President Promises Modest Steps toward Surveillance Transparency

In a widely anticipated speech today, President Obama laid out his position on reforming surveillance activities in the wake of disclosures by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. Today’s announcements outlined modest steps to better protect privacy and bring greater transparency to the U.S. government’s surveillance activities, but more remains to be done.

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Medicare Spending Data May Be Publicly Available Under New Policy

On Jan. 14, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced a new policy that could bring greater transparency to Medicare, one of the largest programs in the federal government. CMS revoked its long-standing policy not to release publicly any information about Medicare’s payments to doctors. Under the new policy, the agency will evaluate requests for such information on a case-by-case basis. Although the impact of the change is not yet clear, it creates an opportunity for a welcome step forward for data transparency and open government.

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Key Transparency Fund Survives in Spending Bill

The House and Senate appropriations committees today released a new spending bill which contained good news for a key fund for government transparency programs. The Electronic Government Fund (E-Gov Fund) will receive a slight boost in funding from recent years, while still falling short of the administration’s funding request.

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Planning Ahead to Keep Government Information Online

During the October 2013 federal government shutdown, several important public information sources were shuttered, which weakened government transparency during that time. But – short of averting the shutdown itself – could anything have been done differently?

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Administration Pledges, Again, to Update Nine-Year-Old Website Policy

Attentive readers of the administration’s 2nd Open Government National Action Plan will notice a familiar commitment related to reforming government websites.

Here’s the administration’s first plan, from September 2011:

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Judge Rules Against "Secret Law" in Center for Effective Government Lawsuit

A federal judge ruled yesterday in favor of the Center for Effective Government, ordering the federal government to release documents we requested under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Specifically, the court ordered the government to disclose the Presidential Policy Directive on Global Development, a 2010 document also known as PPD-6.

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Reining in “Controlled Unclassified” Information: Time to Get the Job Done

The administration’s 2nd Open Government National Action Plan, released Dec. 6, includes a welcome commitment to implement the reforms laid out in President Obama’s 2010 executive order on controlled unclassified information (CUI).

Background

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Defense Department Takes Narrower Approach to Controlled Unclassified Information

A new Department of Defense (DOD) rule requires defense contractors to protect “unclassified controlled technical information” from unauthorized access and disclosure. The rule, issued Nov. 18, is much narrower than DOD’s proposed rule, which had raised concerns that it could result in the inappropriate withholding of public information.

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The Government is Now Closed…in More Ways Than One

The ludicrous and wasteful government shutdown can now claim another victim: government transparency. Several functions dedicated to providing information to the American public have been declared “non-essential” and are suspended during the lapse in appropriations. You might say that open government is now closed for business.

Here are some of the ways in which the shutdown is making it harder to know what government is doing (or at least, was doing before the shutdown):

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Freedom of Information Act Ombudsman Not Yet at Full Force, Report Finds

A recent report by the Government Accountability Office found that the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) doesn't have a plan for conducting comprehensive reviews of federal agencies Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) policies or their compliance with the law.

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