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2012 Secrecy Report: Sunlight Overshadowed

September 14, 2012 Comments off

2012 Secrecy Report: Sunlight Overshadowed

Source: OpenTheGovernment.org

The 2012 Secrecy Report released today by OpenTheGovernment.org — a coalition of more than 80 groups advocating for open and accountable government— reveals that positive changes from the Obama administration’s open government policies nevertheless appear diminished in the shadow of the President’s bold promise of unprecedented transparency. Ultimately, though, the public needs more information to judge the size, shape, and legitimacy of the government’s secrecy.

Efforts to open the government continue to be frustrated by a governmental predisposition towards secrecy, especially in the national security bureaucracy. Among the troubling trends: the National Declassification Center will not meet its goal for declassifying old records on time; the government continues to use the state secrets privilege in the same way it did prior to release of a new procedural policy; and the volume of documents marked “Classified” continues to grow, with little assurance or reason offered for the decision that the information properly needs such protection.

The report also indicates some of the Administration’s openness policies are having a positive effect. The federal government received and processed significantly more public requests for information than in previous years. The Office of Special Counsel is also on track to deliver an all-time high number of favorable actions for federal employees who have been victims of reprisal, or other prohibited personnel practices, for blowing the whistle on waste, fraud, abuse, or illegality. Even in the national security field, there is some progress: most notably, the total amount of money requested for intelligence for the coming year was formally disclosed. This is a tremendous success because such disclosure was resisted by government officials for so long. Additionally, the number of people with the authority to create new secrets continued to drop.

The 2012 Secrecy Report includes a look at the limitations of the data the government currently makes available. Missing and misleading data have a very real effect on the public’s ability to trust that the government is using taxpayer monies wisely, and that it is following its own policies.

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FOIA — OGIS Policy Recommendations for Improving Freedom of Information Act procedures and the Administration of the Office of Government Information Services

May 2, 2012 Comments off

OGIS Policy Recommendations for Improving Freedom of Information Act procedures and the Administration of the Office of Government Information Services (PDF)

Source: National Archives and Records Administration, Office of Government Information Services
The National Archives and Records Administration’s (NARA) Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) has identified a number of areas where the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) process could be improved, as well as areas where OGIS’s role can be made more effective. The policy recommendations, prepared in accordance with Title 5 of United States Code, Section 552 (h)(2)(C), have benefitted from ongoing consultation with agencies as well as feedback from the public.1 OGIS is currently working to implement these recommendations, and looks forward to engaging with Congress in these areas.

CRS — Freedom of Information Act (FOIA): Background and Policy Options for the 112th Congress

September 27, 2011 Comments off

Freedom of Information Act (FOIA): Background and Policy Options for the 112th Congress (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Pierce Law IP Mall)

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA; 5 U.S.C. §552) enables any person to access—without explanation or justification—certain existing, identifiable, unpublished, executive branch agency records. Pursuant to FOIA, the public has presumptive access to requested agency records unless the material falls within any of FOIA’s nine categories of exemption from disclosure. Disputes over the accessibility of requested records can be appealed administratively or ultimately settled in court.

FOIA is a widely used tool of inquiry and information gathering for various sectors of American society—including the press, businesses, scholars, attorneys, consumers, and activists. Agency responses to FOIA requests may involve a few sheets of paper, several linear feet of records, or information in an electronic format. Assembling responses requires staff time, search time, and duplication efforts, among other resource commitments. Agency information management professionals are responsible for efficiently and economically responding to, or denying, FOIA requests.

FOIA was enacted in 1966, after 11 years of investigation and legislative development in the House, and nearly six years of consideration in the Senate. The perception that FOIA implementation at agencies was not being implemented properly has resulted in amendments in 1974, 1976, 1986, 1996, 2007, and 2010. Among the requirements in the OPEN Government Act of 2007 (P.L. 110-175), was the creation of an Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) within the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). The office was established to review FOIA design and implementation and recommend ways to improve the statute and offer mediation services between requesters and agencies as an alternative to litigation.

The Obama Administration issued a memorandum that requires agencies to reduce their backlog of FOIA requests by 10% per year. Additionally, the Department of Justice launched FOIA.gov, an online database that gives users access to interactive tools to examine agencies’ annual reports on FOIA implementation.

The 112th Congress has examined FOIA implementation at three hearings—two in the House and one in the Senate. Among the issues discussed at the hearings were concerns about a growing number of statutory exemptions to FOIA, the value of President Barack Obama’s decision to make public White House visitor logs, and concerns over whether political appointees were improperly vetting FOIA responses at a federal agency.

Companion bills, known as the Faster FOIA of 2011, have been introduced in the 112th Congress. The bills (H.R. 1564 and S. 627) seek to create a 12-member commission that would examine the implementation of FOIA and recommend ways to reduce processing delays and improve FOIA administration. The 112th Congress may choose to clarify whether photographs taken of Osama Bin Laden’s death should be exempted from public release or whether White House visitor logs should be released to the public. Moreover, the 112th Congress may decide to continue its oversight of agency implementation of FOIA, including whether each executive branch agency is responding properly to requests within appropriate amounts of time.

This report discusses FOIA’s history, examines its implementation, and provides potential policy approaches for Congress. It will be updated as events warrant.

Glass Half Full: 2011 Knight Open Government Survey Finds Freedom of Information Change, But Many Federal Agencies Lag in Fulfilling President Obama’s Day One Openness Pledge

March 14, 2011 Comments off

Glass Half Full: 2011 Knight Open Government Survey Finds Freedom of Information Change, But Many Federal Agencies Lag in Fulfilling President Obama’s Day One Openness Pledge
Source: National Security Archive

The Obama administration is only about halfway toward its promise of improving Freedom of Information responsiveness among federal agencies, according to the new Knight Open Government Survey by the National Security Archive, released today for Sunshine Week at www.nsarchive.org.

On his first day in office, January 21, 2009, President Obama issued a presidential memorandum instructing federal agencies to “usher in a new era of open government.” In March 2010, however, the 2010 Knight Open Government Survey found that only 13 out of 90 agencies had actually made concrete changes in their FOIA procedures.  The resulting national headlines sparked a new White House call to all agencies to show concrete change.

This year, the 2011 Knight Open Government Survey found that a few more than half of the federal agencies have complied–up from 13 to 49.  (A chart of the agencies’ responses is below.)

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