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]

Hope to See You in Denver for AALL’s 2010 Advocacy Training: Raising the Bar in Your State

March 18, 2010

This year’s half-day Advocacy Training, “Raising the Bar in Your State,” will be held on July 10 from 8:30 a.m.-12 p.m.. As you can see from our Final Agenda, we’ll be hosting concurrent open brainstorming sessions on concrete ways to promote our two top priorities at the state level—the value of state, court and county law libraries and the progress of our AALL State Working Groups, including the development of a national inventory of primary legal information.

If you can join us in Denver, you’ll be able to choose between these two important breakout sessions:

  • The first will feature an interactive panel discussion led by SCCLL-SIS Chair Anne Matthewman with several public law librarians who have successfully dealt with a funding crisis in their state. We want you to brainstorm about what new tools we can develop collaboratively and make available on AALLNET. These new tools will help us demonstrate the value of public law libraries and build allies to help promote their unique role in providing access to justice.
  • The second, led by GRC member Catherine Dunn, will include a dialogue with the coordinators of several of our state working groups on the successes and challenges they’ve faced. Paul Lomio and Erika Wayne, who are working with NOCALL and AALL’s California Working Group to develop and test the prototype for the national inventory, will then summarize progress to date. They’ll also lead a group discussion for new ideas on how to populate the inventories down to the local level. If you have a laptop, please be sure to bring it along!

We need many more volunteers for our state working groups. Even though you may not be able to attend our training session this summer, please contact Emily Feldman to sign up today.

And we’d like to thank the more than 25 AALL members who have already registered for the July 10 Advocacy Training. We’d love to have you join us too! To register, please send Emily an email by June 1.

[Posted by AALL Government Relations Office Director Mary Alice Baish, Advocacy Communications Assistant Emily Feldman and Government Relations Committee Chair Camilla Tubbs] 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 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, 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!

Loss of Department of Justice Emails Illustrates Continuing Lack of Effective E-Records Management

March 12, 2010

The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on February 26 on the troubling findings of an investigation by the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) into the Office of Legal Counsel’s memoranda on issues relating to the CIA’s use of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” commonly referred to as the “torture memos.” The report revealed that the OPR investigation had been obstructed by the loss of emails belonging to former DOJ lawyers John Yoo and Patrick Philbin during the period in which the memos were being drafted.

The apparent destruction of emails raises serious concerns about possible violations to the Federal Records Act (FRA). On March 10, AALL joined 45 organizations committed to government transparency and accountability on a letter to the House and Senate Subcommittees that have jurisdiction over Federal government information policy. The letter requests hearings on how the emails could be missing despite the requirements of the FRA, and to determine whether the Act needs to be strengthened to prevent such violations in the future.

This latest example of missing emails illustrates the continuing inadequacy of effective electronic records management at Federal agencies. In fact just today, the non-profit National Security Archive awarded their annual “Rosemary Award” for worst open government performance to the Federal Chief Information Officers Council for failing to address this major problem despite the Federal CIO’s annual $71 billion budget for Information Technology.

Under the FRA, it is ultimately the responsibility of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to provide federal oversight and guidance of agency records management, including email records. Unfortunately, despite years of continued appropriations for NARA’s Electronic Records Archive (ERA) to preserve and provide long-term access to electronic records and ultimately move away from a paper-based record-keeping system, the Government Accountability Office has documented continued problems and delays with the ERA.

[Posted by Emily Feldman]

Amendment to Intelligence Authorization Act Requires an IG Report on Over-classification

March 9, 2010

On February 26, the House approved an amendment to the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010 (H.R. 2701) to require the Inspector General (IG) of the Intelligence Community to prepare a report on the problem of over-classification. The amendment, introduced by Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA-36), Chair of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Intelligence, Information Sharing and Terrorism Risk Assessment, requires the IG to produce a report containing an analysis of over-classification and how it should be addressed. On February 23, AALL joined seventeen organizations on a letter to Rep. Harman in support of her amendment.

While we urged the passage of the Harman amendment, we prefer the requirements in President Obama’s Executive Order on Classified National Security Information (E.O. 13526), which goes farther than the Harman amendment by directing agencies to start taking real action to address over-classification. For example, classifying agencies have been directed by the E.O. to perform a “fundamental review” of their classification guidance to update it where necessary and to identify classified information that no longer requires protection. In addition, the E.O. established the National Declassification Center within the National Archives and Records Administration to help reduce the backlog of declassified records.

For more information on classification policy, please read our updated Issue Brief, which analyzes the President’s E.O. and current legislation to increase oversight and training to reduce over-classification.

President Obama Signs One-Year Extension of PATRIOT Act Provisions

March 8, 2010

Last December, Congress approved a 60-day extension of the expiring three provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act, including Section 215 (the “library provision”). While intended to give Congress more time to reconcile the differences between the House and Senate bills, the new February 28 deadline approached quickly without time for debate.

On February 24, the Senate voted by unanimous consent for an additional one-year extension of the three provisions, and the House quickly followed on February 25, approving the measure 315-97. On February 27, President Obama signed the one-year extension into law, putting off the possibility for meaningful reform for another year.

AALL strongly opposed the passage of the USA PATRIOT Act in 2001, as well as the reauthorization in 2005, because the bills lacked privacy safeguards and civil liberties protections. We were disappointed with the renewal of the three provisions last month because we believe there needs to be a higher standard for issuing Section 215 orders and National Security Letters (NSLs) to protect library users from intrusive government surveillance.

We had supported bills in the House, the USA Patriot Amendments Act of 2009 (H.R. 3845),  and Senate, the Judicious Use of Surveillance Tools In Counterterrorism Efforts (JUSTICE) Act of 2009 (S. 1686), which would have raised the standard for issuing Section 215 orders and NSLs to more adequately protect library users, and added reporting and oversight requirements to ensure greater accountability.

We also supported Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy’s (D-VT) reauthorization bill, the USA PATRIOT Act Sunset Extension Act of 2009 (S. 1692), as introduced. However, we were very disappointed with amendments approved by the committee when it favorably reported S. 1692 in October because they severely weakened the higher standard for library records that was in the original bill.

As the new February 28, 2011 sunset date approaches, AALL will continue to promote the need for increased protections for libraries. For more information, please read our Issue Brief, “2009-2010 Reauthorization of the USA PATRIOT Act.”

[Posted by Emily Feldman]

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