Celebrating Sunshine Week with Webcasts, TGA, and More

March 14, 2014

By Elizabeth Holland

Sunshine Week officially kicks off Sunday, but we’ve already got much to celebrate.

Yesterday, Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) introduced the Transparency in Government Act of 2014 (H.R. 4245). The bill includes a number of important transparency provisions that would bring improved public access and openness to the work of all three branches of government.  Highlights include:

  • Requiring all congressional committees to post public hearings and markup schedules, related bill language, witness testimony, and audio and video recordings online.
  • Making Members’ recorded votes more accessible by requiring the Clerk of the House to publish vote records online in an easily searchable, structured data format, and for Members to include their individual vote record on congressional websites.
  • Requiring the Government Accountability Office to audit the current budget, costs associated with and effectiveness of PACER and make recommendations to Congress, the Administrative Office of the Courts, and other appropriate offices on improvements
  • Increasing public access to Supreme Court proceedings by requiring by law the audio recording of oral arguments and live-streaming of the recordings on the Supreme Court’s website.
  • Making Congressional Research Service reports available to the public.
  • Strengthening the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by requiring agencies to put all completed FOIA requests online in a format that is searchable, sortable and downloadable. Also ensures that all agencies utilize the website FOIA Online to log, track and publish the status of requests.
  • Improving access to White House and agency visitor logs.

Though the bill likely won’t progress as a complete package, we’re thankful to Congressman Quigley for starting off Sunshine Week with such a comprehensive and thoughtful approach to government transparency.

This morning, we’re joining OpentheGovernment.org (OTG) and the Newseum’s First Amendment Center for their National Freedom of Information Day Conference and co-sponsoring the annual webcast so you can join too. This year’s event will feature several panels, including one which promises to bring together reporters and policy-makers to “talk about the 1971 break-in to the Media, PA FBI Field Office and the current leaks of information about the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs, the effects on society in these cases, and resulting reforms in intelligence policy and practice.”  Tune in between 8:30 am and 2:00 pm EST.

When Sunshine Week kicks off in earnest next week, you can expect lots of events and news from open government organizations in Washington and beyond. Here are some highlights: On Monday March 17, the Department of Justice will host its annual program to describe the current state of FOIA administration and mark the fifth anniversary of the Attorney General’s FOIA Guidelines. On Tuesday, March 18, the Collaboration on Government Secrecy (CGS) will sponsor its Seventh Annual Freedom of Information Day Celebration. View a PDF of the agenda, and find more details on the CGS website. On Wednesday March 19, the House Advisory Committee on Transparency will discuss “The Future of FOIA.” The committee educates policymakers on transparency-related issues, problems, and solutions and shares ideas with members of the Congressional Transparency Caucus. Several of these events will be recorded and posted online, and we’ll let you know when they’re available.

Happy Sunshine Week!


Sunshine Week in Review

March 19, 2013

By Elizabeth

As Emily recently shared, last week marked the ninth annual Sunshine Week, a time to reflect on the state of public access to government information and work together to make our government more transparent. In addition to the release of two new reports to which AALL contributed, we were busy celebrating Sunshine Week at events across Washington, DC.  Read on for event recaps and a few exciting legislative developments.

On Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing entitled “We the People: Fulfilling the Promise of Open Government Five Years After the OPEN Government Act.” Under the leadership of Chair Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Ranking Member Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the committee expressed frustration with federal agencies’ inability to comply with a 2007 open government law that Congress enacted to accelerate processing of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. On the first of two panels, witnesses included Miriam Nisbet, Director the Office of Government Information Services, which was created by the OPEN Government Act, and Melanie Pustay, Director of the Office of Information Policy at the Department of Justice. On the second panel, consisting of open government advocates, speakers charged Pustay with exaggerating the progress of the Obama administration. While agencies have improved the processing of FOIA requests by reducing average processing times and cutting down on the backlog of requests, the information available to requestors is still unsatisfactory. Full releases of documents declined to the lowest level on record in 2012, while 52 out of 99 federal agencies have not changed their freedom of information regulations to meet the requirements of the OPEN Government Act of 2007. The Justice Department has been particularly problematic, testified Thomas Blanton, director of the National Security Archive at George Washington University. Pustay contended the new regulations were optional.

At the same time as the Senate hearing, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hosted its Sunshine Week event, a hearing entitled “Addressing Transparency in the Federal Bureaucracy: Moving Toward A More Open Government.” Committee Chair Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-MO) used Sunshine Week as the impetus for introducing draft legislation to amend FOIA.  The draft bill, which AALL supports, is ”designed to strengthen transparency by ensuring that legislative and executive action to improve FOIA over the past two decades is fully implemented by federal agencies,” said Rep. Issa.

Representative Wm. Lacy Clay (D-MO) also reintroduced legislation on Wednesday aimed at enhancing transparency. H.R. 1104, the Federal Advisory Committee Act Amendments of 2013, would strengthen the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), landmark legislation authored by Rep. Clay, Rep. Cummings, and Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-VA). “This bill opens up the Federal Advisory Committee selection and oversight process by providing greater transparency and ensuring real independence for appointees,” said Rep.  Clay.  “The act also imposes much tougher standards to ensure that committee members are insulated from political pressure to influence their recommendations.  Finally, my act would require any FACA appointee selected by the President or an agency to provide expert advice to fully comply with all conflict of interest rules and federal ethics laws.”

Other Sunshine Week events included a timely panel discussion on secrecy, security, and classification reform, hosted by the Brennan Center for Justice. Panelists heard from Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB) Chair Nancy Soderberg on the PIDB’s recommendations for a classification system overhaul and responded to the proposals. The issue of how the US government treats state secrets has gained much attention in recent weeks as the White House has come under intense pressure to make public OLC memos on the targeted drone program—in part thanks to a 13-hour filibuster by Senator Rand Paul (R-KY).

We concluded Sunshine Week by co-sponsoring the annual National Freedom of Information Day conference at the Newseum, which brought together groups concerned with freedom of information and open records, including FOI advocates, government officials, lawyers, librarians, journalists and educators. This year’s program invited members of the Obama administration to engage in conversation with open government advocates over the progress seen in the President’s first term. The late internet activist Aaron Swartz was this year’s recipient of the ALA James Madison Award, while winners of Sunshine in Government Award included Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) for his commitment to openness and transparency, and Environmental Protection Agency employees Tim Crawford and Larry Gottesman, who created FOIAOnline.


Save the Date! Sunshine Week 2013

February 20, 2013

By Elizabeth

The 9th annual Sunshine Week will take place from March 10-16th with events held around the country. Sunshine Week is a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. Participants include news media, civic groups, libraries, nonprofits, schools and others interested in the public’s right to know.

Here in Washington, DC, AALL will again co-sponsor a Sunshine Week webcast with OpentheGovernment.org, to be held on the morning of Friday, March 15.  This year’s program will celebrate National Freedom of Information Day at the Newseum, with a specific focus on the future of open government. Four small panels will feature topics like FOIA and proactive disclosure, spending transparency, declassification, and ethics disclosure. Speakers will outline how the Obama Administration could make real progress in the short-and medium-term and a government or a former government employee will be on hand to respond. In the afternoon, the program will feature clips from the upcoming documentary, “War on Whisteblowers,” and a discussion with featured journalists and whistleblowers.

Want to get involved? AALL chapters have held many compelling open government events during Sunshine Week in years past. If you or your chapter is interested in holding a Sunshine Week event, we recommend checking out Michele Finerty’s excellent guide on creating a Sunshine Week Program and contacting the GRO for help.

Visit the recently updated Sunshine Week website for information about events in your area. The site is designed to help continue the dialogue on open government year round.  You’ll find a Reading Room with highlights from reports and commentary, a Toolkit and Idea Bank to facilitate brainstorming, and a helpful FOI Resources section offering information on a wide-range of open government topics.

 


Celebrating Sunshine Week 2012

March 15, 2012

In celebration of the 8th annual Sunshine Week, AALL is co-sponsoring an exciting webcast on government secrecy with OpenTheGovernment.org. The live webcast will take place on Friday, March 16 from 1:15 pm to 3:30 pm EDT. Questions for the panelists can be sent to questions@openthegovernment.org or called in to 202/292-6073. The webcast will also be archived on the Newseum’s website.

Thanks to all of you who have planned local events and webcast viewing parties. Your participation in Sunshine Week helps shine a light on government!

Secrecy, Disclosure and the Risks for Security and Accountability

1:15p.m. – Welcome: Patrice McDermott, Executive Director

1:20 pm – Whistleblowers & the Press: Roles and Risks in Divulging Information Needed for Accountable Government

  • Gary J. Aguirre, Aguirre Law, former investigator with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and whistleblower; currently represents other SEC whistleblowers
  • Tom Bowman, National Public Radio (NPR) National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon
  • Mark Cohen, Deputy Special Counsel, Office of Special Counsel, and former Executive Director of the Government Accountability Project (GAP)
  • Lucy Dalglish, Executive Director, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press(RCFP)
  • Matthew Miller, Partner at Vianovo, and former Director of the Office Public Affairs for the Department of Justice
  • Moderator: Abbe Lowell, Partner at Chadbourne & Parke LLC

2:25 pm – Secret Government and Secret Laws: Do claims of national security trump open and accountable government?

  • Alex Abdo, ACLU National Security Project Staff Attorney
  • Liza Goitein, Co-Director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Program
  • J. William Leonard, former Director of the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO)
  • Dana Priest, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist at the Washington Post and author of Top Secret America
  • Jeffrey H. Smith, former General Counsel of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)and current Partner at Arnold & Porter
  • Moderator: Danielle Brian, Executive Director, Project On Government Oversight (POGO)

The event will be available via webcast from the Newseum’s homepage as part of the Freedom Forum FOI Day (http://www.newseum.org/)

Brought to you in celebration of Sunshine Week by the American Association of Law Libraries, American Library Association, Association of Research Libraries, League of Women Voters, National Freedom of Information Coalition, OMB Watch, OpenTheGovernment.org, Project On Government Oversight, Sunshine Week, Special Libraries Association, and the Sunlight Foundation. It is made possible by the generosity of Bauman Foundation, CS Fund, Open Society Institute, and Rockefeller Brothers Fund.


Department of Justice Launches FOIA.gov

March 16, 2011

In celebration of Sunshine Week, the Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of Information Policy launched FOIA.gov, the flagship initiative of DOJ’s Open Government Plan. The site is a one-stop-shop for information about the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and access to data from agency annual reports. Users can search for data from a single agency or compare data from multiple agencies, as well as analyze data over time (back to 2008). Data can also be downloaded in XML.

In addition, FOIA.gov includes an excellent glossary of terms that will help the public better understand the FOIA process, with links to videos that answer common questions like, “What are FOIA exemptions?” and “What is a backlog?”.

As we noted in our audit of the Department of Justice’s Open Government Plan, DOJ’s flagship initiative was based on an idea submitted by the open government community for the creation of a FOIA Dashboard.

Congratulations to the Department of Justice for the successful launch of FOIA.gov.


OpenTheGovernment.org and AALL to Host Annual Sunshine Week Webcast this Friday, March 18

March 14, 2011

Today is the start of the sixth annual Sunshine Week, a national initiative to encourage a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. AALL is pleased to co-sponsor the annual Sunshine Week Webcast with OpenTheGovernment.org. You can watch this year’s program live on Friday, March 18 from 12:00 p.m.-1:30 p.m. EDT. The Webcast will also be archived.

We thank NOCALL for planning two local events to show the Webcast and host discussions about government openness.

The national Webcast will feature two exciting panel discussions, and you’ll be able to call or email questions to the speakers during the live program. If you’re in D.C., you can RSVP to attend the event at the Center for American Progress here.

Speakers will include:

Welcoming remarks:
Reece Rushing, Director of Government Reform, Center for American Progress

Panel one:
Steven P. Croley, Special Assistant to the President for Justice and Regulatory Policy, White House Domestic Policy Council
Gary Bass, Executive Director, OMB Watch
David S. Ferriero, Archivist of the United States

Panel two:
Todd Park, Chief Technology Officer, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Sheila Krumholz, Executive Director, Center for Responsive Politics
Jennifer LaFleur, Director of Computer-Assisted Reporting, ProPublica
Tom Lee, Director, Sunlight Labs, Sunlight Foundation

Moderated by:
Patrice McDermott, Director, OpenTheGovernment.org

With this list of distinguished speakers, this year’s Sunshine Week Webcast is sure to be an interesting and fun event. If you’re not attending one of the live viewings, we hope you’ll gather some colleagues to watch the Webcast and send your questions to our speakers. Your participation will ensure this year’s event is a success!


Planning a Successful Sunshine Week Event

February 16, 2011

Next month, AALL and OpenTheGovernment.org will host our sixth annual national webcast during Sunshine Week. This year’s event, “The Road Forward on Open Government,” will feature two panels that will assess the Administration’s progress on President Obama’s commitment “to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government.”

The first panel will focus on the challenges and opportunities that the Administration’s Open Government Initiative have created at the Federal level. Speakers include:

  • David S. Ferriero, Archivist of the United States
  • Steven P. Croley, Special Assistant to the President for Justice and Regulatory Policy, White House Domestic Policy Council (invited)
  • Gary Bass, Executive Director, OMB Watch (invited)

The second set of panelists will discuss the ways in which technology is being used to increase access to government data and information, and the potential limitations. Speakers include:

  • Todd Park, Chief Technology Officer U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (invited)
  • Jennifer LaFleur, Director of Computer-Assisted Reporting at ProPublica
  • Tom Lee, Director of Sunlight Labs at the Sunlight Foundation
  • Sheila Krumholz, Executive Director of the Center for Responsive Politics

AALL chapters and sites are highly encouraged to show the webcast and host programs on open government in their communities, or become co-sponsors of local events. As always, participants at sites around the country and at the live event in Washington, D.C. will be able to ask the panelists questions during the program. If you cannot show the program live, there will be a recorded version available shortly after the event.

NOCALL’s Michele Finerty, who has coordinated several excellent local Sunshine Week events, has put together a very useful guide for AALL chapters and members on creating interesting and informative programs. The guide includes sources for identifying local panelists and co-sponsors for the event, as well as NOCALL’s program description and registration form for their 2011 event in Sacramento.

If you are interested in hosting or co-sponsoring an event, please email AALL Advocacy Communications Assistant Emily Feldman.


Sunshine Week Shines Light on FOIA

March 23, 2010

It’s been just over a year since Attorney General Eric Holder issued new guidelines to executive branch departments and agencies on the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The guidelines, which direct agencies to adopt a presumption in favor of disclosure when responding to FOIA requests, reflected President Obama’s memorandum on FOIA that he released on his first full day in office.

While Attorney General Holder’s guidelines and President Obama’s memorandum sent a clear message to agencies that they must take steps to improve their FOIA practices, many agencies have not followed through. A new audit by the National Security Archive, released last week during Sunshine Week, found that only 13 agencies that responded to the Archive have made concrete changes in their FOIA practices. In addition, several agencies continue to have severe backlogs in processing requests, with some requests lingering for as many as 18 years.

On March 15, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), long-time FOIA advocates and the authors of the OPEN Government Act (P.L. 110-175), introduced the Faster FOIA Act (S. 3111). AALL joined 33 other open government groups on a letter to Senators Leahy and Cornyn in support of the bill, which would establish the Commission on Freedom of Information Act Processing Delays. The Commission would be charged with producing a report to Congress and the President within one year, after which the Commission would terminate, that recommends steps that should be taken to reduce delays in the administration of FOIA. This important bill would help address the serious long-standing problem with FOIA backlogs that the National Security Archive has repeatedly found in their excellent series of annual audits.

[Posted by Emily Feldman]


OpenTheGovernment.org and AALL to Host Annual Sunshine Week Webcast this Friday

March 15, 2010

This week marks the fifth annual Sunshine Week, and AALL is again pleased to co-sponsor the annual national Webcast, “Building Transparency,” with OpenTheGovernment.org. You can watch this year’s exciting program live on Friday, March 19 from 12:00 p.m.-2:00 p.m. EDT at host sites around the country or on your personal computer. The Webcast will also be archived.

We thank NOCALL and Lyon County Law Library in Emporia, Kansas for planning local events to show the Webcast and host discussions about government openness in their communities.

The Webcast will feature three panel discussions, and you’ll be able to call or email questions to the speakers during the live event.

  • The first panel will focus on the Administration’s efforts to change the culture of secrecy in the Executive Branch, including requirements in the new Open Government Directive for agencies to be more transparent. Speakers are Norm Eisen, Special Counsel to the President for Ethics and Government Reform, Jim Harper, Director of Information Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, and John Wonderlich, Policy Director at the Sunlight Foundation.
  • The second panel will examine the public’s right to access government information and recent reforms to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Speakers are Miriam Nisbet, Director of the new Office of Government Information Services (OGIS), Melanie Sloan, Executive Director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), Kevin Goldberg, counsel for the American Society of News Editors (ASNE), and Melanie Pustay, Director of the Department of Justice’s Office of Information Policy.
  • The third panel will include a discussion of third-party projects that use government information, like the datasets on Data.gov, in innovative ways. Speakers are Laura Beavers, National KIDS COUNT Coordinator for the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and Eric Gundersen, President and co-founder of Development Seed. The panel will be moderated by Sean Moulton, Director of Federal Information Policy at OMB Watch.

As you can see from this impressive list of speakers, the Sunshine Week Webcast promises to be an informative and engaging event. If you’re not hosting a local program this year, we hope you’ll gather some friends and colleagues to watch the Webcast online and send your questions to the panelists. Your participation will help make Sunshine Week a success!


Host a Local Event for Sunshine Week 2010

February 4, 2010

For the fifth year in a row, AALL is co-sponsoring the annual Sunshine Week Webcast with OpenTheGovernment.org, and we’re again looking for sites and co-sponsors to host local programs.

AALL chapters and members have always been a key part of making Sunshine Week a success. Chapters and law libraries around the country are invited to show the Webcast in their communities and host local discussions following the national program. The live event will be webcast for free from the Center for American Progress on March 19 from 12-2pm EDT. You are welcome to show the program at a later date if the live event conflicts with your spring break.

The theme for the 2010 Sunshine Week Webcast is “Building Transparency.” The program will include a discussion of the Obama Administration’s progress on its transparency initiatives, an update on the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the new Office of Government Information Services (OGIS), and a look at how state and local organizations are using government data. Guest speakers will include Norm Eisen, Special Counsel to the President for Ethics and Government Reform, and Miriam Nisbet, Director of OGIS. There will also be time for questions from the live audiences around the country.

NOCALL has already put together an exciting event with the California Library Association, the California Association of Library Trustees and Commissioners, and the Special Libraries Association/Sierra-Nevada Region on March 24 at Pacific McGeorge School of Law.  The program will begin with a viewing of the archived Webcast, followed by lunch and a panel of exceptional guest speakers.

Please contact me if your library or chapter is interested in volunteering to be a host site or co-sponsor. We will be happy to connect you with others in your area who are interested in hosting programs, including the local League of Women Voters.

We look forward to working with you to bring more sunshine to your state.

[Posted by Emily Feldman]


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