This is bad news for government transparency advocates. The Sunlight Foundation shut down its Web Integrity Project (WIP) yesterday. WIP was created almost two years ago and was tracking “tens of thousands of federal government webpages each week, has reported on and sourced hundreds of stories about federal websites, has provided materials for congressional oversight, and has engaged with the executive branch and watchdog community on web integrity issues.” Unfortunately, they were unable to secure funding to keep the project going. At least their site and all their work has been archived and will be available at the Internet Archive.
Many thanks to Toly Rinberg, Andrew Bergman, Rachel Bergman, Jon Campbell, Sarah John, and Aaron Lemelin for your fine work!
Fast forward to today, and WIP monitors tens of thousands of federal government webpages each week, has reported on and sourced hundreds of stories about federal websites, has provided materials for congressional oversight, and has engaged with the executive branch and watchdog community on web integrity issues. As a result of our efforts, federal agencies may be paying better attention to their websites and are more aware that people are watching.
In today’s America, where government websites are “the primary means by which the public receives information from and interacts with the Federal Government,” web monitoring is profoundly important at the beginning of each new administration. In the intra-agency tumult that prevails just after the inauguration of a new president, there is much potential for useful and relied-upon content to be lost and for political machinations to dominate. Many of the most significant website changes that we’ve seen at the Web Integrity Project happened within the first few months of the new Trump administration, like the removal of climate change resources from the EPA’s website, ACA-related content and pages from the HHS website, LGBT resources from the Department of Labor’s website, or the staff directory from the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s website.
With that track record of accomplishments in mind, we announce that the Sunlight Foundation will be shutting down WIP as of today. While we were unable to secure continued financial support for the program, we want to ensure that our work lives on online, true to the values of the program, so we are ensuring that our reports, the Gov404 tracker, and our blog posts are properly archived using the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine.
The most recent quarterly meeting of NARA’s FOIA Advisory Committee (of which I’m a member) occurred last friday (12/6/19). You can watch the entire meeting as it was live-streamed on NARA’s YouTube channel (below).
I consider myself fortunate to be able to work with this committee — 1/2 of its members are FOIA officers at federal agencies, and 1/2 are from various parts of the requester community: academics, lawyers, FOIA activists and myself the lone librarian. The committee works to identify challenges that exist with the FOIA and then issues official recommendations to improve FOIA at the end of each term. For the 2018-2020 term, the committee has broken out into three subcommittees — Records Management (of which I’m a member), Time/Volume, and Vision — and we’ve been working diligently on recommendations for our final report. You can see in the links below what each of the subcommittees has chosen to focus in on to make FOIA better.
The committee is currently working on quite a few sticky issues, not least of which are “release to one release to all” — which was developed by the Obama administration in 2016 but is still “under consideration” by the Office of Information Policy (OIP) at the Department of Justice — as well as the 2 issues closest to my librarian heart, a central FOIA repository and FOIA documents in both human-readable and machine-actionable formats (draft recommendations 8 and 9 of the records management subcommittee).
- Time/Volume Subcommittee Proposed Recommendations to the 2018-2020 FOIA Advisory Committee
- Records Management Subcommittee Proposed Recommendations # 8 and 9 to the 2018-2020 FOIA Advisory Committee
- Vision Subcommittee Proposed Recommendations to the 2018-2020 FOIA Advisory Committee
- FOIA Officer Survey Results DRAFT – December 4, 2019
- FOIA Requester Survey Results DRAFT – December 4, 2019
I’d like to give a shout-out to tireless public open government advocate Alex Howard (formerly from Sunlight Foundation) who has shown up at each of our meetings and has given substantive input, comments and critiques during the public comment portion of each meeting and via live-blog and twitter during each meeting. We should have more advocates like Alex who not only keeps the government’s feet to the open-government fire but also gives positive, actionable policy and technical advice to achieve real advances in FOIA and government transparency generally.
In December 2016, President Obama also ordered the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to make FOIA a “cross agency priority” goal. Unfortunately, the Trump administration removed the Cross Agency Priority Goal for FOIA on Performance.gov without notice.
An administration that’s serious about improving public access to our records and being good stewards of taxpayer dollars and public information would restore said goal, perhaps as a commitment in some sort of comprehensive “national action plan on open government.”
While the FOIA Advisory Committee is full of people working in good faith to improve how sunshine in government works for the public, this administration has reversed or neglected many of the open government policies or programs of the past decade and weaponized transparency through selective disclosures.
As has been the case for years, it falls to Congress to perform oversight of the FOIA and ensure that public access to public information continues to improve through implementation of the FOIA reforms President Obama signed into law in December 2016 and the open government bill President Trump signed into law in January 2019.
The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) has issued a report looking at how well various government agencies are doing on their mandate to provide public access to publicly funded research — as called for in a 2013 Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) memorandum — along with recommendations on how they can improve this. The report is a very useful and fairly concise snapshot of a lot of not necessarily well coordinated efforts as well as a window into commitments that these agencies are making going forward.
Also of note, I just noticed that GAO now has a database of open recommendations. It’s searchable and also sorted by agency, topic and subject term. So now you can track all of their open recommendations. Very handy indeed!
FEDERAL RESEARCH: Additional Actions Needed to Improve Public Access to Research Results. GAO-20-81: Published: Nov 21, 2019.
Public access to the results of federally funded research can accelerate scientific breakthroughs. In 2013, certain federal agencies were directed to create plans for increasing access to publications and data they funded.
The 19 agencies we reviewed made progress, but some have not fully implemented their plans. For example:
- 7 agencies have not taken steps to make data findable, such as creating a single web access point
- 4 don’t require all researchers to submit a plan to provide access to data
- 11 don’t fully ensure that researchers comply with access requirements
We made 37 recommendations to 16 agencies to address these and other issues.
The Preservation of Electronic Government Information (PEGI) Project has now finished its 2-year IMLS grant work and have just published its final report Toward a Shared Agenda: Report on PEGI Project Activities for 2017-2019. Please have a read and send any feedback on the report and our next steps to [email protected] or via Twitter @PEGIProject. And stay tuned for more good work from PEGI Project!
This report provides a summary of work completed by the Preservation of Electronic Government Information (PEGI) project from 2017 to 2019. The PEGI Project seeks to address national concerns regarding the preservation of electronic government information by cultural memory organizations for long term use by the public.
A significant part of our efforts in 2018 focused on analyzing the possibility of using the Collective Impact model to organize collaborative preservation work. This report shares an overview of project activities and conversations, analysis of the findings, and presents next steps for project activities.
Authored by Dr. Martin Halbert, Roberta Sittel, Dr. Katherine Skinner, Deborah Caldwell, Marie Concannon, James R. Jacobs, Shari Laster, and Scott Matheson.
This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services #LG-88-17-0129-17. We are grateful to James Neal for his support and encouragement as our program officer. For more information about the project, please visit the official project website.
Open government advocates are quickly losing patience with the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts (AO). After the AO doubled the quarterly fee waiver from $15 to $30 in January, Advocates from argue FixTheCourt called it “Wholly Inadequate” and have called for the US Courts to change antiquated business model of the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) system which charges the public thousands of times more than it should cost to provide access to federal court documents. I completely agree with FixTheCourt. Government information, including US court records, should be free to the public! Litigation on PACER is ongoing, but let’s hope we can get some solid legislation to MAKE PACER FREE! It’s long beyond time.
Open government advocates are decrying recent changes to the PACER fee scale as wholly inadequate and are calling on Congress to improve upon and advance bipartisan bills to reduce the costs of accessing federal court records. The move comes as the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts (AO) officially notified House and Senate leadership last week of its previously approved changes to PACER charges.
…it is estimated that the actual cost to retrieve these documents, with storage fees built in, is $0.0000006 per page. Storing the roughly one billion documents in PACER should then run about $600,000, or about one-half of one percent of PACER’s reported revenue ($146.4 million in 2016). And yet, the AO still charges $0.10 per page of search results and $0.10 per page of case documents.