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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.

RIP Aaron Swartz, Friend of libraries and open information activist

Shinjoung and I were stunned when we heard the news early yesterday morning that our friend — and supreme friend of libraries and the Internet! — Aaron Swartz left this world late friday evening. Aaron was deeply committed to and passionate about internet freedom and making information and knowledge as available as possible. To those ends, he worked on many projects large and small in his short but influential life. He was 26.

The *many* heartfelt remembrances from communities as diverse as journalism, law and open source tech — witness Rick Perlstein, Lawrence Lessig, Glenn Greenwald, Karl Fogel — attest to Aaron’s supreme impact on the world at large (and that’s no hyperbole!).

Before I had even heard of his tragic demise, a few colleagues and I were in the midst of writing letters of support for Aaron’s nomination for this year’s James Madison award from the American Library Association (ALA). This award, named in honor of President James Madison, was established by the ALA in 1986 to honor individuals or groups who have championed, protected and promoted public access to government information and the public’s “right to know” on the national level. I hope now that ALA will award Aaron posthumously!

We’re helping Archive-it staff harvest a Web archive of Aaron’s work, writings, images, videos, and remembrances. If you’ve got a URI that you’d like to be included in the archive, please paste it to this Google Doc.

Remembrances of Aaron, as well as donations in his memory, can be submitted at http://rememberaaronsw.com

The world will miss you Aaron. Be at peace my friend!

Ironic CRS report on government transparency

The Congressional Research Service has a new report on government government transparency, which, ironically, does not mention the fact that the report is available to the public in spite of the congressional policy that bars CRS from making this report public. Thanks and a big hat tip to Secrecy News, a publication of the Federation of American Scientists, for making the report available!

Also see the Secrecy News article about this and other recent CRS reports:

  • The Meaning of Transparency, and More from CRS, by Steven Aftergood, Secrecy News, (November 13th, 2012).

    It also does not consider in any depth how technological changes are affecting government information policy, perturbing or mooting longstanding official positions on disclosure and non-disclosure. Nor does it explore political obstacles to greater transparency (such as the congressional policy that bars CRS publication of this very report on transparency).

Great news! New Bill calls for CRS reports to be publicly available

This is great news indeed! The Sunlight Foundation reported today that the “Public Access to Congressional Research Service Reports Resolution of 2012” (aka H. Res 727) has just been introduced by Representatives Quigley (D-IL) and Lance (R-NJ) — many thanks to both of them.

The resolution would ensure that reports by Congress’s $100 million-a-year think tank will become available to the public on a website maintained by the House Clerk. Numerous good government groups and advocates for more congressional transparency — including FGI! — have endorsed the measure. Please contact your Representative and ask them to vote HELL YEAH! on H. Res 727.

The reports, prepared by the Congressional Research Service, are frequently cited by the courts and the media and requested by members of the public, but CRS does not release them to the public. Instead, they come to widespread attention after they are released in dribs and drabs by Congressional offices and painstakingly collected by researchers. Some are collected and sold for $20 a copy, while others are made available by non-profit organizations for public consumption. By the time they become publicly available, the reports can become outdated, especially when an issue is moving quickly in Congress.

Reliable access to CRS Reports would ensure that everyone has timely and comprehensive access to the collective wisdom of hundreds of analysts and experts on political issues when they’re at their most salient. This is already common practice in other support arms of the Congress, like the Government Accountability Office and the Congressional Budget Office.

In the past CRS reports have been more widely available, but relatively recent CRS-imposed policies are increasing limiting access even as the Internet has made the documents easier to share. In fact, the original limitation on public access was imposed in the 1950s on CRS’s predecessor agency and arose from a concern about the costs of printing and mailing the reports — not their confidentiality. In the Internet age, this limitation no longer makes sense, especially as these reports are already available on CRS’s internal website in electronic form.

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.

OMB Watch Report on Transparency and Accountability Websites

On March 19, OMB Watch released a new report that evaluates state and federal websites designed to ensure the accountability of public officials. The report, Upholding the Public’s Trust: Key Features for Effective State Accountability Websites, examines state efforts to release public officials’ integrity information online. Such transparency is crucial to guard against self-dealing and patronage. While states and the federal government have made progress in this area, more work lies ahead.

This report considers four key areas of transparency in the U.S. state and federal governments: campaign finance, lobbying, procurement, and public officials’ assets. The report describes the key features needed for effective online disclosure in these areas and highlights leading practices in the states.