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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.

Reps Quigley and Comer re-introduce Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports Act (ACMRA)

Representatives Mike Quigley (IL-05) and James Comer (KY-01) re-introduced the Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports Act (ACMRA) to create a single website on which Congress and the public can easily search, sort, and download all executive agency congressional reports. Quigley has introduced this bill every Congressional session since 2011. In the last session of Congress, the bill passed the House of Representatives unanimously, but stalled in the Senate.

The ACMRA will be a boon to the American public and will add thousands of difficult-to-find executive agency reports to the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) and the “National Collection.” Take a look at the list of reports required to be submitted to Congress. This list is published at the beginning of each Congressional session as a House Document entitled “Reports to be made to Congress.”

Contact your Representatives and Senators to make sure we get H.R. 2485 over the finish line this time!

“As founder and co-chair of the bipartisan Congressional Transparency Caucus, I am proud to re-introduce this hallmark transparency bill that I have introduced every Congress since 2011,” said Quigley. “This bill will increase government transparency by providing the public easily-accessible information on how agencies are accomplishing their policy goals. By consolidating this information in one location, my hope is that it will improve the institutional and technological capacity of the legislative branch and rebuild the public’s trust in our government. I look forward to working with my colleagues to pass this legislation in the House again this Congress.”

“Good governance requires the American people have full, transparent access to information about their government. Congress receives thousands of reports annually from federal agencies about how they are fulfilling their missions, but there isn’t a spot to find all of them in one place. The Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports Act provides Americans easy access to these reports by requiring all federal agency congressional reports be housed in one accessible location. If these reports can’t be easily found, the reports don’t serve their purpose. The American people need the information contained in these reports to be accessible so we can see and understand how the federal government is using their taxpayer dollars. The House and Senate must take up this commonsense legislation,” said Committee on Oversight and Reform Ranking Member Comer.

Help us celebrate Sunshine Week!

Sunshine Week!

This week is Sunshine Week hosted by the News Leaders Association! Begun in 2005 to highlight and promote open government, FOIA and access to government information (well that’s how we here at FGI celebrate it 😉 ), you can track on what’s happening this week on the Sunshine Week twitter account, share your own Sunshine Week happenings at #sunshineweek, and also check out the information in Sunshine Week toolkit for how to get involved, interesting events, inspiration and resources for teachers, librarians, journalists, and school, civic or non-profit organizations.

HOW TO GET INVOLVED:

Publish Sunshine Week content toolkit: Major news organizations work together on a special reporting package free for anyone to publish in print or online during Sunshine Week, made available at the start of the week’s events. Find this year’s offerings under Content Toolkit.

Share your stories: Sunshine Week celebrated its 15th anniversary in 2020, and we’ve made a lot of gains in open government thanks to your work. Please share your experiences, success stories, FOIA battles, new laws and other efforts on behalf of open government. Tweet to us @SunshineWeek or use #SunshineWeek to share.

Join us March 18: In partnership with First Amendment Coalition, we’re hosting a discussion on navigating barriers to public records and fighting for open government. Make sure to register here.

If you are in the world of journalism, you can highlight the importance of openness through stories, editorials, columns, cartoons or graphics.

If you are part of a civic group, you can organize local forums, sponsor essay contests or press elected officials to pass proclamations on the importance of open access.

If you are an educator, you can use Sunshine Week to teach your students about how government transparency improves our lives and makes our communities stronger.

If you are an elected official, you can pass a resolution supporting openness, introduce legislation improving public access or encourage training of government employees to ensure compliance with existing laws mandating open records and meetings.

If you are a private citizen, you can write a letter to the editor or spread the word to friends through social media.

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).

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.

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.

U.S. Backing Away From Oil And Gas Transparency Validation

The Project On Government Oversight (POGO) reports that the U.S. will no longer seek validation by the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), a global anti-corruption effort to bring openness and accountability to the oil, gas and mining sectors.

A Department of the Interior official confirmed in a March 9 phone call that the United States is withdrawing its efforts to be validated under the EITI Standard. The standard requires companies and governments to disclose the payments they make and receive for extracting oil, gas and minerals. The goal of the initiative is to ensure citizens and governments are getting their fair share of revenues from natural resource extraction.

Under the Standard governments disclose how much they receive from extractive companies operating in their country and these companies disclose how much they pay. Governments sign up to implement the EITI Standard and must meet seven requirements. Then a Validator commissioned by the EITI International Secretariat assesses whether or not the country successfully implemented the EITI Standard.

The U.S. committed to join EITI in 2011 with the goal of ensuring that taxpayers are receiving every dollar due for extraction of natural resources. The United States had been working towards complying with the standard since 2012. The U.S. formally became an EITI candidate in 2014 when the EITI International Board approved USEITI’s candidacy application.

The website of the U.S. EITI is still available, but it appears no new information has been added to it since the inauguration. Its 2016 report is still available online. The only tweet from @useiti_doi since the inauguration has been one welcoming the new Department of the Interior Secretary.

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