FOI Advocate Blog

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

January 5, 2015 6:57 AM

The Des Moines Register received a call last week from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Freedom of Information Act Office, which processes requests for public documents.

The call was a sobering reminder of the pace at which the federal government handles requests for information:

"This is Brandon Lancey from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in the FOIA Office. I am calling to see if you are still interested in — well, actually you made a request a while back about Lincare Holdings Inc., regarding their annual reports." Continue>>>

November 7, 2014 11:32 AM

Public pension funds have been a boon for private-equity firms, pouring billions into the industry in recent years. But some of the biggest p.e. firms are blanching at the transparency that such public investments can bring—and they are fighting back against it.

Public pensions have received public-records requests for documents covering their relationships with p.e. firms, notably about fees. But p.e. firms have been largely successful in avoiding such revelations, through lobbying and threats.

Just last month, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts warned the Iowa Public Employees’ Retirement System against complying with a request seeking information about the fees it paid. The firm said that the release of confidential information could “jeopardize access to attractive investment opportunities;” in effect, a threat to refuse IPERS’ business in the future. Continue>>>


October 13, 2014 1:43 PM

Gov. Terry Branstad on Thursday proposed creating a Government Accountability Portal to make state government more open, transparent and accountable to Iowa citizens. Branstad said the new entity would be a 'one-stop shop' housed within the Iowa Public Information Board for Iowans to register comments, concerns, questions or suggestions regarding state government and its operations.

The new approach would require a response to an 'input' from Iowa citizens within 24 hours and would require acknowledgment from the appropriate state agency within 48 hours, so that the citizen knows with whom the discussion will continue, according to a news release from the Branstad-Reynolds campaign.

Branstad said he and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds have made transparency a hallmark of their administration, beginning with the resumption of weekly news conference to directly respond to questions from the media and naming former Iowa Newspaper Association executive Bill Monroe as the state's first transparency adviser to the governor. Continue>>>

October 8, 2014 12:57 PM

Sitting in a modestly furnished conference room in the Wallace Building, with a bay window view of the State Capitol behind him, Bill Monroe reflects on the workload he expected in the first year with the state's Public Information Board.

The board was created by the state to handle complaints and violations related to open meetings and open records laws, and Monroe has served as its chairman from its inception in 2012, including the first year when it had no funding.

Monroe, a former newspaper publisher and state newspaper association director who fought for the board's creation, assured legislators the board would handle roughly 350 cases per year. Continue>>>

October 7, 2014 2:05 PM

Sitting in a modestly furnished conference room in the Wallace Building, with a bay window view of the State Capitol behind him, Bill Monroe reflects on the workload he expected in the first year with the state's Public Information Board.

The board was created by the state to handle complaints and violations related to open meetings and open records laws, and Monroe served as its chairman from its inception in 2012, including the first year when it had no funding.

Monroe, a former publisher of the Spencer Daily News who fought for the board's creation, assured legislators the board would handle roughly 350 cases per year. Monroe based that figure on information he gathered from other state entities that previously handled open meetings and open records issues, but it was merely an educated guess. He remembers hoping that first year would not break his promise. Continue>>>

October 6, 2014 10:51 AM

Whether Iowa's public records law should be amended to make public the reasons that government employees are fired sparked debate in a roundtable discussion Thursday at The Des Moines Register.

Advocates like Gov. Terry Branstad say citizens have a right to learn of a government worker's wrongdoing as a matter of public safety. Opponents like Sen. Matt McCoy worry changing the law would violate a person's privacy, unfairly jeopardize a fired worker's chances of future employment and potentially open the state to ongoing rounds of litigation.

Those two divergent views were on display at Thursday's roundtable, "Opening Doors, Opening Minds," an event sponsored by The Register and the Iowa Newspaper Association in light of recent public record and meeting controversies in which Iowans were denied access to government information. Continue>>>

September 23, 2014 8:53 AM

During the legislative session and when lawmakers are not in session, the Legislatureís website at provides a wealth of information about proposed laws, committee hearings and votes. But the website is only valuable if information that the public has a right to know is made available.

Despite claims by lawmakers and state government officials that South Dakota is taking great strides toward transparency, much of what public officials and elected representatives are up to remains hidden.

While Gov. Dennis Daugaard has taken the initiative to make state government more open and created a website ( where the public can go to get information about local and state governments, his Open Government Task Force failed miserably, in our view, when only three of its recommended bills ñ minor ones at that ñ were passed by the 2013 Legislature. Lawmakers, apparently, don't share the governor's view on transparency in government. Continue>>>

June 5, 2014 12:32 PM

In its own polite, Midwestern fashion, The Des Moines Register is mad as heck and is not going to take it anymore. After Iowa officials refused to release records showing alleged abuses by state employees, the paper is pursuing dual lawsuits to force the records into public view. In one case, the Register is even suing the state’s new public information board, formed expressly to address years of complaints about records transparency.

The legal moves, coupled with related efforts at coalition-building, are part of an avowedly more assertive posture by the paper to shift the state’s political culture toward openness—a stance that is welcomed by open-government advocates in Iowa, even if its prospects for success are uncertain.

One of the suits, filed against the Iowa Department of Public Safety, seeks police records of an incident last fall in Worth County in which an inmate was Tasered multiple times and died while in custody—a death that the state medical examiner ruled a homicide. The other suit involves a 2012 video that shows an employee at the Iowa Juvenile Home in Toledo slamming a female inmate’s head against a wall; the employee has been fired and the home has been closed, but the state has refused the Register’s requests to release the video on the grounds of protecting the alleged victim’s confidentiality, and the Iowa Public Information Board ruled in the state’s favor by a vote of 6-3 in February. Continue>>>

March 21, 2014 10:06 AM

Gov. Terry Branstad’s work group in charge of investigating secret settlements to former state employees has already formed — and plans to meet behind closed doors, the governor’s spokesman said Tuesday.

Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds announced the formation of the work group Monday in response to a Des Moines Register investigation that found the Republican Branstad administration had paid more than $280,000 to six former employees, most who allege they were fired for their ties to Democrats.

The settlements were shuffled through state agencies, avoiding the typical process of being approved by and made public through the Iowa Appeal Board. Continue>>>

March 21, 2014 9:57 AM

If you’ve been watching what goes on in Washington and some statehouses across the country, you might wonder if there’s any issue that everyone should be able to agree on whether they are conservative or liberal or libertarian, Democrat or Republican, pro-this or anti-that.

There is: It’s the need for transparency in all levels of government.

As we observe Sunshine Week in Michigan and around the country to encourage openness in government, the Michigan Coalition for Open Government (MiCOG) is urging citizens and public officials to seek transparency in the operations of their local and state governments, their schools and universities, their federal government and their courts. Continue>>>

Iowa, sunshine week
March 23, 2012 3:09 PM

A few open government and FOIA news items selected from many of interest that we might or might not have drawn attention to earlier. Be sure to check out Sunshine Week 2012 News while you're at it.

Hacking as a Civic Duty

With cities still weathering the effects of the recession, making the pitch for innovation and transparency to budget-conscious city officials can be difficult. Compounding the issue is that citizens embittered toward civic institutions may not see or understand the benefit of such initiatives.

Visit Shareable:Cities for the rest.

Utah Joins Iowa in Protecting Factory Farms From Cameras

Utah this week became the second state to impose criminal sanctions against anyone taking photos or making videos inside factory farms without permission. Coming less than a month after Iowa became the first state to adopt a so-called "ag-gag" law, the Utah bill signed into law by Gov. Gary Herbert is designed to thwart animal welfare groups that have planted employees inside big farms to document incidents of animal abuse.

Visit Food Safety News for the rest.

Operation Midnight Climax: How the CIA Dosed S.F. Citizens with LSD

SAN FRANCISCO—It's been over 50 years, but Wayne Ritchie says he can still remember how it felt to be dosed with acid.

Now in his mid-eighties and living in San Jose, Ritchie may be among the last of the living victims of MK-ULTRA, a Central Intelligence Agency operation that covertly tested lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) on unwitting Americans in San Francisco and New York City from 1953 to 1964.

Visit SF Weekly for the rest.

U.S. Documents Describe Monitoring Effort Going Back to Early Cold War Years

Washington, D.C.—A central element of the current debate over how to deal with Iran's nuclear program has focused on the possible difficulty of destroying the Qom underground uranium enrichment facility via air strikes. However, documents posted today by the National Security Archive show that Qom is only the latest in a long series of alleged and real underground facilities that for decades have been a high priority challenge for U.S. and allied intelligence collection and analysis efforts, as well as for military planners.

Visit The National Security Archive for the rest.

Review of 738 county election websites shows need for improvement

In an average year, there are over 5,000 local ballot measures on ballots across the country. These include school district bond and tax votes, local LGBT issues, red light cameras, smoking bans, zoning, pensions,, marijuana taxes, to whether it is okay to raise backyard chickens. To make informed choices, voters need to know what’s going to be on their ballot.

However, our review of 738 county election websites between January-March 2012 shows that as many as 32% of county websites do not display any local ballot measure election information. Typically, it is the county election office that administers elections for the political jurisdictions within the county.  This includes school districts, cities, towns, villages, park and recreation districts, and other special districts, as well as the county itself.

Visit Sunlight Foundation for the rest.

Grassley: Wall Street insiders profit from secrecy

More than 12,600 lobbyists are registered with the federal government. You can track who they represent, what they lobby on, and how much they are paid. Registration has been the law since 1946. No one seems to argue its benefits. That’s why it’s puzzling that my effort to apply the same disclosure to a shadowy industry working for Wall Street is being treated as if the sky is falling.

Visit Des Moines Register for the rest.

Hillary Clinton's Remarks at the Transparency International-USA's Annual Integrity Award Dinner

"First, we’re expanding and mobilizing a global consensus in support of greater transparency – a global architecture, if you will, of anticorruption institutions and practices. Along with Brazil, we launched the Open Government Partnership. It is a network of support for government leaders and citizens working to bring more transparency and accountability to governments."

Visit U.S. Department of State for the rest.

After Massacre, Army Tried to Delete Accused Shooter From the Internet

The military waited six days before releasing the name of U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians earlier this month. One of the reasons for the somewhat unusual delay: to give the military enough time to erase the sergeant from the internet — or at least try to. That’s according to several Pentagon officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to McClatchy newspapers about the subject. The scrubbed material included photographs of Bales from the military’s official photo and video distribution website, along with quotes by the 38-year-old sergeant in the Joint Base Lewis-McChord newspaper regarding a 2007 battle in Iraq “which depicts Bales and other soldiers in a glowing light.”

Visit Wired for the rest.

February 24, 2012 5:17 PM

A few open government and FOIA news items selected from many of interest that we might or might not have drawn attention to earlier:

Open Data Handbook 1.0 introduces open data

To help guide organisations that wish to open their data, the Open Knowledge Foundation has released version 1.0 of the "Open Data Handbook" which "discusses the legal, social and technical aspects of open data". The handbook is targeted at a broad audience, according to the announcement, but has a particular focus on open government data. It began development in October 2010 as the "Open Data Manual" at a book sprint in Berlin, organised by members of the Open Government Data and Open Data in the EU working groups at the Open Knowledge Foundation. It was then added to and refined by a wider group of editors to produce the current handbook.

Visit The H Open Source for the rest.

NASA to open source web operations

NASA, like any other major enterprise, is a heavy user of open source and Linux. Now the agency is planning to open source its main portal and internal Intranet The space agency recently (Feb 6) posted a draft Statement of Work (SOW) seeking vendors to submit their response to the request for information.

Visit for the rest.

Homeland analysts told to monitor policy debates in social media

WASHINGTON — Analysts for a Department of Homeland Security program that monitors social networks like Twitter and Facebook have been instructed to produce reports on policy debates related to the department, a newly disclosed manual shows.

Visit New York Times for the rest.

NYC makes internal ratings of 18,000 public school teachers available

For the first time ever, New York City has made public its internal ratings of how effective teachers are at boosting their students’ performance on reading and math exams. The release of the data on roughly 18,000 teachers — who are identified by name — came in response to a Freedom of Information Act request submitted by The Post and other media outlets in August 2010.

Visit New York Post for the rest.

Official accused of using work email for fantasy football

MANCHESTER, N.H. -- A former Hillsborough deputy county attorney has decided to fight allegations that he was using his work email inappropriately to talk about fantasy football. After a conservative activist filed for the emails under the Freedom of Information Act, the question of gambling arose, and now, the attorney general's office is involved.

Visit WMUR 9 for the rest.

Open-government champion retiring from New Mexico Senate

State Sen. Dede Feldman, a longtime champion of government transparency, announced today that she won’t seek a fifth term this year.

Visit for the rest.

Bill adding teeth to Iowa’s open-records law has new life

DES MOINES – A six-year battle in the Legislature to create an Iowa Public Information Board has renewed life, thanks to a new floor manager for the bill with a “strong desire” to move it forward. “I think the time’s come for this bill to move forward. Six years is long enough,” state Rep. Walt Rogers, R-Cedar Falls, said Wednesday. “Iowans that I’ve talked to, talk about transparency in their government; I think the common, everyday Iowan needs one place to go to find out some of their answers.”

Visit for the rest.

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