Whistleblower Support Center and Archive Features Growing Collection of Resources

June 25, 2010

Long-time whistleblower advocate Dr. Donald R. Soeken has launched a new Web site for his nonprofit organization, the Whistleblower Support Center and Archive. The Web site features a blog with news and videos; articles on whistleblowers and whistleblowing; and a link to the popular International Whistleblower Archive which uses the Internet Archive’s Archive-It service to capture, archive and make accessible a vast collection of whistleblower documents.

In addition to browsing the Web site’s large collection of whistleblower resources and documents, you can become a fan of the Center on Facebook, sign up to follow them on Twitter, and keep track of new items through their RSS feed.

We encourage you to check out this important new Web site, sign up for updates, and visit often to explore this exciting collection of resources.

[Posted by Emily Feldman]


Sen. Jeff Sessions Blocks Important Bill to Increase Access to Presidential Records

June 16, 2010

As the Senate Judiciary Committee prepares for the June 28 nomination hearing of Elena Kagan to the U.S. Supreme Court, Ranking Member Jeff Sessions (R-AL) has been outspoken about what he considers to be the slow release of records from the Clinton Library to the committee. Ironically, Sen. Sessions has put a hold on the Presidential Records Act Amendments of 2009 (H.R. 35) that would help to avoid such delays in the future by ensuring the timely release of presidential records to the public.

The release of presidential records is governed by the Presidential Records Act (PRA) of 1978, as amended by Executive Order (E.O.) 12667, which establishes that the public records of our presidents are government property and therefore belong to the American people. Unfortunately, the PRA has been weakened over the years by presidents who wish to keep their records out of public reach.

In 2001, President Bush issued E.O. 13233 granting an incumbent or former president veto power over any public release of materials by the Archivist even after the expiration of the required 12-year withholding period. This executive order was in clear opposition to the intent of the 1978 law, and AALL immediately joined other open government groups in supporting legislative efforts to overturn it. We were pleased when, on his first full day in office, President Obama issued E.O. 13489 to revoke President Bush’s executive order and establish a stronger standard for public access.

AALL supports the Presidential Records Act Amendments of 2009 because it would ensure that the important openness provisions of President Obama’s executive order become law. The bill would establish reasonable standards for the release of presidential records and restore the balance between a president’s ability to withhold certain records for a limited time period and the public’s right to access them.

The House passed H.R. 35 on January 7, 2009 by an overwhelming vote of 359-58. The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs reported the bill favorably on April 1, 2009 with an amendment that extends the amount of time an incumbent and former president may review their records before release.

Kagan served as Associate Counsel to President Clinton from 1995 to 1996 and as Deputy Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy and Deputy Director of the Domestic Policy Council from 1997 to 1999. It’s unfortunate that Sen. Sessions doesn’t recognize that the important piece of legislation he is holding from a floor vote would address his concerns about the delays in getting access to Clinton-era presidential records. We urge him to immediately lift his hold.

To learn more about the history and status of public access to presidential records, please read our Issue Brief.

[Posted by Emily Feldman]

Law Library of Congress Adds Enhancements to THOMAS

June 2, 2010

The Law Library of Congress announced today that THOMAS has again been updated with a number of new useful features, in continuing celebration of its fifteenth anniversary. Enhancements include:

  • Expanded Use of the Bookmarking and Sharing Widget: The THOMAS Share Tool allows you to print THOMAS pages and search results; subscribe to regular updates from THOMAS; share THOMAS content via social networking sites and email; and post links to or embed THOMAS content in your personal Web site or blog. First launched only on the Bill Summary & Status and Bill Text pages, this helpful feature is now available on the Congressional Record, Committee Reports, and Nominations and Treaties pages.
  • Consistent, Informative Headers and Improved Navigation: New headers provide useful information at the top of each Bill Summary & Status page. The addition of “back” buttons help users more easily navigate the site.
  • Years Now Included Along with Sessions of Congress: THOMAS now displays the years covered by each session of Congress on the Bill Summary & Status page and the search screen. The Law Library has also added a very nice Congress-to-Year Conversion for users who want to see this information at a glance.

We applaud the Law Library for continuing to add improvements to THOMAS that will help legal researchers and members of the public more easily track legislation and conduct research. We will keep you updated as new features are added.

[Posted by Emily Feldman]

New Whistleblower Archive Provides Unparalleled Access to Digitized Documents

May 21, 2010

Since March 2008, AALL Director of Government Relations Mary Alice Baish has worked closely with longtime whistleblower advocate Dr. Donald R. Soeken to find a home for an invaluable collection of digitized court and other documents related to whistleblowers and whistleblowing. We are very pleased to announce that after Dr. Soeken’s many years of tireless work, the newly formed International Whistleblower Archive is now using the Internet Archive’s Archive-It service to capture, archive and make accessible a treasure trove of whistleblower documents. Anyone who visits the collection will now have the ability to search a vast international archive of court documents, news articles, videos and more.

We commend Dr. Soeken for his commitment to ensuring a secure and permanent home for this important resource for legal researchers, lawyers and whistleblowers themselves. The collection already includes documents related to the cases of such well-known whistleblowers as Daniel Ellsberg and Fred Whitehurst. With the help and contributions of attorneys, counselors, professors, researchers and journalists, we hope that this impressive collection will continue to grow.

Whistleblowers who reveal government abuses of power help to protect against waste, fraud, and abuse. AALL strongly supports legislation in the House (H.R. 1507) and Senate (S. 372) that would provide protections for government whistleblowers to ensure that they can speak out without fear of reprisal. To learn more about the status of whistleblower protections in the 111th Congress, please see our Issue Brief.

Please be sure to visit this great new resource and forward it on to your colleagues and friends!

[Posted by Emily Feldman]

House Launches New Web Site with Video of Proceedings

April 27, 2010

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ( D-CA- 8 ) announced yesterday a new Web site launched by the Clerk of the House, HouseLive.gov, which offers streaming and downloadable video feeds of all House floor proceedings. The site features live video and a searchable archive for the 111th Congress, indexed along with the legislative floor proceeding summary so that users can more easily find specific video segments. The Web site also includes a section where you can view video of special events, including joint meetings and joint sessions, such as the State of the Union.

The site also offers audio and video RSS feeds and allows you to create your own custom RSS feed by keyword. These tools are exciting features that will greatly enhance the usefulness of the video streaming.

While improvements could be made to improve searching and integration of the text with the video, this is a positive step forward in bringing greater sunshine to the workings of the House.

[Posted by Emily Feldman]

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]

Nuclear Regulatory Commission Seeks Public Comment on Open Government Plan

January 13, 2010

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has taken proactive steps to comply with the Obama Administration’s Open Government Directive by issuing a federal register notice asking for public comment on the development of its new Open Government Plan. Specifically, the agency wants to know what data sets would be valuable for online publication and what transparency, public participation and collaboration improvements it should include in its Plan.

This call for comment demonstrates a significant shift in the agency’s thinking about public access. Following the tragic events of September 11, 2001, AALL spoke out against the agency’s decision to shut down its Web site in order to review all publicly available material. We commend the NRC for changing its culture of secrecy and for committing itself to greater government transparency.

[Posted by Emily Feldman]

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