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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.

Supreme Court ethics with John Oliver

John Oliver discusses the Supreme Court, the ethically questionable gifts some of the justices receive, and an offer for Clarence Thomas that he definitely shouldn’t refuse. Once again, Oliver gets to the heart of the issue of SCOTUS ethics or lack thereof.


John Oliver on food safety. Or: you never know where you’ll find an unreported document

I’m so glad John Oliver is back! His latest expose on food safety is as always on point – at the same time being extremely funny! He explains the system under which food in the US is regulated (or not!), including the crazy fact that both the FDA and the USDA have some regulatory responsibilities in this area. Watch on.

Oliver is also good at using government documents to make his points. And this episode had a good one. He referenced a Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Inspector General report from 2017 “The Food and Drug Administration’s Food-Recall Process Did Not Always Ensure the Safety of the Nation’s Food Supply”; so of course I had to check the Catalog of Government Publications (CGP). It’s sadly not surprising that this report was NOT in the catalog and so I had to send it in to GPO as an “unreported document.” Executive branch documents have long been problematic in being included in the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) — for more of this history see ““Issued for Gratuitous Distribution”: The History of Fugitive Documents and the FDLP” by yours truly. And Inspectors General offices are among the worst. GPO doesn’t even include its own IG reports in the CGP so that should tell you something.

I hope others will join me in my Quixotic effort to report executive branch reports to GPO — and especially those from agency Inspectors General! — so that these important reports can be included in the FDLP and be preserved and made available for the long term. And now back to John Oliver:-)

National Weather Service under risk of privatization. John Oliver has more

Talking about the weather is supposed to be the one safe topic that people from all stripes can talk about. But John Oliver ruins that — in an extremely funny and informative way of course! He explains the importance of the National Weather Service (NWS), which is a sub-agency of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The NWS makes all of its weather forecasts and climate data openly available for free and also shares data and modeling with other weather services around the world through its membership in the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). One could argue that the National Weather Service is among the most critical government services and a global public good.

Over the last 15-20 years however, there has been a concerted push by private companies to get into the weather game. Whereas companies like AccuWeather and the Weather Channel would in the past use NWS data and add value to it, today, according to Andrew Blum — who wrote the recently published book “The Weather Machine: A Journey Inside the Forecast”
“…you’ve got companies running their own models, deploying their own observing systems,” and as Oliver points out, acting as gatekeepers to weather data. Check out Blum’s interview on a recent PBS Newshour for more context and by all means, watch Oliver’s piece below.

The most recent move at privatization of the weather is when the Trump administration named Barry Myers, the ex-CEO of AccuWeather, for the dual post of NOAA Administrator and Under Secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere, Department of Commerce and include oversight of the National Weather Service. His nomination was submitted in October, 2017 and renewed in January, 2018 and again in 2019. His nomination was stalled for quite a while, but in April of this year, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee voted 14-12 along party lines to move Myers’ nomination forward.

Myers’ nomination is extremely problematic for 2 reasons: 1) He has gone on the record in support of privatizing the weather service — in 2005, he and his brother gave money to then-Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) who “introduced legislation aimed at curtailing government competition with private weather services”; and 2) AccuWeather this year agreed to pay a substantial fine for “sexual harassment and a hostile work environment” while Myers was AccuWeather’s chief executive. Is this really the person we want providing oversight to the National Weather Service and NOAA as a whole?!


John Oliver analyzes Gerrymandering. Hilarious and disturbing

John Oliver is at it again, deeply analyzing a boring political concept in a smart, interesting — and funny — way. This time, he explains Gerrymandering, the nefarious practice of manipulating district boundaries for political advantage, named after Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry. If anyone is interested in delving deeper, you can read the new book by David Daley called “Ratf**ked: the true story behind the secret plan to steal America’s democracy.”


John Oliver explains special districts

John Oliver explains special districts on “Last Week Tonight.” These units of government are local government bodies designed to collect taxes dealing with one specific service, like water, parks or sewage. But they are “ghost” entities with little or no oversight and are largely unknown to the public. Hilariously informative!

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