One Step Forward, One Step Missed: House Committee Approves Limited FOIA Improvements

On March 20, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform approved the FOIA Oversight and Implementation Act (H.R. 1211), sponsored by the committee's chair and ranking member, Reps. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Elijah Cummings (D-MD). The bill would take steps to improve agency compliance with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and require agencies to post more public information online. However, more reforms will be needed to address fundamental flaws in the current FOIA system.

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Freedom of Information Act Performance, 2012: Agencies Are Processing More Requests but Redacting More Often

A building block of American democracy is the idea that citizens have a right to information about how their government works and what it does in their name. However, citizen access to public information was only established by law in 1966 with the passage of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The law has since been strengthened and improved over the years, and FOIA currently requires federal agencies to formally respond to requests for information within 20 working days or potentially face a lawsuit. While there are exemptions that agencies can use to avoid the disclosure of sensitive information or information that violates privacy rights, agencies processed over half a million FOIA requests in 2012. In about 41 percent of these cases, the information requested was released “in full” with no parts “redacted” – i.e., clean, complete documents with no blacked-out parts were provided to the person who requested the information.

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After Four Years, Obama Delivers Policy Leadership on Transparency, but Agency Implementation Is Inconsistent

Four years ago, President Obama entered office offering an inspiring vision for a more open and participatory government. A new report by Center for Effective Government staff credits the Obama administration for using its first term to construct a policy foundation that could make that vision a reality. However, the actual implementation of open government policies within federal agencies has been inconsistent and sometimes weak.

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Delivering on Open Government: The Obama Administration's Unfinished Legacy

This report examines progress made during President Obama’s first term toward open government goals outlined in a comprehensive set of recommendations that the open government community issued in November 2008, titled Moving Toward a 21st Century Right-to-Know Agenda. We examine activity in the three main areas of the 2008 report: creating an environment within government that is supportive of transparency, improving public use of government information, and reducing the secrecy related to national security issues.

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Obama's Legacy of Transparency is Unfinished

WASHINGTON, March 10, 2013—In a report released today, the Center for Effective Government (formerly OMB Watch) examines the Obama administration's progress on open government during the president's first term. The review finds that the administration has issued important policy reforms, but that the implementation of White House policies has been inconsistent across federal agencies.

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Celebrating Sunshine Week 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.

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Congress Asking the Right Questions on FOIA

A recent letter from Congress to the Justice Department represents a positive development toward strengthening the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The letter, sent Feb. 4 by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, asks what steps the government is taking on a number of key transparency improvements.

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Open Government Gets a Second Term

Four years ago, when Barack Obama assumed the office of the President of the United States, he signaled his commitment to open and accountable government with a set of directives and executive orders designed to make his administration “the most transparent in history.” Significant progress was made in his first term, but the president's vision has not yet been translated into across-all-agencies improvements in openness, and in the area of national security, most civil liberties advocates are disappointed.

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Celebrate Public Participation on Human Rights Day

Today is Human Rights Day. This year's theme, "inclusion and the right to participate in public life," is close to our hearts here at OMB Watch.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms that "all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights," and goes on to define a life of dignity as one in which freedom of opinion and expression, the right to health, and the right to participate in government are guaranteed. All governments are obliged to respect and promote these rights, and national and international mechanisms exist to enforce them.

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Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board Begins Work

This morning, the long-awaited Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board is holding its first public meeting. Congress created the board in 2007 to ensure privacy and civil liberties are protected from overzealous domestic counterterrorism activities.  However, the board has laid dormant since its creation. The Senate failed to confirm President Bush's nominees in 2008.

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