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FOIA Shows How Congressional Diversity Helps Underrepresented Groups, OPEN Data Act Poised to Become Law, and More: FRINFORMSUM 1/11/2019

January 10, 2019

FOIA Shows Benefits of Diversity in Congress

A Washington Post analysis found that legislators from underrepresented groups “disproportionately advocate for these communities.” For example, “Legislators who are women, minorities and/or veterans advocate more actively for citizens from their respective groups. In fact, they’re about six to nine percentage points more likely to contact agencies on behalf of constituents with whom they share a background, compared to their non-veteran, male or white fellow legislators.” The Post’s Kenneth Lowande, Melinda Ritchie, and Erinn Lauterbach made this discovery when they sent 73 Freedom of Information Act requests to various agencies to “to study whether legislators who are members of minority groups are more likely to advocate and intervene with the bureaucracy on behalf of those communities.” Fifteen agencies responded to the FOIA requests with logs that included “correspondence from all members of Congress who served from 2005 to 2014.” The study was undertaken to see if members of underrepresented communities have reason to be optimistic with the new Congress, which is the most diverse in history.

OPEN Data Act Poised to Become Law

The OPEN Government Data Act recently passed Congress as part of the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking (FEBP) Act and awaits President Trump’s signature. As the Data Coalition notes, “The bill sets a presumption that all government information should be open data by default: machine-readable and freely-reusable.” The Act would make an agency’s failure to use open data “legally questionable,” and requires agencies to “maintain, and publish, a comprehensive data inventory of all data assets. The data inventory will help agencies and open data advocates identify key government information resources and transform them from documents and siloed databases into open data.”

Open Government Partnership Places US Under Review

Alex Howard recently published an update on the US’s lackluster involvement in the Open Government Partnership under the Trump administration. In 2017 the administration committed itself to participating in the multilateral initiative to promote open government, but the US has been placed under review for procedural violations after failing to deliver its 4th National Action Plan for Open Government. Howard notes that “if the USA fails to deliver a new NAP during this Review period (in this case, by August of this year), the OGP Steering Committee will likely vote to agree to making the country inactive.”

Trump Visitor Logs On Appeal in 2nd Circuit

The National Security Archive, together with the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University and the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), is continuing the fight to open the White House visitor logs and the records of presidential visitors to Trump properties, including Mar-a-Lago. The Obama administration routinely released the logs, which are created and controlled by the Secret Service, with no harm to national security or personal privacy. The three organizations filed an appeal in the Second Circuit this week, arguing that the logs are agency records clearly subject to the FOIA, not presidential records that only become available starting five years after the president leaves office.

Read the appeal and the rest of the story here.

MuckRocks Breaks Down What’s in the Interior Department’s Proposed FOIA Changes

MuckRock and Russ Kick recently published an excellent piece breaking down what’s in the Interior Department’s proposed FOIA changes. The proposed FOIA regulation changes were published in the Federal Register the week between Christmas and New Years and the public only has until January 28th to comment. Of highest concern are DOI’s attempt to preemptively reject what it defines as “unreasonably burdensome” requests, the possibility of imposing a monthly limit to the number of either pages or requests from a single requester the agency will process, and a host of other changes that may make it more difficult to obtain fee waivers and expedited processing.

Digital National Security Archive named 2018’s Outstanding Academic Title

Choice Magazine, the publishing arm of the Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL), recently named the Digital National Security Archive an “Outstanding Academic Title” for 2018.  The annual award goes to publications deemed especially worthy of attention from academic librarians seeking to build research collections. DNSA is the Archive’s flagship publication launched in 1989 that includes over 50 collections of declassified documents obtained through in-depth archival research and targeted requests under the Freedom of Information Act. Documentation consists of White House records, international summit meeting transcripts, top-level briefing papers, CIA assessments and covert action reports, military planning documents, State Department telegrams, and other high-level, previously classified materials resulting in what the Washington Journalism Review has called “a state-of-the-art index to history.”

Review the entire collection series here.

When Hackers Went to the Hill — Revisiting the L0pht Hearings of 1998

More than 20 years ago, in May 1998, seven hackers from the Boston-based “hacker think tank” L0pht Heavy Industries, appeared alongside Dr. Peter Neumann, a private sector expert on computer security, before the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs for one of the first-ever Congressional hearings focusing specifically on cybersecurity. Two decades later, many of the problems these experts pointed to are still being confronted

The Archive’s Cyber Vault recently published the transcripts of these ground-breaking hearings along with a variety of subsequent official reports, testimony, and related materials that trace the evolution of U.S. government and public awareness of and approaches to the challenges, problems, and threats posed by the world of cyber. Taken together, the documents offer a glimpse into the scope and complexity of numerous issues that still lack meaningful answers.

TBT Pick – Revisiting the Soviet War in Afghanistan

A 2001 series from the Archive’s John Prados and Svetlana Savranskaya analyzes declassified records and the memoirs of former Soviet officials to examine Soviet policymaking, military operations, and lessons learned from the USSR’s war in Afghanistan – a bloody, ten-year conflict that pitted Soviet military forces against CIA-backed Afghan rebels. The collection also includes excerpts from an essay written by analyst Steve Galster as an introduction to the Archive’s microfiche collection, Afghanistan: The Making of U.S. Policy, 1973-1990, published in 1990.

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