Q & A With Philip Mattera: Tens of Billions in State and Local Subsidies Annually Go to Big Business

States and local governments strike deals with corporations all the time – deals that normal people like you and I would have a hard time getting and deals that often deprive our governments of revenue even as promises of job creation often disappoint. These tax breaks, publicly funded cash incentives, free buildings, and worker training are done in the name of keeping or wooing businesses. Until relatively recently, the public mostly knew about these subsidies on an anecdotal basis.

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Now Available: Obama Foreign Aid Order Obtained in Groundbreaking Case

Today, the Center for Effective Government is releasing the Presidential Policy Directive on Global Development, which it obtained through a path-setting Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit. President Obama originally issued the order in September 2010. Our story exemplifies a situation where disclosure eventually prevailed but with more delay and hassle than should be the case under the law.

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RTK NET Publishes 2012 Toxics Release Inventory Data

Last week, the Right-to-Know Network (RTK NET) published the 2012 Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) data. This data provides public access to important U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data on the release and transfer of toxic chemicals in the United States.

TRI was established as a part of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) of 1986, requiring EPA to make publicly available the releases and transfers of toxic chemicals above a certain threshold.

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The Right to Know: A Global Goal

In a statement released today, the Center for Effective Government joined nearly 200 organizations from around the world in calling for the right to know to be enshrined as a global goal for sustainable development efforts.

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Public Accountability in Public-Private Partnerships

The nonprofit group In The Public Interest (ITPI) released a white paper last week outlining what state and local governments should do when considering using public-private partnerships for infrastructure projects like roads. For anyone interested in maintaining democratic control of public structures as well as getting a good deal for the public, ITPI’s paper is a great starting point for designing and modifying laws and policies to achieve those goals.

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Long Overdue: Obama to Raise Minimum Wage for Federal Contractor Employees

In advance of his State of the Union speech tonight, the White House announced President Barack Obama will sign an executive order – which does not require congressional approval – to raise the wage floor to $10.10 for the lowest paid workers at companies that work on new federal government contracts.

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Oversight Board Calls for Greater Transparency of Telephone Surveillance

Today, the independent Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board released its report examining the bulk collection of telephone records by the National Security Agency (NSA) and the operation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The NSA program has come under intense scrutiny in the wake of disclosures by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. The oversight board’s report is sharply critical of the program and calls for greater transparency of surveillance policies and the surveillance court.

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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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Groups Call on President to Keep Campaign Promise and Require GMO Labeling

The use of food containing genetically modified organisms (GMO) has increased enormously over the last decade but still lacks any labeling requirement or significant government oversight. Today, more than 200 organizations and businesses, including the Center for Effective Government, urged President Barack Obama to address this gap and require labeling of GMOs.

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