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.

EDGI releases 2019 annual report

The Environmental Data & Governance Initiative (EDGI) has just released its 2019 annual report. Check out what they’ve been doing over the past year in terms of archiving data, environmental data justice, interviewing and policy project, and website monitoring. props to EDGI for a year well-worked!

From the report…

EDGI’s Archiving Working Group continues to build on its grassroots Data Rescue efforts that involved events in over 40 cities and towns across North America and ended in mid-2018. Our archiving work has: ● Enhanced the public accessibility of downloaded data ● Established partnerships with software companies, QRI and Protocol Labs, to develop “Data Together,” a set of protocols and technologies for decentralizing data storage online ● Advanced a collaboration with Science 2 Action to build systems to better identify still vulnerable federal datasets and effectively copy them ● Launched the beta-version of our Environmental Impact Statement search tool in consultation with the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University.

and more…

Archiving is perhaps the most-changed of EDGI’s areas of work. A year ago, Archiving was the home of a lot of direct work: hosting large data-archiving events and building software tools to support the identification and storage of data. But in the last year, Archiving has become more reflective, quieter, and theory-focused. Archiving continues to hold the data that was harvested in previous years, but now the group gives most of its attention to thoughtful design of data archiving technologies. There are two main reasons for the shift in focus. One is highly pragmatic: the sheer bulk of volunteer labor required to continuously host events and build software tools was unsustainable. The second reason is more a mark of our organization’s maturation. EDGI’s core strength is not in its capacity to do work; rather, it is in its ways of being, doing, and thinking. EDGI’s unique value is its interdisciplinary site at the crossroads of justice, environment, data, and technology . As such, Archiving has been focusing on Data Together, an ongoing and inclusive conversation between EDGI and partners QRI and Protocol Labs, both of whom are building foundational technology for storing data in a decentralized internet. All of the partners think daily about data provenance and ownership and sharing models. The first annual Data Together meeting, in August 2018, yielded the Data Together mission: Data Together empowers people to create a decentralized civic layer for the web, leveraging community, trust, and shared interest to steward data they care about. The group also completed the first “semester” of a monthly reading group. Through carefully curated reading lists and 90-minute group discussions, the partners covered the topics of: the decentralized web; ownership; commons; centralization vs. decentralization vs. peer-to-peer or federation; privacy; and justice. This is a place for partners to seat their work in broad, theoretical contexts. We anticipate that the Archival functions within EDGI will continue to change as the organization continues to learn.

Libraries’ guide to the 2020 census

The American Library Association (ALA) has teamed up with the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality to develop the Libraries’ guide to the 2020 census to prepare libraries for the decennial count of every person living in the United States.

The Guide contains practical information to assist library staff in addressing potential patron and community requests regarding the upcoming 2020 Census and Census Day on April 1, 2020. The Guide includes:

  • basic information about the Census process;
  • highlights of new components in the 2020 Census, such as the online response option;
  • frequently asked questions;
  • a timeline of key Census dates;
  • contact information and links to additional resources.

Congressional Budget Justifications (CBJs) are hard to find and here’s why

I’ve been very impressed with the research and thought that goes into the First Branch Forecast, the weekly newsletter focusing on transparency and governance issues being considered by Congress. There’s always something of interest in the newsletter, so I highly recommend that everyone subscribe.

One item of interest in a recent Forecast was about Congressional Budget Justifications (CBJs). In my work as a research librarian, Federal budget analysis, information and data are frequent requests as the Congressional appropriations process is about as clear as mud to most people – and I also *highly* recommend bookmarking the regularly updated CRS report “The Congressional Appropriations Process: An Introduction” to better understand the kabuki-like procedural elements that go into this process. So the FBF research into CBJs offers both insight into and problems with the budget process and access to the information and data that go into this annual rite. I’ll let them explain in detail, but please read the entire post and don’t forget to subscribe to the newsletter.

Congressional Budget Justifications (CBJs) are plain-language explanations of how an agency proposes to spend money it requests that Congress appropriate, but how easy is it for congressional staff and citizens to find these documents? Demand Progress surveyed 456 federal agencies and entities for fiscal years 2018 and 2019 and found:

7.5 percent of the 173 agencies with congressional liaisons, i.e., 13 agencies, published their CBJs online for only FY 2018 or FY 2019, but not both. (Agencies with congressional liaison offices routinely interact with Congress). If you exclude subordinate agencies whose reports traditionally are included in a superior agency’s reports, that figure becomes 3.3 percent, or 5 agencies, out of 152 agencies published a CBJ for FY 2018 or 2019. The failure of one agency to publish their report impacts a number of sub-agencies. Among the agencies/entities inconsistent in their reporting is the Executive Office of the President, which houses the Office of Management and Budget, the National Security Council, and the Office of the Vice President.

via Feds Lag in Publishing Funding Requests – First Branch Forecast.

Celebrate Sunshine Week with new CRS content now online

Happy Sunshine Week, the week where we celebrate government transparency, FOIA and all things open government information! There’s lots happening this week including the upcoming 1/2 day live and streaming celebration at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). But there’s also work to be done. Evidently, appropriators are holding up the smart, pro-transparency “HR 736 Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports Act” scheduled for a floor vote on Tuesday. Contact your Representative today and tell them to pass this important act!

There’s too much news happening this week to list it all — make sure to subscribe to the First Branch Forecast weekly newsletter published by Daniel Schuman and his crack team at Demand Progress to keep up to date! — but I did want to highlight the good news coming out of the LIBRARY of Congress. Slowly but surely, they’re expanding the number of Congressional Research Service (CRS) Reports being published on their site crsreports.congress.gov. They still don’t have the coverage of EveryCRSReport.com which includes 14,742 CRS reports (and still growing) but LoC is getting there so good on them. Celebrate Sunshine Week by leaving LoC a comment and contacting your Representative to tell them to vote for “HR 736 Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports Act”. Sunshine is the best disinfectant!!

Since launching, we’ve added hundreds of new reports and are working hard to include the back catalog of older CRS reports – a process that is expected to be complete later this month. Today, you can access more than 2,300 reports on topics ranging from the Small Business Administration to farm policy. 
 
Starting this week, the Library is making additional product types available on the site. The site now includes In Focus products, which are two-page executive level briefing documents on a range of policy issues. For example, recent topics include military medical malpractice and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Block Grant. Another newly-added product type is the Insight, which provides short-form analysis on fast moving or more focused issues. Examples of topics include volcano early warning systems and Congressional Member Organizations. Users can filter by product type using the faceted search on the left hand of the search results page.

via New CRS Content Now Online | Library of Congress Blog.

25-Year-Old FOIA Request Confirms FOIA Delays Continue Unabated

Happy Sunshine week (well, technically it’s next week, March 10-16, 2019)! The National Security Archive did a massive FOIA audit which showed that FOIA delays and backlogs continue across federal agencies. the most interesting/disturbing to me were the requests that fell into a FOIA “referral black hole” where agencies refer to or consult with other agencies on “any FOIA request in which it feels another agency or agencies may possibly claim ownership of, or “equity” in, the information within the records.” These referrals often result in massive delays.

One of the easiest ways to better deal with these referral delays is to allow FOIA.gov‘s request form to be submitted to multiple agencies (or multiple units within agencies) if the requester feels that the question overlaps agencies. but If anyone has other good ideas for how agencies can more quickly deal with the “referral black hole” please send me an email at freegovinfo AT gmail DOT com.

Washington, D.C. March 8, 2019 – Five federal agencies have FOIA requests more than a decade old and one, the National Archives and Records Administration, has a FOIA request more than 25 years old, this according to a National Security Archive Audit released today to mark the beginning of Sunshine Week. The survey also found there is a correlation between agencies with the oldest FOIA requests and those with the largest FOIA backlogs.

The Archive Audit team parsed through the annual FOIA reports federal agencies are required to submit to the Department of Justice’s Office of Information Policy and found that while many agencies appear to have used new reporting requirements as a tool to address the oldest agency FOIA requests, others have let decades-old requests linger. The Archive used the Fiscal Year 2017 reports because they were the most comprehensive collection available at the time of publication due to the delay caused by the government shutdown, and will update this posting once the complete set of FY 2018 reports are available.

The key driver for FOIA requests that could be renting cars by now and growing backlogs is the “referral black hole.” Agencies currently refer or consult on any FOIA request in which it feels another agency or agencies may possibly claim ownership of, or “equity” in, the information within the records. This daisy chain of referrals can often result in decades-long delay, and the re-review of the same document by multiple agencies is redundant, costly, and inefficient.

via 25-Year-Old FOIA Request Confirms FOIA Delays Continue Unabated | National Security Archive.

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