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Sunshine Week Round-Up

March 15, 2012

Sunshine Week, the annual celebration of the importance of open government and freedom of information, is in full swing. Every year, the news media, nonprofits, libraries, schools, and the government debate the public’s right to know. Some of the biggest stories from this year’s celebration include:

Monday, March 12, 2012

  • On the heels of his agency receiving the annual Rosemary Award for worst open government performance, Attorney General Eric Holder delivered a speech at the Department of Justice to celebrate government openness. Holder claimed that the Department of Justice had led the way in FOIA improvements, and had made “meaningful, measurable” progress.
  • The National Security Archive rebutted Holder’s speech, criticizing the Attorney General for rehashing widely discredited FOIA statistics. Archive FOIA Coordinator Nate Jones discussed the reasons why the Department of Justice deserved the Rosemary Award with Federal News Radio’s In Depth.
  • Josh Gerstein of Politico reported further on the government’s dubious FOIA numbers. Mr. Gerstein pointed to former Department of Justice official Dan Metcalfe’s deep skepticism about the department’s claim of backlog reduction, and argued that the standards agencies used to track their FOIA progress could be “confusing and inaccurate.”

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and other members of the Senate Judiciary Committee spent Tuesday advocating for the public's right to know.

  •  The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the Freedom of Information Act Tuesday. During the hearing:
    •  The Department of Justice’s Office of Information Policy director, Melanie Ann Pustay, argued that a 2011 Supreme Court ruling left federal agencies less able to protect against public disclosure on matters of cybersecurity and US computer networks.
    • After Pustay’s condemnation of current FOIA exemptions, the ranking members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), were visibly  frustrated why the FOIA recommendations the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS)  submitted to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) over a year ago had never been formally adopted, submitted to Congress, or to the Obama Administration.
  • Fellow Judiciary Committee member Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) criticized the Obama Administration for failing to deliver on its promise of unprecedented levels of transparency.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

  • The FOIA Ombudsman – OGIS’ blog – posted their Sunshine Week wish list.
    • The insightful, feasible ‘wishes’ include creating a FOIA career track, standardizing FOIA web pages, and top-down support for FOIA improvements.
    • The Ombudsman also correctly emphasized the need to further perpetuate the understanding that knowledge of the Freedom of Information Act is everyone that works in the federal government’s responsibility. Mandatory FOIA training for all agency employees would greatly improve the culture of government transparency.
    • OGIS also recommended that all agencies to reinforce their FOIA policies with memos and all-hands meetings.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

  • The Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, chaired by Darrell Issa (R-CA), issued their report card on the federal government’s efforts to track and manage FOIA requests. While a few individual agencies received a perfect score, the federal government as a whole earned a C-. Special demerits were earned by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which earned an ‘F,’ and the Department of Justice, which earned a ‘D.’ The Department of Justice’s OIP division headed by Melanie Ann Pustay was especially abysmal, receiving 1843 FOIA requests and only granting – either in full or partially – 253 releases.

Rep. Issa (R-CA) and his committee gave the fed an overall grade of 'C-' for its FOIA performance.

The Congressional report reaffirms that while Sunshine Week is ending, the fight for open government continues. Even with the support of Senators like Chuck Grassley, John Cornyn, and Patrick Leahy, FOIA battles are likely to be long and drawn-out. Despite Attorney General Holder’s 2009 FOIA directive ordering a presumption of disclosure, much work remains to ensure a “new era of openness.”

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