This just in from our friends at MuckRock: Senate introduces legislation to clarify presumption of disclosure in FOIA. This new bill will will protect public access to information from private entities that do business with the government following the *terrible* Supreme Court decision in Food Marketing Institute v. Argus Leader, which overturned more than 40 years of FOIA precedent by letting corporations decide whether the public was entitled to access government spending information. Also, according to OpenTheGovernment’s analysis, the bill addresses “…the EPA’s move to undermine FOIA by issuing regulations, without the legally required public notice and comment period, that appear to allow officials to withhold portions of documents as “not responsive” to a FOIA request, despite a federal court ruling forbidding the practice.”
The “Open and Responsive Government Act of 2019” would address limits to FOIA being imposed by regulatory agencies, in addition to those recently created by the Supreme Court’s decision in Food Marketing Institute v. Argus Leader Media. That decision allowed for a broad interpretation of confidentiality under the FOIA’s b(4) trade secret exemption, and transparency advocates are confident the ruling, if allowed to stand, would severely limit access to government dealings with private companies.
“Last month’s Supreme Court overturned more than 40 years of FOIA precedent, and will force government agencies to withhold large swaths of information about private contractors and other companies who do business with government,” said Emily Manna, policy analyst at Open The Government. This bill would return us to the status quo, and restore the public’s right to access this critical information.”
The proposed amendments would expand the language of the “trade secrets” exemption to explicitly require a standard of substantial harm for the nondisclosure of commercial information. That standard seemed to have been set by the case National Parks & Conservation Ass’n v. Morton, but the Supreme Court’s recent ruling did not acknowledge it.
[Editor’s note 8/6/19: Andy Sherman, who was accused in this story, but who served admirably for 38 years at GPO in several administrative positions, sent me this Letter to Chairman Blunt that he sent in January, 2019. Andy explains that there was no misconduct, and gratefully allowed me to post the letter to FGI in order for our readers to have a fuller understanding of this news story. With this context, as well as the knowledge that the June 2018 report was sent to Congress but that neither the House Administration Committee nor the Senate Rules and Administration Committee took any action, should clarify this tempest in a teapot story. Thanks Andy!]
This scandal has been slowly boiling at GPO for quite some time — well before Davita Vance Cooks resigned as GPO Director in November, 2017 and may be part of the reason that Robert Tapella’s nomination as GPO Director was recently withdrawn. You can read more in the June 21, 2018 Interim Report Of Investigation Into Alleged Misconduct By Two Senior GPO Managers. Tune in to the Senate Rules and Administration Committee hearing “Oversight of the Government Publishing Office Office of the Inspector General” on Wednesday July 24 at 10:30am EST. Whatever the outcome, this is sure to have a negative impact on the management of the FDLP.
Allegations of cronyism, wasteful spending and other misconduct are roiling a little-known federal agency in charge of producing and distributing the government’s official documents, including paper questionnaires for the upcoming 2020 census.
According to an internal watchdog report obtained by NPR, two officials at the U.S. Government Publishing Office — previously known as the Government Printing Office — allegedly violated federal laws and regulations by filling agency jobs with unqualified candidates, including an official’s son. The GPO’s Office of Inspector General has not finalized its findings, but in June, it sent an interim report to the joint congressional committee that oversees the agency.
Here’s an interesting project called “Map the impact” from New American Economy, a “bipartisan research and advocacy organization fighting for smart federal, state, and local immigration policies.” It connects govt data with stories to frame immigration in a more positive light. While the site doesn’t allow direct download of data, they do have a methodology page which points to the datasets used for the site — like American Community Survey, Integrated Public Use Microdata Series (IPUMS), Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), and Census of State and Local Government. Check it out.
Stanford University’s Cyber Policy Center, in conjunction with the #StanfordCyberPolicy event held last month, has published a new white paper on the security of US elections entitled “Securing American Elections: Prescriptions for Enhancing the Integrity and Independence of the 2020 U.S. Presidential Elections and Beyond.” Summary: it’s not good.
[HT to Bruce Schneier and his always fascinating/disturbing Crypto-Gram Newsletter. We highly recommend subscribing to the newsletter!]
Last year, the Preservation of Electronic Government Information (PEGI) Project — a collaborative effort of which I’m a part — commented on phase I of the draft Federal Data Strategy. This time around, there was a request for comments on phase III, the draft action plan for the Federal Data Strategy and again PEGI submitted comments (grab the PDF here). They were very specific about what comments they were looking for this time around:
In March 2018, President Trump launched the President’s Management Agenda (PMA). It lays out a long-term vision for modernizing the Federal Government in key areas that will improve the ability of agencies to deliver mission outcomes, provide excellent service, and effectively steward taxpayer dollars on behalf of the American people. The PMA established a Cross-Agency Priority (CAP) goal of Leveraging Data as a Strategic Asset with an intended purpose of guiding development of a comprehensive long-term Federal Data Strategy (hereinafter “Strategy”) to grow the economy, increase the effectiveness of the Federal Government, facilitate oversight, and promote transparency (https://www.performance.gov/CAP/CAP_goal_2.html). This notice seeks comment on a draft action plan for Federal agencies to adopt in order to achieve the objectives of this CAP goal. This is the third Federal Register Notice seeking public comment related to the Federal Data Strategy. The previous two notices sought comments on the Strategy’s draft principles and draft practices, respectively.
Please provide comment on the scope and content of the 2019-2020 Federal Data Strategy Action Plan.
- Identify any additional fundamental actions to implement the Federal Data Strategy that are not included in this draft Year-1 Action Plan and explain why.
- Identify any additional actions that would align with or complement ongoing Federal data initiatives or the implementation of new legislation, such as the Foundations for Evidence-based Policy Making Act and explain why.
- Identify any actions in this draft Year-1 Action Plan that should be omitted and explain why.
- For each action, provide any edits and additional detail to ensure that they accurately and effectively describe needed activities, responsible entities, metrics for assessing progress, and timelines for completion.
- For each action, provide information about the implementation resources necessary to ensure success of these Action Steps.
PEGI focused (of course!) on the importance of data preservation and robust metadata, proposing “approaches that will maximize resource use by assuring that the implementation of the Federal Data Strategy will include preservation as a key component.” Read our comments in their entirety and also check out all of the submitted comments on regulations.gov.