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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.

CFPB considering plan to shut down public database of consumer complaints against banks

Acting Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) Mick Mulvaney is considering a plan to shut down the public access to the CFPB database of bank complaints against financial institutions. A coalition of organizations — including the American Library Association (ALA)! — has written to Acting Director Mulvaney to protest his plan to end public access by consumers to view and file complaints against financial institutions.

Dear Acting Director Mulvaney:

We the undersigned consumer, civil rights, good government, and pro-transparency groups are writing to express our firm objection to your recently stated plan to end public access to a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) database used by consumers to file and view complaints against financial institutions, and to urge you to reconsider your plan.

You have suggested that making consumer complaints public without first verifying all points may be harmful to businesses and used this potential harm to justify ending public access to the complaint database. However, there simply is no clear, objective evidence that such a problem actually exists. Without greater certainty, such a drastic rollback of transparency seems premature. In fact, companies subject to complaints in the database are given a chance to publicly respond and to clarify that same public record if they feel the complaint is unfair or inaccurate. In 2017, companies responded to 95 percent of the complaints submitted through this database, though not all companies chose to share their responses publicly.

Furthermore, it seems as if you have left out any benefit that access to this database provides to consumers. Public access to this complaint database provides consumers with the necessary information to make better pre-purchase choices based in part on experiential information shared by fellow consumers about companies with which they’ve done business. Hundreds of thousands of consumers use the system each year.3 It is essential that this information continue to be available to consumers prior to engaging in such business dealings as committing to a contract, taking out a loan, or opening a financial account.

A publicly accessible, user-friendly, searchable system that allows individuals to research companies, specific complaint types, and actual products or services helps create a competitive, well-functioning marketplace for consumers and corporations alike. Indeed, companies with strong records of standing behind their products and services benefit from a publicly searchable database, and those that work to resolve consumer complaints in a timely and effective manner also stand to gain.

EveryCRSReport.com launches. Public cheers. Congressional privilege intact

OMG I am so excited. This morning, Daniel Schuman and the fine folks at DemandProgress announced the launch of EveryCRSReport.com, a new website with 8,200 CRS reports from the Library of Congress’ Congressional Research Service (CRS), and more coming.

This is so awesome because CRS reports, written by experts in “Congress’ Think Tank,” have long been NOT available to the public unless a person contacted her member of Congress and *asked* for a report. See the problem here? Government reports — which are legally in the PUBLIC DOMAIN! — NOT available to the public, and one would need to know about the existence of a report in order to ask for the report. CRAZY!

This has been a long time in coming. Librarians and open government groups have been advocating for the public release of CRS reports for at least as long as I’ve been a librarian (15+ years) and likely longer. Change *does* come, but sometimes it happens in a geological timeframe.

For more, see Daniel’s post “Why I Came To Believe CRS Reports Should be Publicly Available (and Built a Website to Make it….” Congratulations and THANK YOU Daniel!

Here are the highlights:

On the website:

  • 8,200 reports
  • Search + the ability to filter reports by topic
  • Automatic updates through RSS feeds
  • Freshness ratings, which say how much a report changed when it was updated
  • The ability to view reports on your mobile device
  • Bulk download of all the reports
  • All the code behind the site (build your own!)
  • For each report, we:
    • Redacted the author’s name, email, and phone number, except in a tiny subset of reports
    • Explained the report is not copyrighted and its purpose is to inform Congress

oday my organization, in concert with others, is published 8,200 CRS reports on a new
website, EveryCRSReport.com. We are not the first organization to publish CRS reports. Many others have done so. Nor are we the first to advocate for public access. We’re part of a huge coalition including other former CRS employees. But I think we are the first to publish just about all the (non-confidential) reports currently available to members of Congress, in concert with a bipartisan pair of members who are providing the reports to us, and with a method to keep on doing so.We have tried to address CRS’s concerns. We redacted the contact information for the people who wrote the reports. We added information about why the reports are written and that they’re not subject to copyright. And we added a few nice bells and whistles to the website, such as letting you know how much a report has changed when it’s been revised.We think Congress as an institution should publish the reports. We support bicameral, bipartisan legislation to do so. And we hope that our website will help show the way forward.

via Why I Came To Believe CRS Reports Should be Publicly Available (and Built a Website to Make it… – Medium.

Open San Diego launches Flashlight to improve public access to government information

San Diego Citybeat’s Dave Maass is leading a project to help San Diegans obtain public records and other data from government agencies. Produced under the Open San Diego umbrella, it’s called Flashlight:

Open San Diego Flashlight is basically a big collection of bookmarks for San Diego’s enterprising community of journalists, researchers, citizen watchdogs, muckrakers and data nerds. This site contains hundreds of links to free databases, maps, records, archives and searches—each tagged and categorized for quick, convenient access.

This FishbowlLA story takes a look at Flashlight along with a similar “Fishbowl” endeavor being undertaken by the LA Times: Southern California Papers Helping Wage Public Records Transparency War.

Congressional hearing on access to publicly-funded research

According to the Alliance for Taxpayer Access, a public hearing is scheduled for next Thursday, 29 July 2010, on the topic of access to publicly-funded research. The hearing will be held by the House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Information Policy, Census, and National Archives to understand the challenges, impact, and opportunities for increased access.

More details are available on the press release:

CRS Reports to the People! Part III

Even with this year’s introduction of S.Res. 118 and H.R. 3762, it is still important to encourage our Government to make Congressional Research Service (CRS) Reports publicly accessible online!

Thus, I finally updated the latest list of Bills and contact information for the sponsoring Congressmen in the Delicious.com “CRS” tag Delicious.com “CRS” tag.

See also: CRS Reports to the People! Part 1 and Part 2 for more information on how to contact/write to your Congressmen.