Celebrating Sunshine Week 2013

by Gavin Baker, 3/7/2013

Sunshine Week, a nationwide initiative highlighting the importance of open government and accountability, will be held this year from March 10-16. Created by journalists in 2002, Sunshine Week is designed to educate people on their right to access public information in understandable, user-friendly formats to participate more effectively in democracy and to use such information to protect and improve their communities.

Sunshine Week coincides with James Madison's birthday on March 16. Madison is considered the "Founding Father of Freedom of Information."

During the week, news media, government officials, educational institutions, libraries, nonprofit organizations, individuals, and anyone with an interest in open and transparent government can take part in a variety of events and activities. Shedding new light on the latest developments in freedom of government information, these events will include conferences, panel discussions, and workshops. Here are some notable events that will take place in Washington, D.C., throughout the week:

Monday, March 11

The Department of Justice will celebrate significant improvements in Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) mandatory practices over the last four years. At 10 a.m., Acting Associate Attorney General Tony West and agency representatives will spotlight examples of success achieved by a number of agencies in areas addressed by the Justice Department's FOIA guidelines.

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), together with the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS), will host two back-to-back events at the National Archives. At 1 p.m., Archivist David Ferriero and OGIS Director Miriam Nisbet will discuss the importance of FOIA and display the original Freedom of Information Act, which celebrates its 47th birthday this year. At 1:45 p.m., agency staff will demonstrate FOIAonline, a new multi-agency FOIA portal designed to streamline the FOIA process for both agencies and requesters.

Tuesday, March 12

The Center for Effective Government and the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) will host two panel discussions beginning at 1 p.m. on the consistent implementation of open government policies and the reduction of national security-related secrecy. The panels will feature open government experts, administration officials, and congressional staff. Click for more details and to RSVP for this free event.

The Congressional Transparency Caucus is hosting a panel focusing on recent progress on FOIA reform and what more needs to be done to improve public access to government records, at 3 p.m. in Room 2203 of the Rayburn House Office Building. This event will bring together FOIA experts including OGIS Director Miriam Nisbet; Rick Blum, Coordinator at the Sunshine in Government Initiative; Gavin Baker, Open Government Policy Analyst at the Center for Effective Government; and Richard Pollock, Investigative Reporter at the Washington Examiner. The discussion will be moderated by the Sunlight Foundation’s Policy Counsel, Daniel Schuman.

Wednesday, March 13

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) will put together two panel discussions at the George Washington University Law School from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. The discussions will examine whether the government is justified in keeping secret the opinions drawn up by the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) to justify policies including extraordinary rendition, the use of torture, and the killing of Americans abroad.

At 10 a.m. the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing looking at the OPEN Government Act and freedom of information issues in the Dirksen Senate Office Building. The Center for Effective Government's Director of Open Government Policy, Sean Moulton, will testify. Government witnesses will include Melanie Pustay, director of the Office of Information Policy at the Department of Justice, and OGIS Director Miriam Nisbet.

The D.C. Open Government Coalition will present its second annual DC Open Government Summit from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. and will share results of its recent survey of meetings across dozens of D.C. boards and commissions to see if they complied with open government guidelines. The summit will convene such experts as Robert Spagnoletti, chairman of the newly established Board of Ethics and Government Accountability; D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D); and David Zvenyach, general counsel to the D.C. Council.

Thursday, March 14

The Brennan Center for Justice presents a panel discussion on the future of classification reform and the broader implications for our national security system. Panelists will include Nancy Soderberg, chair of the Public Interest Declassification Board; J. William Leonard, former Director of the Information Security Oversight Office; Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy; and Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Brennan Center's Liberty and National Security Program. The discussion will take place at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace from noon to 1:30 p.m.

The Cato Institute is hosting a two-day Wikipedia and Legislative Data Workshop that explores ways of using legislative data to enhance Wikipedia. The first session, from 2:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., is designed for people of all technical skill levels and will cover Wikipedia editing and policy. Participants are encouraged to bring a laptop. Friday's daylong workshop will convene experts in government transparency and Wikipedia editorial processes and decisions.

The National Press Club will offer a panel discussion, moderated by Club president Rick Dunham (of the Houston Chronicle), on how to use FOIA to obtain information in the course of investigative work. Panelists include Randy Rabinowitz, Director of Regulatory Policy for the Center for Effective Government; Charles Babcock, Editor at Bloomberg News; and Bill Allison, Editorial Director at the Sunlight Foundation.

Friday, March 15

The First Amendment Center, OpenTheGovernment.org, the Project On Government Oversight, and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press will celebrate the 15th annual Freedom of Information Day at the Newseum. Several experts, including the Center for Effective Government's Director of Open Government Policy, Sean Moulton, will discuss open government issues such as fiscal transparency, FOIA, and disclosure of special interest influence. During the event, the American Library Association will announce the recipient of the 2013 James Madison Award that honors individuals protecting and promoting public access to government information.

Monday, March 18

The Collaboration on Government Secrecy at American University's Washington College of Law will host its sixth annual celebration of Freedom of Information Day. From 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., leading experts will discuss issues including the legislative outlook for open government and the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Milner v. Department of the Navy.

Anastasia Postnikova contributed to this blog post.

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