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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.

The federal government’s responsibilities to provide online content in non-English languages

The Sunlight Foundation’s Web Integrity Project (WIP) has released a new report with an informal review of how federal agencies meet the needs of website users who lack English fluency.

The report reviews and explains the different regulations imposed on federal agencies to provide online content in non-English languages for individuals with limited English proficiency (LEP).

WIP found that there is little agreement about the duties of agencies. The approaches of various agencies vary widely — from full translation and taglines, to ad hoc translation using Google Translate.

Examples:

  • IRS.gov has largely complete copies of the English-language site in other languages with links to the non-English versions of the site available through a dropdown in the header of webpages throughout the website domain.

  • The websites for the Whitehouse (whitehouse.gov) and the National Park Service (nps.gov) contain no resources or links relating to content or information in non-English languages.

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