September Edition of the Washington E-Bulletin

September 24, 2008

The September Edition of the Washington E-bulletin is now available! This month’s E-bulletin features an update from Washington, a Constitution Day report from Colorado, interesting reading for the information policy junkie, and more!

Here is the Table of Contents from the September Edition:


-New York Times on the Loss of Federal Electronic Government Information
-Senate Subcommittee Addresses Secrecy and the Rule of Law
-House Oversight Subcommittee Holds Hearing on FOIA Ombudsman
-Judge Orders VP Cheney to Preserve Records
-Senator Says Government Spending Site Fails to Post Updated Information


-U.S. Courts Library in Denver Holds Popular Constitution Day Event

FREE TIME WELL SPENT: Further Reading for the Information Policy Junkie

-Secrecy Report Card Shows Expansion of Government Secrecy
-Poll Finds Public Supports Constitutional Separation of Powers
-Law Library of Congress Launches Redesigned Global Legal Monitor
-Government Printing Office Nominated for “Green” Award

[Posted by Emily Feldman]

GCN’s Top 10 Agency Web sites

September 24, 2008

Via the Law Librarian Blog, here are the top 10 agencies “making the best use of the Web,” according to Government Computer News. Web sites were judged based on information and services provided.

  1. National Library of Medicine’s Medline Plus
  3. Washington, D.C.’s CapSt
  4. SSA’s ‘Help With Medicare Prescription Drug Plan Costs’
  6. Massachusetts portal page
  7. Merit Systems Protection Board’s E-Appeal
  9. USGS’ Water Science for Schools

Take a look at these Web sites and then compile your top 10! You can post your list as a comment on the Law Librarian Blog.

[Posted by Emily Feldman]

House Holds Hearing on New FOIA Ombudsman

September 19, 2008

On Wednesday, September 17, the House Oversight and Government Reform’s Subcommittee on Information Policy, Census, and National Archives held a hearing on the implementation of the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS). The OPEN Government Act (P.L. 110-175) created OGIS within the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to review agency compliance with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and offer mediation services to requestors.

I attended the hearing on Wednesday, much of which focused on the White House’s repeated attempts to shift the responsibility of OGIS to the Department of Justice (DOJ). As AALL stated in letters to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees in February 2008, allowing DOJ to oversee the office in charge of FOIA mediation services creates a major conflict of interest and contradicts both the spirit and the letter of the law. Congress agreed and indicated that it will appropriate $1 million for OGIS, specifying that the office will remain at NARA. However, the budget with this new appropriation is not likely to be enacted until March 2009.

In his testimony, Archivist of the United States Allen Weinstein encouraged Congress and the White House to meet to resolve their differences on whether OGIS should be located at NARA or DOJ. Mr. Weinstein stated, however, that if asked, NARA will create OGIS:

Should it be resolved that the responsibility of this office falls to the National Archives and Records Administration, we will do everything we can to follow the letter of the law and the intent of Congress to create an office that would assist in seeking to resolve disputes between agencies and individuals requesting information from their government.

The other witnesses offered recommendations for creating a successful Office within NARA. Thomas Blanton, Director of the National Security Archive at George Washington University, emphasized the importance of strong leadership, transparency, and priority setting for OGIS. Patrice McDermott, Director of, focused on OGIS’s duties to ensure agency compliance with FOIA. Rick Blum, Coordinator of the Sunshine in Government Initiative, recommended that OGIS should be led by a senior executive reporting directly to the Archivist and that OGIS must maintain its independence. Lastly, Terry Mutchler, Executive Director of Pennsylvania’s Office of Open Records, described her experience as a FOIA mediator in Illinois and Pennsylvania and offered recommendations for the structure of OGIS.

In his testimony, Mr. Blanton nicely summed up the importance of creating a strong OGIS and the need for Congressional oversight:

None of this will be easy, as you know, Mr. Chairman. Every bureaucracy in world history has utilized secrecy as a core tool of its power. The iron laws of turf protection, embarrassment avoidance, and controlling the spin all mean that freedom of information is a constant struggle. But Congressional attention like this hearing today really works, providing decision-forcing deadlines, encouraging wider public dialogue, clarifying both official and stakeholder positions.

[Posted by Emily Feldman]

Today is Constitution Day!

September 17, 2008

Today is Constitution Day and Citizenship Day! The law establishing the holiday was enacted in 2004 to recognize the signing of the United States Constitution on September 17, 1787. The law requires that each educational institution that receives federal funds hold an educational program on the Constitution for students on September 17 of each year (or during the week, if the holiday falls on a weekend) on the history of the Constitution.

The Law Library of Congress provides many resources on Constitution Day and Citizenship Day on its web site. Resources include legislative and executive branch documents, journal articles, and links to other web sites.

Constitution Day and Citizenship Day is an excellent opportunity for law librarians to develop an event for your community. If your law library is involved in a Constitution Day, we’d love to hear about it!

[Posted by Emily Feldman]

Timely Article Highlights the Loss of Federal Electronic Government Information

September 15, 2008

Robert Pear of The New York Times succinctly describes the enormous challenges of preserving the vast array of federal online government information in an article published on September 13, 2008, entitled, “In Digital Age, Federal Files Blip into Oblivion.” The article captures a key concern raised by AALL in a letter to members of Congress last April about the short-sighted and disappointing decision of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) not to harvest agency Web sites at the end of this administration. In the front page article, Acting Washington Affairs Representative Mary Alice Baish expresses AALL’s concern that, when a new administration is sworn in next year, huge amounts of information on agency Web sites from the past eight years of the Bush administration will disappear.

AALL’s Government Relations Policy includes “Principles and Core Values Concerning Public Information on Government Web Sites” that explicitly state that information on government Web sites must be preserved and that,

Snapshots of the complete underlying database content of dynamic Web sites should be taken regularly and archived in order to have a permanent record of all additions, changes, and deletions to the underlying data.

AALL’s policy states unequivocally that it is government’s responsibility to ensure the entire life-cycle of information on their Web sites, including its accessibility, reliability, official status, comprehensives and preservation.

As we reported in the blog last month regarding NARA’s decision not to harvest agency Web sites, the Library of Congress, the California Digital Library, the University of North Texas Libraries, the Internet Archive, and the U.S. Government Printing Office in August announced a collaborative project to conduct their own harvests of government Web sites. While we are extremely pleased that these institutions have stepped in to ensure the preservation of federal online government information, we also believe that NARA is shirking its own responsibility to conduct these agency harvests.

[Posted by Emily Feldman]

House Passes Bills to Reduce Over-classification

September 12, 2008

On Tuesday, September 9, the House passed H.R. 6575, the Over-Classification Reduction Act to reduce over-classification across the federal government. Previously, the House passed H.R. 4806, the Reducing Over-Classification Act of 2008, which applies only to the Department of Homeland Security. Both bills establish random audits of classified information, set up processes by which employees can challenge original classification decisions, and institute a series of penalties for employees and contractors who fail to comply with the policies. prepared a side-by-side comparison and analysis of the two bills. For additional commentary on ways to address over-classification, see the Secrecy News blog.

[Posted by Emily Feldman]

Suit Seeks to Preserve Cheney Records

September 12, 2008

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), the American Historical Association, the Organization of American Historians, the Society of American Archivists, and historians Stanley Kutler and Martin Sherwin filed a complaint on September 8 against Vice President Cheney, the Office of the Vice President (OVP), the Archivist of the Unites States and the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), asking a federal judge to declare that Vice President Cheney’s records are covered by the Presidential Records Act (PRA) and that the records must be preserved for the American public.

In 2001, President Bush issued Executive Order 13233, which gave current and former presidents and vice presidents broad authority to withhold presidential records. The executive order also declared that the PRA applied only to the “executive records” of the vice president. Since this executive order, Vice President Cheney has repeatedly declared that he and the OVP are not part of the executive branch. Advocates fear that Vice President Cheney and the OVP may not turn over their records to NARA at the end of this administration, instead disposing of the records under the presumption that the Vice President and OVP are not covered by the PRA.

According to the Washington Post, Cheney spokesman Jamie Hennigan said, “The Office of the Vice President currently follows the Presidential Records Act and will continue to follow the requirements of the law, which includes turning over vice presidential records to the National Archives at the end of the term.” Recent events, however, have advocates rightly concerned. For example, David Addington, now chief of staff to Vice President Cheney, testified on June 26, 2008 before the House Judiciary Committee that the vice president “belongs to neither” branch but is “attached by the Constitution” to Congress.

Two bills supported by AALL, H.R. 1255 and S. 886, would reverse E.O. 13233 by establishing a deadline for the review of records, limiting the authority of former presidents to withhold records, requiring the president to make privilege claims personally, and eliminating the ability for vice presidents to assert executive privilege claims over vice presidential records. However, with little time left in the 110th Congress, it seems unlikely that the bills will move this year. [Ed. Note: H.R. 1255 passed the House in March 2007. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) has maintained a hold on the bill, preventing it from reaching the Senate floor for a vote. See our previous action alert for more information.]

[Posted by Emily Feldman]

Secrecy Report Card Shows Continued Expansion of Federal Government Secrecy

September 9, 2008

Government secrecy continues to grow across a wide array of indicators, according to‘s annual Secrecy Report Card, released today. Findings of this year’s report, Secrecy Report Card 2008 [correction], include:

  • Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Requests Continue to Rise; Backlogs Problems Persist

Almost 22 million FOIA requests were received in 2007, an increase of almost 2% over last year. The 25 departments and agencies that handle the bulk of the third-party information requests, however, received 63,000 fewer requests than 2006 — but processed only 2,100 more.

  • 2,371 Orders of the Secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC)

While the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court does not reveal much about its activities, the Department of Justice reported that, in 2007, the FISC approved 2,371 orders — rejecting three and approving two left over from the previous year.

  • Scientific and Technical Advice Increasingly Closed to Public

In 2007, governmentwide 64% of Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) committee hearings were closed to the public. Excluding groups advising three agencies that historically have accounted for the majority of closed meetings,15% of the remainder were closed — a 24% increase over the number closed in 2006. These numbers do not reflect closed meetings of subcommittees and taskforces.

  • Reported Invocations of the State Secrets Privilege Continue to Rise

Invoked only 6 times between 1953 and 1976, the privilege has been used a reported 45 times — an average of 6.4 times per year in 7 years (through 2007) — more than double the average (2.46) in the previous 24 years.

Despite this generally grim look at the expansion of government secrecy, there are some signs of sunshine. One recent victory for openness was the enactment last December of the OPEN Government Act (P.L. 110-175) to reform the Freedom of Information Act. The Secrecy Report Card describes some current legislative initiatives aimed at increasing openness in the executive branch, including the following bills which AALL supports:

  • H.R. 6576, the Reducing Information Control Designations Act, and H.R. 6193, the Improving Public Access to Documents Act of 2008 to limit and standardize the use of control markings of Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI).
  • H.R. 6575, the Over-Classification Reduction Act and H.R. 4806, the Reducing Over-Classification Act of 2008 to reduce overclassification in the federal government.
  • H.R. 985, the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2007, and S. 274, the Federal Employee Protection of Disclosures Act to protect public employees who speak out to protect against waste, fraud and abuse.
  • S. 2533, the State Secrets Protection Act and H.R. 5607, the State Secret Protection Act of 2008 to establish standards and procedures to limit the use of the state secrets privilege.
  • S. 3077, the Strengthening Transparency and Accountability in Federal Spending Act, to help strengthen the Federal Accountability and Transparency Act (P.L. 109-282), the law that resulted in, a searchable web site of Federal grants, contracts, loans and other financial assistance.

[Posted by Emily Feldman]

New Film Explores Government Secrecy

September 4, 2008

Secrecy News reports that a new documentary about national security hits selected theaters this month. According to the movie’s website, “Secrecy explores the tensions between our safety as a nation, and our ability to function as a democracy.” The movie asks:

We live in a world where the production of secret knowledge dwarfs the production of open knowledge. Depending on whom you ask, government secrecy is either the key to victory in our struggle against terrorism, or our Achilles heel. But is so much secrecy a bad thing?

Secrecy is directed by Peter Galison and Robb Moss.  Find out if this documentary is coming to a theater near you!

[Posted by Emily Feldman]

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