act, for short, which is how we refer to it today.) The data will start flowing to openbeta.USAspending.gov in the coming days and will eventually be transitioned to USAspending.gov, the long term online home of federal spending data.

In doing so, our government will give citizens, watchdogs, Congress and federal workers unprecedented public access to structured information about spending and open up new horizons for oversight, accountability, activism and innovation.

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May 9, 2017 1:22 AM

More than 2.7 million criminal records will be sealed and the arrest records of hundreds of thousands of people will be concealed under a bill heading to Gov. Rick Scott’s desk.

An open records advocacy group is sounding the alarm and calling for Scott to veto the bill, warning it could hide the backgrounds of dangerous people.

The bill, if signed, would automatically administratively seal court records of nearly anyone who is found not guilty or is acquitted during a trial or has the charges dropped or dismissed. Charging documents could still be obtained from the courthouse where the charges were filed, but the charges won’t show up in a background check through the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

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May 9, 2017 1:13 AM

The Georgia Court of Appeals has ruled that academic research at a public college is exempt from the state Open Records Act.

Presiding Judge Anne Barnes wrote for the panel—which included Judges Carla McMillian and Amanda Mercier—saying that universities do not have discretion to release such information on request from the public. The judges overturned Atlanta City Court Judge Edward Baety, who was sitting in on Fulton County Superior Court when he granted summary judgment to the University System of Georgia Board of Regents and the Campaign for Accountability. They were fighting a challenge from the Consumer Credit Research Foundation seeking to block release of records on a Kennesaw State University professor's research into payday lending.

In an opinion released Thursday, the panel remanded the case to Fulton County to consider whether the information in question falls within the academic research exception to the Open Records Act.

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May 9, 2017 1:11 AM

Document requesters used the Freedom of Information Act in record numbers in fiscal 2016, but agency offices still managed to reduce the long-standing backlog, according to the latest annual report from the Justice Department.

FOIA offices governmentwide received a record high of 788,769 requests, a 10.6 percent increase over the previous year, Justice’s Office of Information Policy reported on Wednesday. Requests have marched steadily upward since 2009, with a slight dip in fiscal 2015.

The Homeland Security Department received the most requests, as it has in previous years, followed by Justice and Defense departments, the National Archives and Records Administration and the Veterans Affairs Department.

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May 5, 2017 8:02 PM

A number of exemptions allow public agencies to keep secret routine documents that are easily accessible in most other states. Now, for the first time in more than four decades, Massachusetts lawmakers are in the midst of revamping the state’s weak public records law. As part of the overhaul, a state working group has been charged with reviewing and evaluating the way in which law enforcement agencies have used public records exemptions and will recommend changes to the Legislature by year’s end.

The working group, chaired by a representative of Secretary of StateWilliam F. Galvin, this week met for the first time to discuss the public’s interest in police records, such as daily logs, and unsolved investigations. They also discussed privacy and confidentiality concerns regarding the release of arrest reports.

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