Our mission

Free Government Information (FGI) is a place for initiating dialogue and building consensus among the various players (libraries, government agencies, non-profit organizations, researchers, journalists, etc.) who have a stake in the preservation of and perpetual free access to government information. FGI promotes free government information through collaboration, education, advocacy and research.

A War on Data

Engadget makes the case that the Trump administration is waging a "war on data." It says that, although removal and manipulation of existing data are a concern, the biggest threat to data is budgetary.

The administration seems focused on two avenues of attack: One, make data harder to find, and two, slash funding until collecting data becomes difficult for government agencies.

Defunding agencies and programs that collect data doesn’t just mask potential problems within the government and harm our ability to make informed decisions — it provides useful political cover for even deeper budget cuts down the road.

The article gives several examples of how the administration is damaging access to the accurate information that citizens require to evaluate government programs and that elected officials require to govern wisely.

  • In mid-February the Trump administration scrubbed open.whitehouse.gov of datasets created under the Obama administration. Although a NARA-created archive of the data exists, there is no clear link to it on whitehouse.gov, there are discrepancies between the file sizes and metadata hosted by the NARA and those pulled by third parties before the data was archived, and developer tools and APIs are broken.

  • Some of the parts of whitehouse.gov that disappeared on inauguration day still contain nothing more than a promise that they’ll be updated. The White House failed to respond to repeated requests for a timeline on those updates.

  • Important staff positions, such as the CIO and chief digital officer remain unfilled and the White House has given no indication it plans to fill them any time soon (if at all). This means that "an entire data infrastructure system" is atrophying.
  • To the alarm of many career staff in the US Trade Representative’s office, the administration is considering changing how it calculates the trade deficit in a way that would make the deficit appear larger.

  • The Budget Blueprint proposes slashing funding for agencies that collect data including those that study climate change.

  • The administration has not answered questions about its commitment (or lack of commitment) to open data initiatives.

Workplace Injury Reporting Under Two-Pronged Attack

National Public Radio reports that Congress is moving to nullify a Labor Department rule that requires employers to keep careful records of worker injuries and illnesses for five years. If the new legislation goes into effect, the Department will have only six months to check companies’ logs and issue a fine if they are inaccurate or incomplete.

The NPR story quotes David Michaels, the former head of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), saying that there are currently not enough safety inspectors to catch problems that fast and that “some worry that accurate record keeping on injuries will effectively become voluntary.”

In addition to the reported legislation, OSHA rule-enforcement could become even harder if its budget is reduced. The "Budget Blueprint" released last week by the Trump Administration proposes a 20.7% cut to the Department of Labor.

The NPR story notes that:

Two former commissioners of the Bureau of Labor Statistics — one appointed by President George W. Bush and one appointed by President Barack Obama — have written lawmakers to warn that national data on workplace injuries would become less reliable.

Republicans in the House have already approved a resolution (H.J.Res.83) to nullify the Department of Labor rule. A similar measure (S.J.Res.27) is advancing in the Senate.

U.S. Backing Away From Oil And Gas Transparency Validation

The Project On Government Oversight (POGO) reports that the U.S. will no longer seek validation by the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), a global anti-corruption effort to bring openness and accountability to the oil, gas and mining sectors.

A Department of the Interior official confirmed in a March 9 phone call that the United States is withdrawing its efforts to be validated under the EITI Standard. The standard requires companies and governments to disclose the payments they make and receive for extracting oil, gas and minerals. The goal of the initiative is to ensure citizens and governments are getting their fair share of revenues from natural resource extraction.

Under the Standard governments disclose how much they receive from extractive companies operating in their country and these companies disclose how much they pay. Governments sign up to implement the EITI Standard and must meet seven requirements. Then a Validator commissioned by the EITI International Secretariat assesses whether or not the country successfully implemented the EITI Standard.

The U.S. committed to join EITI in 2011 with the goal of ensuring that taxpayers are receiving every dollar due for extraction of natural resources. The United States had been working towards complying with the standard since 2012. The U.S. formally became an EITI candidate in 2014 when the EITI International Board approved USEITI’s candidacy application.

The website of the U.S. EITI is still available, but it appears no new information has been added to it since the inauguration. Its 2016 report is still available online. The only tweet from @useiti_doi since the inauguration has been one welcoming the new Department of the Interior Secretary.

Treasury.IO: A daily data feed for the U.S. Treasury

Ever wonder about the federal government’s checkbook? Well now you can take a peak inside for each day using Treasury.io. “Every day at 4pm, the United States Treasury publishes data tables summarizing the cash spending, deposits, and borrowing of the federal government.” Those data tables “catalog all the money taken in that day from taxes, the programs, and how much debt the government took out.”

One hitch: The Treasury’s data tables are (subjectively) ugly and (objectively) spreadsheet-unfriendly. So Treasury.io — an open-source civic project complete with a github repository! — continuously converts the files into good ol’ tabular data. You can download individual tables as CSVs, get the whole dataset as a big SQLite database, or query the API. There’s also a data dictionary and a Twitter bot.

HT to Jeremy Singer-Vine and his amazing Data Is Plural weekly newsletter of useful/curious datasets. If you haven’t subscribed, then you ought to go over there right now and do so post haste!

Every day at 4pm, the United States Treasury publishes data tables summarizing the cash spending, deposits, and borrowing of the Federal government. These files catalog all the money taken in that day from taxes, the programs, and how much debt the government took out to make it happen. It comes from a section of the U.S. Treasury called the Bureau of the Fiscal Service.

At a time of record fiscal deficits and continual debates over spending, taxation, and the debt, this daily accounting of our government’s main checking account is an essential data point that the public should have ready access to.

via Treasury IO: A daily data feed for the U.S. Treasury.

APDU’s public letter in support of Federal statistical programs

I was so glad to see that the Association of Public Data users (APDU) just sent a letter in support of federal statistical agencies to the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees. This letter has well over 700 signatories (including FGI!) from organizations including the National Association for Business Economists and the NAACP and individuals such as Katherine Wallman and Dean Baker. This is a critical time for federal statistics with funding for ALL federal programs seemingly on the chopping blocks. Keep the pressure on your representatives by calling and/or writing to them to save — and better fund! — federal statistical programs!

We are concerned that a lack of appreciation for the critical importance of our Federal statistical and data systems may worsen, and are worried that, after years of insufficient funding, these systems face deeper funding cuts and further marginalization. Our nation, economy, businesses and citizens rely on the nonpartisan, gold-standard data provided by several agencies, including the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Census Bureau, the Bureau of Economic Analysis, National Center for Education Statistics, the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, the Energy Information Administration, the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the Economic Research Service, the National Agricultural Statistics Service, the Internal Revenue Service Statistics of Income, the Social Security Administration Office of Research, Evaluation, and Statistics, and the National Center for Health Statistics.

These data resources benefit individual citizens who seek information to:

  • guide their career and education choices,
  • gain a clearer sense of wages and benefits on offer for different careers,
  • choose a community in which to live.

Our Democracy relies on Federal data for:

  • Apportionment — population count determines allocation of legislative seats by
    geography,
  • Redistricting — state legislatures use population counts and characteristics to determine
    legislative boundaries,
  • Voting and civil rights — Congress and the Supreme Court explicitly rely on data to ensure compliance with voting and civil rights laws.

Federal data resources help the public sector to:

  • evaluate programs
  • support evidence-based decision-making,
  • project tax collections and craft budgets,
  • guide fiscal and monetary policy,
  • target limited resources,
  • design policy and programs, such as in housing, health, education and training, economic development, transportation, and criminal justice,
  • index many benefits and tax brackets to inflation,
  • work with local businesses when making investments.

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