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

July 3, 2014 9:43 PM

Tomorrow, many of us will gather to celebrate Independence Day, the first step our nation took to becoming a democracy. In signing the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) on July 4, 1966, President Lyndon Johnson said, “This legislation springs from one of our most essential principles: a democracy works best when the people have all the information that the security of the nation will permit.”

FOIA gives everyone rights to a federal agency’s records upon request. It is a law that keeps citizens in the know about their government. Under FOIA, agencies must disclose any information that is requested unless the information is protected from public disclosure. As part of the Executive Branch, the National Transportation Safety Board is mandated by Congress to make those records available to the public as appropriate. The fact is that our compliance with FOIA is an important component of our mission, Independently Advancing Transportation Safety, and our core values of transparency, accountability, integrity, diversity, and inclusion.

I started at the NTSB in 1993 working in the Office of Research and Engineering. As I reflect on my tenure here at the NTSB and the moment I began to understand the accident investigation process, I remember the first accident in which I had an opportunity to provide assistance—the crash of US Flight 427 in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania on September 8, 1994, where the entire aircraft was destroyed and no one survived. I was part of a group that had the daunting task of sorting through wreckage, personal affects, and meeting with families of the victims and other parties involved in the investigation. Little did I know that a few years later, I would move to an office to process and train other personnel to process FOIA requests. It is because of my experience working this and other accident investigations that I have an understanding for why investigators collect so much information. Continue>>>

July 3, 2014 9:42 PM

The web page set up by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office to track freedom of information document requests pales in comparison to the government transparency standards currently in place at the federal level.

The mayor’s office introduced its Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request tracker website on June 9. That website merely displays the dates on which requests were received and decided upon and the status for each request.

The lack of transparency on the mayor’s FOIL website is quickly apparent in comparison to the freedom of information website used by the federal government. The federal website displays the name of each requester and the full description of each request. In addition, the documents sent in response to each request are available for the public to download. Continue>>>

July 1, 2014 1:06 PM

The Colorado Supreme Court has sided with open-government advocates in a case over records and court costs. The court ruled 5-2 Monday that people who win open-records lawsuits can be reimbursed for legal fees — even if they win access to only some of the records.

The case stemmed from a 2006 open-records request from the Colorado Republican Party to some Democratic state lawmakers. The GOP wanted to see results from a public survey, and a court later ruled that some but not all of the surveys were subject to the Colorado Open Records Act.

A lower court ruled that because the GOP did not prevail getting all the records, it could not be reimbursed for legal fees. An appeals court reversed that decision, a reversal the Supreme Court upheld. Continue>>>

July 1, 2014 1:05 PM

In an effort to be more transparent and participatory, governments are making more data publicly available in machine-readable formats and under open licenses, but such noble aims are not immune to privacy issues, says a paper published June 18 in Future Internet, a Switzerland-based scholarly journal.

The open government movement faces several privacy challenges, including responsibly handling "public" personal information, distinguishing between public and private-sector actors, and the potential for monitoring and profiling of citizens through big data, writes Teresa Scassa, the report's author and a law professor at the University of Ottawa.

Governments handle large volumes of personal information and in some cases the principles of open government have required its disclosure, creating so-called public personal information, says Scassa. Continue>>>

July 1, 2014 1:04 PM

Ever since the National Archives and Record Administration launched the Open Government Plan in 2010, it has increasingly been uploading content to Wikipedia to digitize and gain a wider reach for its holdings. But all this time, uploading its digitized holdings to the Wikimedia Commons was a side project. Now, as mentioned in the 2014 Open Government Plan published earlier this month, the project is a core part of the NARA, according to The Signpost.

Dominic McDevitt-Parks, digital content specialist at the NARA who was also the Wikipedian-in-residence, said the purpose of uploading files from the “record-keeper” of the federal government to Wikimedia is to provide a broader reach to the public. In 2012, the NARA experimented and uploaded 100,000 digital images to Wikimedia Commons. This then allowed Wikipedia editors to use these files to be incorporated into projects and articles.

“The 4,000 Wikipedia articles featuring our records received more than one billion page views in Fiscal Year 2013. Over the next two years we will work to increase the number of National Archives records available on Wikimedia Commons, which furthers our strategic goal to ‘Make Access Happen’ and expands re-use of our records by the public,” according to the Open Government Plan 2014. Continue>>>

July 1, 2014 1:03 PM

State Sen. Lloyd Smucker is making headway in his efforts toward a more transparent and accountable state government.
Smucker, a West Lampeter Township Republican, is chairman of the Senate State Government Committee.

His committee recently approved legislation that would strengthen the state’s Right to Know Law as it pertains to Penn State and the three other “state-related” universities in Pennsylvania. Existing law requires little of Penn State and the other three, beyond their federal 990 form and an annual list of the 25 highest-paid employees.

This is so, despite the fact that these universities receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer money each year. Meanwhile, the 14 universities that fall under the umbrella of the State System of Higher Education, including Millersville, are entirely subject to the state’s Right to Know Law. Continue>>>

July 1, 2014 1:01 PM

A fascinating little open-government bill called Proposition 42 passed easily in California on Tuesday. The bill does, in the main, two things. It adds a requirement to the California constitution that city governments comply with two state transparency laws, the California Public Records Act and the Ralph M. Brown Open Meetings Act. And it requires those local governments, and not the state, to pick up the tab for whatever it costs to abide by those rules — a financial burden that the Legislative Analysts’ Office (LAO), the California legislature’s in-house policy advisors, has saidcould amount to tens of millions of dollars a year.

It might not be immediately clear why sticking oft-cash-strapped cities with a tab for transparency is being heralded as a major open-government win, so let’s dive in, starting with a brief bit of California legislative history. In 2013, California approved letting the state off the hook for reimbursing local governments for the work undertaken to comply with parts of transparency laws, but this created something of a loophole that allowed cities to avoid opening their records on the grounds that they couldn’t afford it. Then talk turned to the idea that if the law had been in place in 2010, reporters might not have gotten the records to expose a cover-up in the scandal-soaked southern California city of Bell, where open-records requests led by the Los Angeles Timesrevealed that astronomical salaries were being awarded to scores of city officials, including city manager Robert Rizzo. Enter Prop 42, which eliminates the ability of cities and towns to skirt those transparency laws on financial grounds.

Prop 42 had passed both houses of the California legislature with no opposition. And while the state Green Party had urged a “no” vote — “Transparency in government,” it said, “should not be dependent upon the finances or practices of any particular local government agency” — the act otherwise had broad support, including that of the state Republican and Democratic parties, the League of Women Voters of California, and the California Newspaper Publishers Association. Continue>>>

July 1, 2014 1:00 PM

Eric Gillespie, Founder and CEO of Govini and an expert in transparency in government, has been appointed to the newly formed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Advisory Committee.

The federal government has worked to ensure global support for Open Government principles to promote transparency, fight corruption, energize civic engagement and leverage new technologies in order to strengthen the foundations of freedom in our own nation and abroad. In support of these principles, it launched the U.S. Open Government National Action Plan (NAP) -- a set of 26 commitments that have increased public integrity, enhanced public access to information, improved management of public resources, and given the public a more active voice in the policy making process. As defined by NAP, the FOIA Advisory Committee fulfills part of the Administration's objective to foster dialogue between the Administration and the requester community, solicit public comments, and develop consensus recommendations for redefining FOIA administration and proactive disclosures.

"Using technology to make government information and processes more open and transparent has been a driving force in my career," Gillespie said. "It is a great honor to participate on the FOIA Advisory Committee with such an esteemed group. I look forward to contributing a technology entrepreneur's perspective to modernizing FOIA, and to furthering civic discourse." Continue>>>

July 1, 2014 12:55 PM
Government transparency advocates are urging the Illinois General Assembly to opt against overriding Gov. Pat Quinn's recent veto of a bill that would "damage" the state's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
The FOIA legislation, HB 3796, is a "step in the wrong direction" that would hurt the public's right to access important government data and information, said Alden Loury, senior policy analyst at the Chicago-based Better Government Association, an independent, non-partisan government watchdog group.
"We applaud Governor Quinn for taking this [veto] action and we implore the General Assembly to follow his lead and not override this bill," Loury said at a Monday morning press conference at the James R. Thompson Center. Continue>>>
June 27, 2014 7:10 AM

Gov. Jack Markell today signed into law a package of House bills sponsored by that expand and strengthen Delaware’s Freedom of Information Act. The bills were introduced in early May and passed both chambers of the General Assembly with unanimous votes.

The new laws cover posting of meeting minutes, mailed FOIA requests, publishing of annual reports and education of FOIA coordinators. The package represents a continuing effort to broaden government transparency and allow citizens to stay up-to-date with their state and local public agencies and more easily access public records and documents.

“In 2009, we brought the General Assembly under the FOIA umbrella, and since then we’ve routinely drafted and passed bills that expand FOIA in various ways,” said Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst, D-Bear. “This effort is ongoing and there’s always more we can do to promote the public’s right to know.” Continue>>>

June 27, 2014 7:09 AM

The ongoing feud over the transparency of state pension fund investments between state Treasurer Janet Cowell and the State Employees Association of North Carolina has spawned dueling bills in the state legislature.

A bill backed by SEANC would make a wealth of investment information available as public records --- including all fees related to investments made by the $87 billion pension fund. The Cowell-supported bill would keep confidential and "trade secret" information about investments made by money managers under wraps until five years after an investment contract has concluded.

So far, the bill backed by Cowell, a Democrat, has gained more traction in the Republican-led legislature. The House State Personnel Committee endorsed it by a voice vote on June 18; it's now in the Appropriations Committee. Three of the four primary sponsors of the bill are Republican. Continue>>>

June 27, 2014 7:08 AM

Vermont’s senior U.S. senator wants more transparency in government. Unfortunately, Vermont’s governor insists on less.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., introduced legislation Tuesday that would make it harder for government officials to conceal information from the public. Leahy’s bill, the FOIA Improvement Act of 2014, helps citizens peer inside government by closing a loophole in one of nine exemptions commonly used to reject freedom of information requests. The legislation also requires agencies to adopt a “presumption of openness” when responding to FOIA requests.

“The Freedom of Information Act is one of our nation’s most important laws, established to give Americans greater access to their government and to hold government accountable,” Leahy said in a statement. Continue>>>

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