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 16, 2014 7:43 AM

The Open Government movement has captured the imagination of many around the world as a way of increasing transparency, participation, and accountability. In the US, many of the federal, state, and local Open Government initiatives have been demonstrated to achieve positive results for citizens here and abroad. In fact, the White House’s science advisors released a refreshed Open Government plan in early June.

However, a recent study in Sweden says the benefits of transparency may vary, and may have little impact on citizens’ perception of legitimacy and trust in government. This research suggests important lessons on how public managers should approach the design of transparency strategies, and how they work in various conditions.

Jenny de Fine Licht, a scholar at the University of Gothenberg in Sweden, offers a more nuanced view of the influence of transparency in political decision making on public legitimacy and trust, in a paper that appears in the current issue of “Public Administration Review.” Her research challenges the assumption of many in the Open Government movement that greater transparency necessarily leads to greater citizen trust in government. Continue>>>
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June 16, 2014 7:42 AM

As an attorney, you have a duty to do an adequate investigation before asserting any claim, but your investigation can’t intrude on others’ privacy rights. Getting public record information is one way to get what you need without a privacy problem. But what if the information isn’t available online or through a visit to a federal agency? Make a Freedom of Information Act request.

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) (5 USC §552) generally provides that any person has a right of access to federal agency records. Virtually every document generated by a federal agency is available to the public in one form or another unless specifically exempted from disclosure.

Getting information you need under the FOIA is a relatively straightforward process: Continue>>>
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FOIA request
June 16, 2014 7:39 AM

Imagine that the governor is holding a series of secret closed-door negotiations with a company that could result in hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer expenses. Now imagine that the same company secretly meeting with the governor is also a campaign contributor. Also imagine that the Legislature is barred from changing the details of an agreement negotiated in secret with the governor and can only vote up or down on funding the final proposal.

Sounds outrageous? You bet! Yet that is exactly what happens each time state and local officials in Washington negotiate pay and benefits with public-employee unions. It doesn’t have to be this way.

Several states ensure that the public is not shut out of the collective-bargaining process with government unions. Some states open the entire negotiation process to the public, while others include an exemption when government officials are strategizing among themselves. Once public officials meet with union negotiators, however, the public is allowed to monitor the process. Continue>>>

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June 16, 2014 7:38 AM

When it comes to open and transparent government aimed at serving the people, East Earl Township supervisors must not have gotten the memo.

Supervisors Earl Kreider, Joe Shriver and David Zimmerman have been running the government based on the idea that the less the citizens know about what is going on, the better. They have been good, in fact far too good, at operating behind closed doors.

That might be in the best interest of the three supervisors but it is certainly not in the best interest of East Earl residents. Theirs is a world of cryptic agendas made available the night of the meeting with nothing in advance or posted online. There are no board packets, no documents to help residents understand what the supervisors are discussing. In their world, there are not even board minutes for the citizens to review. Notice of future meetings include ones that might be held “as needed.” Continue>>>
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June 16, 2014 7:36 AM

A federal judge today ordered the Department of Justice to hand over key opinions by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (also known as the “FISA court”) so the judge can directly review whether information about mass surveillance was improperly withheld from the public.

The order is another victory in EFF’s Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the DOJ, which sought to reveal how the government uses Section 215 of the Patriot Act to secretly gather communications records from millions of American citizens. The suit has already forced the government to release thousands of pages of FISA court opinions, internal executive branch reports, congressional briefings, and other documents concerning Section 215. Documents released as part of the suit have shown the NSA repeatedly misled the FISA court concerning the operation of the bulk call records program, nearly leading the court to terminate the program altogether. Continue>>>
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June 12, 2014 10:16 PM

Nearly every federal government agency uses geographic information system (GIS) technology to meet various mission goals. Agencies rely on GIS for asset management, citizen engagement, public policy, planning and analysis, disaster response, and much more.

"GIS brings transparency and accountability to federal government by engaging citizens through dynamic, interactive maps," Christopher Thomas, director of federal government solutions for Esri, told InformationWeek Government. Esri offers GIS software and geodatabase management applications that address key federal initiatives and mandates.

Earlier this year, Esri launched an open data initiative centered on helping federal agencies create custom websites to easily share data. Esri made enhancements to ArcGIS Online, a geospatial platform that allows users to create interactive Web maps and apps. The new ArcGIS Online allows organizations -- in this case, government agencies -- to build custom, open data websites in minutes. The public can then search ArcGIS Online and download data by topic or location, filter the information, and see it on an interactive map. Continue>>>
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June 12, 2014 10:14 PM

Good government groups are lambasting current regulations that govern the Freedom of Information Act and want the Justice Department to consider major changes.

The groups say agencies lack penalties for withholding information, overuse exemptions provided within FOIA and deal inconsistently and unfairly toward requesters, said Ginger McCall, associate director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC). The 2013 National Action Plan tasked the Department of Justice's Office of Information Policy with creating updated FOIA regulations. OIP began this process in late May.

The good government groups offered their suggestions to DoJ as part of the government's effort to receive input from experts and other interested parties. "The most recent FOIA regulations that they have proposed were actually very, very bad," McCall said on the Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Emily Kopp. Continue>>>
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June 12, 2014 10:13 PM

A bill making the University of Delaware and Delaware State University subject to more public scrutiny has been released from a House committee, but with an amendment that guts the intent of the bill and may even weaken existing open-government provisions.

The bill discussed Thursday revises Delaware’s Freedom of Information Act to remove an exemption for the two schools, which receive millions of dollars in taxpayer money each year but are mostly exempt from open records and open meetings laws.

Previous efforts to end the FOIA exemption have failed. And an amendment to the current bill crafted by Democratic House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst adds new conditions to the current law that give the university more leeway in deciding whether to disclose information about spending state funds. Continue>>>
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June 12, 2014 10:12 PM

Congressman Ted Yoho (R-FL-03) offered an amendment to a bill that was accepted by voice, which would prohibit any money to be used to mandate any type of government GPS location device on personal vehicles.

The amendment was to H.R. 4745 - Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2015 (THUD), in which Yoho voted in favor of. 


“My amendment protects individuals privacy and avoids the slippery slope of government knowing where you are at all times,” said Yoho. “Government surveillance has run rampant and this is just another check against any infringement on your personal liberties.
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June 9, 2014 7:09 AM

Two years ago government watchdog Judicial Watch submitted a Freedom of Information Act request surrounding materials about Operation Fast and Furious to the Department of Justice. At the time, DOJ officials failed to respond, so Judicial Watch sued. Because of the ongoing conflict between the House Oversight Committee and the Department of Justice, a judge granted a brief stay preventing a FOIA lawsuit from moving forward. That stay was issued 18 months ago.

Now, after two years of that "brief" stay, stonewalling and non-response, Judicial Watch has asked for the stay to be lifted. Further, Judicial Watch is asking the Department of Justice to provide documentation and explanation about why they're refusing to turn over documents outlined in the original FOIA request.

"Although the Department and the Court may have anticipated that the stay of proceedings would be temporary and brief, it has become anything but that. In three weeks, it will have been two years since Judicial Watch sent its FOIA request, more than 21 months since Judicial Watch filed its lawsuit, and 16 months since the Court stayed the proceedings," a submitted request states. "There is no dispute that Judicial Watch has a statutory right to request and receive all non-exempt records responsive to its FOIA request." Continue>>>
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June 9, 2014 7:07 AM

Federal agencies should do more to cooperate with the government's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) ombudsman, according to recommendations approved June 5 by the Administrative Conference of the United States (ACUS). The recommendations also called for the ombudsman, the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS), to continue efforts to assist people who make FOIA requests. The recommendation is a positive step for helping people access public information under FOIA.

Created by the OPEN Government Act of 2007, OGIS serves two functions in the FOIA system. First, OGIS works to assist individuals with their FOIA requests, including offering non-binding mediation to resolve disputes about an agency's decision. In addition, OGIS reviews agencies' FOIA performance and compliance, a role that OGIS has so far only done in a limited fashion but is poised to expand.

In developing the recommendations, ACUS studied OGIS's dispute resolution and request facilitation work. ACUS generally backed the approach that OGIS has taken to date but also called for OGIS to consider issuing advisory opinions – a power granted to the office by the law, but which OGIS has yet to exercise. Such opinions could be a useful way to call attention to FOIA issues and steer agencies toward improved performance. Continue>>>
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June 9, 2014 7:05 AM

All over the world, groups and individuals are using technology in a variety of innovative ways to increase government transparency, fight corruption, open data, hack on civic problems, strengthen economic development, address environmental problems, improve public health and education, and advance the conditions of women and children.

Our name for this trend is "We-government" or "WeGov" for short. Unlike the older practice of e-government, where public agencies are in the driver's seat and use tech to tell citizens what officials want them to know, allow them to upload required information, and invite input but only on government's terms, WeGov is what happens when citizens and NGOs take fuller advantage of tech's affordances to create (and sometimes co-create, with government's involvement) new and better approaches to providing and using vital public information and services.

techPresident's WeGov vertical is where we cover the people, projects, trends and ideas that are shaping this emerging space with a mix of in-depth feature reporting, daily news digests, and the development of a growing archive of articles, modules and pointers to other valuable resources. Continue>>>
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