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FOIA Advisory Committee 2018-2020 term recommendations coming into focus
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.
via US FOIA Advisory Committee considers recommendations to part the rising curtains of secrecy | E Pluribus Unum.
Check out OpenSecrets new Anomaly Tracker
This is fascinating. Check out OpenSecrets new Anomaly Tracker tool. By collecting data on lawmakers, donations received by their committees or super PACs, and legislation sponsored, out of the ordinary occurrences can be exposed.
The Anomaly Tracker tool highlights “anomalies” in our money-and-politics data. An anomaly, as we define it here, is an occurrence that is out of the ordinary. It is not necessarily an indication that there is something amiss.
We are tracking six kinds of anomalies here:
- Lawmakers sponsoring legislation that was lobbied by only one company or other organization whose employees or PAC also donated to the sponsoring lawmakers.
- Lawmakers receiving twice as much in contributions from their top donors as their next highest donors.
- Lawmakers receiving twice as much in contributions from their top donor industries as their next highest donor industries.
- Lawmakers receiving more than 50 percent of their itemized contributions from out of state.
- More than 50 percent of a committee or candidate’s spending is paid to a single vendor.
- PACs giving at least $7,500 to a candidate’s Leadership PAC but nothing to the candidate’s committee.
Have a suggestion for a type of anomaly you would like to see or wish to speak to us about this tool? Email us!
Treasury.IO: A daily data feed for the U.S. Treasury
Ever wonder about the federal government’s checkbook? Well now you can take a peak inside for each day using Treasury.io. “Every day at 4pm, the United States Treasury publishes data tables summarizing the cash spending, deposits, and borrowing of the federal government.” Those data tables “catalog all the money taken in that day from taxes, the programs, and how much debt the government took out.”
One hitch: The Treasury’s data tables are (subjectively) ugly and (objectively) spreadsheet-unfriendly. So Treasury.io — an open-source civic project complete with a github repository! — continuously converts the files into good ol’ tabular data. You can download individual tables as CSVs, get the whole dataset as a big SQLite database, or query the API. There’s also a data dictionary and a Twitter bot.
HT to Jeremy Singer-Vine and his amazing Data Is Plural weekly newsletter of useful/curious datasets. If you haven’t subscribed, then you ought to go over there right now and do so post haste!
Every day at 4pm, the United States Treasury publishes data tables summarizing the cash spending, deposits, and borrowing of the Federal government. These files catalog all the money taken in that day from taxes, the programs, and how much debt the government took out to make it happen. It comes from a section of the U.S. Treasury called the Bureau of the Fiscal Service.
At a time of record fiscal deficits and continual debates over spending, taxation, and the debt, this daily accounting of our government’s main checking account is an essential data point that the public should have ready access to.
OPEN Government Data Act (S. 2852) passes Senate
Here’s some good news from our friends at the Sunlight Foundation. After much work by Sunlight, the Congressional Data Coalition, and many others, the “Open, Public, Electronic, and Necessary Government Data Act” or the “OPEN Government Data Act” (S.2852) just passed the US Senate with an amendment by unanimous consent. The OPEN Government Data Act has been a core priority of the Sunlight Foundation in Washington in 2016. The OPEN Government Data Act would put into law a set of enduring open data principles upon which we can all agree! Hopefully, in early 2017, the US House will introduce a similar bill and send the bill to the President — and then they can get to work on making CRS reports publicly available too!
From Sunlight’s daily newsletter:
…the Senate has provided a unanimous endorsement of a set of enduring open data principles that the Sunlight Foundation has advanced and defended for a decade: that data created using the funds of the people should be available to the people in open formats online, without cost or restriction. We hope that the U.S. House will quickly move to re-introduce the bill in the 115th Congress and work across the aisle to enact it within the first week of public business. We expect the members of Congress who stood up for open government data this fall to continue do so in 2017.
New report on open government data
A new report by the Data Foundation and Grant Thornton LLP “seeks to capture the moment, provide a vision of the future, and catalyze further efforts for the open data movement.” It includes interviews with more than 40 Congressional and agency leaders, open data experts and advocates, and private sector leaders. It also has a a brief history and timeline of the open data movement
- The State Of The Union Of Open Data, 2016, by Alison Gill, Hudson Hollister, and Adam Hughes, The Data Foundation and Grant Thornton.
NextGov has a brief summary of the report:
- The Progress and Pitfalls of Government’s Open Data Efforts By Frank Konkel NextGov (November 2, 2016)
“[I]t’s one thing to put the data out there for the public to consume or to potentially spark new industries; it’s another to standardize those data sets.”