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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.

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.

Happy Sunshine Week! Congressional Data Coalition, open data, and public records

Happy Sunshine Week 2014! This is the week every year when open government activists and organizations, journalists, libraries, teachers and others interested in the public’s right to know promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information and [[FOIA]]. Check out the Sunshine Week events happening all this week!

As a precursor to Sunshine Week, the Congressional Data Coalition — public disclosure: FGI is a proud member of the coalition along with a bunch of fine organizations! — wrote a letter to the House of Representatives (PDF) calling for access to legislative data on bill status. As Josh Tauberer noted on his govtrack.us blog:

Congress publishes bill status on its website Congress.gov, but we are asking for it as raw data in bulk. Like on a spreadsheet. As we wrote in the letter:

To illustrate the difference between a website and data, we note that no legislative branch office or agency makes available a spreadsheet that lists every bill introduced in the 113th Congress. As you may have experienced in your own lives, a spreadsheet is an important tool when working with large amounts of information. Bulk data is like that.

Better data from Congress would help us provide more and better information on GovTrack about what is happening in Congress. The same is true of the other organizations who signed onto the letter. We can do a lot of good with that data And while the House did make many improvements to legislative transparency in the past several years, bill status data is extremely important and has not yet been addressed — even though it has been promised many times and we (and others) have been asking for it almost each year since 2007 (here’s our previous letter).

Also worth noting during Sunshine Week, the Sunlight Foundation, in a post today by Alisha Green entitled “Open data is the next iteration of public records”, makes the case for expanding the meaning of Sunshine laws which traditionally revolved around public records laws like [[FOIA]] at the federal level as well as open records and open meeting laws at the state and local levels to include open data in order to empower journalism and watchdog activities.

Open data is about the proactive, online release of government information. It takes traditional government approaches to public records forward by realizing the opportunities provided by technological advances. Open data demands the proactive release of information, the opposite of the reactive system of asking for public records. Technology makes the proactive approach possible: it is increasingly easy to post information online, where people are already looking for it.

Accessing information about government no longer has to mean going to a building and requesting permission to sift through paper documents. It doesn’t even have to mean writing a letter, filling out a complex form, or trying to figure out who to contact about public records or how to access records in the first place.

Much food for thought. Please join in the Sunshine Week festivities and help us spread the word.

Sunshine Week Round-Up

The National Security Archive has a roundup of stories from this year’s Sunshine Week:

  • Sunshine Week Round-Up, by Lauren Harper, Unredacted The National Security Archive blog (March 15, 2012).

    Sunshine Week, the annual celebration of the importance of open government and freedom of information, is in full swing. Every year, the news media, nonprofits, libraries, schools, and the government debate the public’s right to know.

FOIA news: FOIA.gov launches and how to be a cooperative FOIA reviewer for EFF

Because it’s Sunshine Week, there’s lots of news about the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). First off, the US Department of Justice just announced their new site FOIA.gov as a central repository for FOIA compliance across the Federal government, agency FOIA data since 2008 (detailed reports here), and FOIA spotlight in the news. Interestingly, they haven’t put up a link to individual agency FOIA electronic reading rooms, but I’ve sent in that request and hopefully it’ll soon be added to the site.

Do you want to assist in the FOIA process? If so, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has a job for you. The EFF has so many liberated/FOIA’d documents in the realms of privacy, due process and civil liberties, that they’re seeking help from the public to pore over those liberated government docs as part of their cooperative FOIA review project.

Here’s how the Cooperating FOIA list will work: Send us an email to put your name on our list. When we get government documents in response to a FOIA request, we’ll post a note to the list with a basic description of the project (for example: “Documents from DHS detailing government use of social media – approximately 100 pages” or “Documents from FBI detailing misuse of National Security Letters – approximately 10,000 pages”). If you’re on the list and are interested, you contact us, and we’ll tell you how to access pdf versions of the documents and what we’re looking for in the information. Then you review the documents and let us know what you find.

Interested in being a Cooperating FOIA Reviewer? Send a note to [email protected] with your name, email address, and some brief information on who you are and what you’re interested in, and we’ll add you to the list.

And finally, check out SunshineWeek.org for FOI news roundup and event listings around the country. You can also play the Ray of Sunshine game!

It’s Sunshine Week! March 13-19

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