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FRINFORMSUM 1/17/2012

January 17, 2012

EPA: The Pentagon emits less carbon dioxide than George Washington University!

Last week the Environmental Protection Agency publicly released, for the first timegreenhouse gas data for 2010.  One of the most interesting features of this release is an online tool that shows the largest greenhouse gas emitters in a specified state or county.  In the District of Columbia, George Washington University, home of the National Security Archive, makes the list of the top seven greenhouse gas emitters notably beating out the Pentagon with over 1000 metric tons more carbon dioxide emissions!

In the UK, web-savvy citizens have submitted over 100,000 Freedom of Information requests through WhatDoTheyKnow.com.  Run by the nonprofit organization mySociety, the website is a powerful tool for enabling the masses to send FOI requests through a simplified interface.  Beyond simplifying the process, WhatDoTheyKnow also publicly posts the requests and responses and maintains some FOI statistics.  Though not the largest statistic on the website, the most impressive number, coming from someone who has dealt with a few dozen federal agency FOIA departments and would not want to deal with more, is the 5550 authorities that WhatDoTheyKnow.com provides access to.

Catching up on a notable story from late December, the Associated Press reported that a number of European countries were failing to comply with FOI requests concerning their involvement with secret CIA rendition flights.  London-based Reprieve and Madrid-based Access Info Europe claimed that of the “28 mostly European countries” surveyed, only seven countries, including the US, released information regarding these flights.  Five countries replied that they did not have the data, three refused to release the data, and 13 had not replied within 10 weeks.

On December 23, President Obama approved the fiscal year 2012 spending package which included a number of relevant provisions.  One notable victory for transparency advocates is the boost to information technology and electronic transparency projects.  The sad state of the Electronic Government Fund was reported in a June 2011 FRINFORMSUM, but a $4 million boost in funding is a reason for optimism.  The Consumer Product Safety Commission’s product safety database, lauded in FRINFORMSUM, was under threat from proposed measures in the budget, but these measures were ultimately struck before passage.

With austerity seemingly on the horizon for the U.S. government, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence jumped the proverbial gun and cut the number of its employees by more than 12% in 2011.  A former ODNI official was quoted saying that the workforce reduction indicated the loss of “hundreds” of positions.  Finding a silver lining in the cloud of lost jobs, the number of classification decisions made by ODNI dropped by 17.9% over the last year.  The ODNI Information Management chief wrote that the reduction in decisions was largely driven by the workforce reductions.

Finally, the FOIA Ombudsman blog from the National Archives and Records Administration teased a future FOIA portal.  This fall, NARA, in collaboration with the EPA and the Department of Commerce will launch a website that automates the FOIA request and reporting process for those agencies.  Requesters will be able to submit, track, receive, and download FOIA requests and responses to the aforementioned agencies and any agencies that decide to join in the future.  This new FOIA portal would be a fantastic tool for FOIA requesters and will hopefully gain momentum and attention from other agencies.

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