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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.

FEC vice chair resigns. FEC effectively shut down

Federal Election Commission (FEC) Vice Chairman Matthew Petersen announced his resignation today. Chalk up another federal agency unable to do its work. This is happening across the federal government. Many agency political appointments simply haven’t been nominated, while some, like Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP)’s science division simply shut down because no staff have been hired; while others like USDA have sought to erode the agency’s work by forceably relocating its staff to places like Kansas City (and then cutting staff buyouts to boot!). This is disturbing to say the least.

Federal Election Commission Vice Chairman Matthew Petersen announced his resignation today. 

This means the agency that enforces and regulates the nation’s campaign finance laws will effectively shut down — something that hasn’t happened since 2008 — because it won’t have the legal minimum of four commissioners to make high-level decisions.

Petersen’s resignation, first reported by the Washington Examiner, will throw the FEC into turmoil for weeks — and perhaps months — as the nation enters the teeth of 2020 presidential and congressional elections.

  • For now, the FEC can’t conduct meetings.
  • It can’t slap political scofflaws with fines.
  • It can’t make rules.
  • It can’t conduct audits and approve them.
  • It can’t vote on the outcome of investigations.

And while staff will continue to post campaign finance reports and attend to day-to-day functions, the commission itself can’t offer official advice to politicians and political committees who seek it.

via Federal Election Commission to effectively shut down. Now what? – Center for Public Integrity.

Senate introduces legislation to clarify presumption of disclosure in FOIA

This just in from our friends at MuckRock: Senate introduces legislation to clarify presumption of disclosure in FOIA. This new bill will will protect public access to information from private entities that do business with the government following the *terrible* Supreme Court decision in Food Marketing Institute v. Argus Leader, which overturned more than 40 years of FOIA precedent by letting corporations decide whether the public was entitled to access government spending information. Also, according to OpenTheGovernment’s analysis, the bill addresses “…the EPA’s move to undermine FOIA by issuing regulations, without the legally required public notice and comment period, that appear to allow officials to withhold portions of documents as “not responsive” to a FOIA request, despite a federal court ruling forbidding the practice.”

The “Open and Responsive Government Act of 2019” would address limits to FOIA being imposed by regulatory agencies, in addition to those recently created by the Supreme Court’s decision in Food Marketing Institute v. Argus Leader Media. That decision allowed for a broad interpretation of confidentiality under the FOIA’s b(4) trade secret exemption, and transparency advocates are confident the ruling, if allowed to stand, would severely limit access to government dealings with private companies.

“Last month’s Supreme Court overturned more than 40 years of FOIA precedent, and will force government agencies to withhold large swaths of information about private contractors and other companies who do business with government,” said Emily Manna, policy analyst at Open The Government. This bill would return us to the status quo, and restore the public’s right to access this critical information.”

The proposed amendments would expand the language of the “trade secrets” exemption to explicitly require a standard of substantial harm for the nondisclosure of commercial information. That standard seemed to have been set by the case National Parks & Conservation Ass’n v. Morton, but the Supreme Court’s recent ruling did not acknowledge it.

via Senate introduces legislation to clarify presumption of disclosure in FOIA • MuckRock.

Cronyism and ‘wasteful’ spending accusations at GPO. Hearing on Wednesday

[Editor’s note 8/6/19: Andy Sherman, who was accused in this story, but who served admirably for 38 years at GPO in several administrative positions, sent me this Letter to Chairman Blunt that he sent in January, 2019. Andy explains that there was no misconduct, and gratefully allowed me to post the letter to FGI in order for our readers to have a fuller understanding of this news story. With this context, as well as the knowledge that the June 2018 report was sent to Congress but that neither the House Administration Committee nor the Senate Rules and Administration Committee took any action, should clarify this tempest in a teapot story. Thanks Andy!]

This scandal has been slowly boiling at GPO for quite some time — well before Davita Vance Cooks resigned as GPO Director in November, 2017 and may be part of the reason that Robert Tapella’s nomination as GPO Director was recently withdrawn. You can read more in the June 21, 2018 Interim Report Of Investigation Into Alleged Misconduct By Two Senior GPO Managers. Tune in to the Senate Rules and Administration Committee hearing “Oversight of the Government Publishing Office Office of the Inspector General” on Wednesday July 24 at 10:30am EST. Whatever the outcome, this is sure to have a negative impact on the management of the FDLP.

[HT To the fine folks at the First Branch Forecast for posting about this! You should subscribe to their newsletter!!]

Allegations of cronyism, wasteful spending and other misconduct are roiling a little-known federal agency in charge of producing and distributing the government’s official documents, including paper questionnaires for the upcoming 2020 census.

According to an internal watchdog report obtained by NPR, two officials at the U.S. Government Publishing Office — previously known as the Government Printing Office — allegedly violated federal laws and regulations by filling agency jobs with unqualified candidates, including an official’s son. The GPO’s Office of Inspector General has not finalized its findings, but in June, it sent an interim report to the joint congressional committee that oversees the agency.

via Cronyism, ‘Wasteful’ Spending Accusations Roil Government Publishing Office : NPR.

Mapping immigrant impact on local communities. Using data to tell impactful stories

Here’s an interesting project called “Map the impact” from New American Economy, a “bipartisan research and advocacy organization fighting for smart federal, state, and local immigration policies.” It connects govt data with stories to frame immigration in a more positive light. While the site doesn’t allow direct download of data, they do have a methodology page which points to the datasets used for the site — like American Community Survey, Integrated Public Use Microdata Series (IPUMS), Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), and Census of State and Local Government. Check it out.

New Stanford Cyber Policy Center report details security concerns with 2020 election

Stanford University’s Cyber Policy Center, in conjunction with the #StanfordCyberPolicy event held last month, has published a new white paper on the security of US elections entitled “Securing American Elections: Prescriptions for Enhancing the Integrity and Independence of the 2020 U.S. Presidential Elections and Beyond.” Summary: it’s not good.

[HT to Bruce Schneier and his always fascinating/disturbing Crypto-Gram Newsletter. We highly recommend subscribing to the newsletter!]

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