FOIA: The Ombudsman Needs to Grow

When Congress improved FOIA last year, it built in some growing pains for the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS). Today, we’re seeing those pains in longer than usual waits for replies from OGIS. The office has reportedly been inundated with requests for assistance as FOIA requesters navigate FOIA. In response, they’ve had to triage the Office’s response to help requests. OGIS was never intended to add another level of waiting to the FOIA process, but FOIA reformers in Congress knew growing pains were inevitable. To fulfill its mission, OGIS will have to become bigger than its current size to [More]

Pentagon (again) seeks help from Congress to keep tactics secret

Pentagon hopes Congress will protect tactics, techniques and procedures from disclosure. Military also seeks to protect rules of engagement. Public interest in disclosure could outweigh confidentality, but military gets to decide in Pentagon’s proposal. Defense Department is hoping the third time’s the charm as it once again asks for the authority to withhold from the public certain military tactics, techniques and procedures , the disclosure of which would give an adversary an advantage. The proposal (Sec. 1003 of DoD’s draft legislation), which the Defense Department would like included in the defense authorization bill for fiscal year 2018, is narrower than [More]

Daily Press Briefings are an important exercise in self-governance

Diminishing or eliminating the daily White House Press Briefing is a big mistake. In my childhood hometown, the longtime daily newspaper sits along one side of a wide open space that has been the home to civic protest, celebrations, food festivals and relaxed family picnics. Along another side of the town square sits another building of equal architectural and community significance, City Hall. The physical proximity of the newspaper and the seat of local government makes the greenspace a gathering point, a place where people from around the community exercise their First Amendment rights. The resulting civic-mindedness helps define the [More]

FIRST Principles for March 3, 2017

Welcome to the News Media for Open Government FIRST Principles Updates Name Change: Why we became News Media for Open Government. Working for over a decade as the Sunshine in Government Initiative, we adopted a new name, a new, broadened mission to protect newsgathering, and a new look. And in 2017, we’ll be doing more to help our member groups keep track of trends and fight to protect newsgathering and open government. Comments, concerns, tips or suggestions? Send them to Rick Blum, director, News Media for Open Government at rblum@foropengov.org. Appreciation to our members. If you support these groups through [More]

Accuracy in journalism

Journalism at its best is guided by the search for truth and holding the powerful to account. This is not some academic exercise or noble goal. Resources abound for learning about how the news media takes seriously its commitment to accuracy. An important starting point is the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, which lays out four commitments for journalists: seek the truth and report it, minimize harm, act independently, and be accountable and transparent. The SPJ website provides detailed guidance on work by the Code, and it gives good grounding for any person with questions about how journalists do their work.

Threat of leaks investigation

President-elect Trump used Twitter to announce he asked the House and Senate intelligence committees to identify who provided to NBC News a memorandum outlining the intelligence community’s assessment of efforts by the Russian government to influence the presidential election. A threat of an investigation by Congress into unauthorized disclosures to the news media should be taken seriously. As has been widely reported, the report obtained by NBC the version for public release, not the classified version with sensitive details describing how the information was compiled. Reporting based in part on unauthorized disclosures is at times a useful way to put together an accurate picture of key events [More]

Implementing FOIA a test of new administration, 2016 FOIA Amendments

The incoming Trump administration has a narrower window for affecting how agencies implement their obligations under the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) than previous presidents, however each administration sets the tone for disclosure decisions in cases where agencies have discretion. With the enactment of the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016, Congress wrote into law an explicit requirement that agencies disclose information requested under FOIA unless they foresee a harm to a protected interest, such as national security or personal privacy. While the new administration cannot change the presumption of openness by executive action alone, it can influence what agencies do (or don’t do) when [More]