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] 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!

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, 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]

Save the Date for Sunshine Week 2009!

January 27, 2009 and AALL invite you to participate in the fourth annual Sunshine Week webcast, “Opening Doors: Finding the Keys to Open Government.” As in years past, we are looking for host sites and co-sponsors for local programs!

This year, the event will be webcast for free from the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C. on Friday, March 20th from 1:00 to 2:30 EDT to sites around the country. The national program will explore what the new Administration is – or should be – doing to promote open government, what you can do to advance that goal, and what the news media are doing to make government information easily available in your communities.

You can get involved by volunteering to be a host site or local program sponsor. Sites are encouraged to show the national program and plan local programs in their communities. Audience members at sites viewing the live program will have an opportunity to call in and email questions to the live panels. This is a great opportunity to begin (or continue) a dialogue around open government in your community.

For more information, please contact Emily Feldman.

Sunshine Week and Open Government Resources

March 25, 2008

On Wednesday, March 19, and AALL co-sponsored the third annual Sunshine Week National Dialogue on Open Government and Secrecy, “Government Secrecy: Censoring Your Right to Know.” The event was a great success! The program was webcast live from the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. to sites and individuals around the country. There were over one hundred attendees at the National Press Club, twenty-two host site events which included hundreds of participants around the country, and over seven hundred registrants for the webcast. You can now watch the archived version of the webcast on the National Press Club site. The webcast will soon be permanently available on’s website.

Thanks to all of the law libraries and chapters that participated in the event: Lake County Law Library (OH); the Lyon County Law Library (KS); the Westminster Law Library at Sturm College of Law, University of Denver; the Law Librarians of Puget Sound (LLOPS) with the Washington State Library; and the Northern California Association of Law Libraries (NOCALL) with the San Francisco Bay Region Chapter of the Special Libraries Association. Many thanks also to all of the volunteers and participants! We are thrilled that so many AALL members took part in the event this year.

To continue the momentum towards sunshine at the local, state, and national levels, put together a fantastic set of resources on open government issues. Resources are organized by subject and include books and articles on Executive privilege, information and democracy, and information technology issues. also put together a list of recent legislation on disclosure and open government with links to more information about the bills.

After this year’s successes, we happily look forward to Sunshine Week 2009!

[Posted by Emily Feldman]

Surveys Show Public’s Desire for Transparency

March 19, 2008

Two important surveys released in conjunction with Sunshine Week illustrate the public’s desire for a more open government.

The first, a Sunshine Week survey by Scripps Howard News Service and Ohio University, found that 74 percent of those polled view the federal government as very or somewhat secretive, up from 62 percent of those surveyed in 2006. Almost all of those interviewed, 92 percent, said open government is important to them in assessing candidates for state offices such as governor or attorney general.

The second survey is summarized in a report released today by OMB Watch, Top Open Government Questions for Candidates. The report names the top five open government questions that Americans would like candidates for federal office to answer before the November elections, based on a survey of more than 2,000 people. The questions can be used by voter groups, the media, and the general public to query candidates on openness and secrecy.

The top five open government questions are:

1) Manipulation of Facts
Concerns have been raised about possible manipulation of information produced by agencies and the influence of the White House over agency decisions. Do you support disclosure of all communications between the White House (including the Office of Management and Budget and other executive offices) and agencies regarding administrative decision-making and information disclosure?

2) Executive Privilege
What do you believe are the appropriate limits of executive privilege in the disclosure of information to Congress and the public?

3) Whistleblowers
Under the Sarbanes-Oxley law, only corporate whistleblowers revealing financial abuses are protected. In order to strengthen accountability against corporate crimes, would you support pending legislation that expands whistleblower protection rights to private sector workers who report violations of any federal public health and safety laws?

4) Presidential Records
Executive Order 13233 limits access to presidential records under the Presidential Records Act by giving former presidents the power to effectively veto the release of their records. Do you commit to reversing Executive Order 13233 to restore public access to presidential records after twelve years?

5) Health, Safety & Environment
Given the importance of health and safety information, how would you ensure that the public has easy access to understandable information about the air they breathe, the water they drink, and the products they use?

[Posted by Emily Feldman]

Celebrate Sunshine Week!

March 18, 2008

Now is the time to celebrate Sunshine Week! Sunshine Week is a national initiative to open a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information and there are many ways to participate! Sunshine Week officially began on March 16, James Madison’s birthday.

Although the following events take place in the Washington, D.C. area, many of them will be webcast or podcast and available wherever you are!

Events this week include:

Tonight, Tuesday March 18:

Associated Press President and CEO Tom Curley will address Freedom of Information and other open government issues during a Sunshine Week dinner event at The National Press Club. The dinner is being jointly presented by Sunshine Week and the Eric Friedheim National Journalism Library.

Wednesday, March 19 and AALL are sponsoring the third annual Sunshine Week National Dialogue on Open Government and Secrecy. This year’s panel discussions will focus on “Government Secrecy: Censoring Your Right to Know.” The event will be webcast for free from the National Press Club. Sites around the country will be hosting viewings and discussions.

Thursday, March 20

The Sunlight Foundation and Omidyar Network will host a discussion with Lawrence Lessig, law professor and director of the Stanford Center for Internet and Society. Lessig will introduce a plan called “Change Congress,” designed to increase congressional transparency. The lecture is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. at the National Press Club and will also be available via webcast.

Yesterday, the Washington College of Law’s Collaboration on Government Secrecy held its First Annual Freedom of Information Day Celebration and a podcast of the event will be made available in the near future. In addition, on Friday, March 14, the First Amendment Center hosted the 10th annual National FOI Day Conference at the Newseum. Read about that event here.

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