A coalition of media groups today urged every U.S. Senator to support legislation that establishes a presumption of openness in law, encourages agencies to use public-friendly technology, and makes other changes to the way agencies respond to requests for information from the public. The Sunshine in Government Initiative (SGI) sent a letter to every senator encouraging support for legislation that would improve the way federal agencies respond to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. “These changes would help ensure the government discloses information the way Congress intended a half century ago when Congress enacted the original Freedom of Information Act,” [More]
After FOIA reformers earned unanimous support in both the House and the Senate last winter, this year transparency groups want to do even better, and see the next round of improvements to the Freedom of Information Act become law. Congress has been attentive, with numerous, vigorous, comprehensive hearings. Journalists and watchdogs are using FOIA – and talking about what could make it even more helpful. Transparency groups are trading notes on proposals to make FOIA more efficient. The Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) is reviewing agencies’ FOIA operations for compliance and improvements. The Obama Administration has published its third [More]
PRESS RELEASE & TESTIMONY Agency delays hamper FOIA, media coalition witness tells Senate AP general counsel tells Senate panel agencies are nonresponsive and withhold rather than disclose, while requesters have little effective recourse. Note: The written testimony will be available through the Senate Judiciary Committee. Federal agencies avoid disclosing information in a timely manner under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) most often by simply not responding and by leaning toward withholding over disclosing information, giving requesters little effective recourse other than going to court, the general counsel for The Associated Press (AP) told the Senate Judiciary Committee on [More]
Washington is getting serious about FOIA reform. The House primed the pump before Sunshine Week by passing The FOIA Oversight and Implementation Act of 2014 (H.R. 1211), on a recorded vote of 410-0, building on FOIA’s non-partisan history and burgeoning bipartisan momentum. The Senate has kept it going with a Judiciary Committee hearing.
For Ernest Withers, taking pictures while marching in the Civil Rights Movement helped him document his experience, but a FOIA request from a Memphis Commercial Appeal reporter, inspired by an anonymous tip, revealed that Withers had another role during that turbulent time: federal informant. The reporter and assembled panelists will discuss Withers and FOIA’s role uncovering this hidden history at an event at the National Press Club next Thursday, October 10. Withers, who had been a WWII veteran and one of Memphis’s first black police recruits before opening his own photography studio, used his access as a freelance photographer to [More]
In a renewed and welcome spirit of bipartisanship, the Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee earlier this week sent a letter to the Justice Department’s Office of Information Policy (OIP) asking pointed questions about OIP’s actions to encourage agencies to comply with FOIA by reducing backlogs, reigning in the use of statutory exemptions and updating FOIA regulations. We’re especially appreciative that Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Ca.) and Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) mentioned a database of the statutory exemptions to FOIA that we compiled and ProPublica published a while ago. This is a great time [More]
Think tanks could have a hard time finding experts able to contribute to policy debates if anti-leaks proposals now before the Senate are enacted into law. These proposals are ill-considered, relatively unvetted, vague, overreaching (and under-reaching at the same time) and require significant further consideration by Congress before moving forward, much less passage. We hope that think tanks will join those already seeking the removal of Title V from the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 (S. 3454).
Spring is a time of growth, change, and ritual; for the openness community, that means Sunshine Week, the release of agency annual FOIA reports, and fresh hope that this year will bring more transparency from the federal government. Specifically, this year’s FOIA reports detail the use of several new b(3) provisions:
The reaction was swift when the Justice Department confirmed in a letter to Senators Charles Grassley and Patrick Leahy that they would not move forward with their plan to say documents don’t exist when, in fact, they do. You can read the reaction through a simple Google search.
Imagine you’re in a bar and the guy next to you starts impressing a crowd with stories of battlefield bravery and military decorations. Only you know he’s faking. How could you prove it? It’s not far-fetched: California water official Xavier Alvarez claimed to be a Marine who retired with twenty-five years of service and a Congressional Medal of Honor for getting “wounded many times by the same guy” – but listeners had no way to know whether he was being honest.