Standards and Safeguards in 2013

Agencies rolled out few health, safety, or environmental standards in the first quarter of 2013, despite hopes that President Obama would commit more attention to agencies' regulatory agendas after winning reelection. But in the spring, the gears began to move as the administration focused on implementing crucial public protections and the new director of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), Howard Shelanski, made good on his promise to cut the backlog of rules waiting for review at OIRA. With the gridlock on legislation in Congress, many are looking for the administration to be more active in moving rules and action through the executive branch.

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Citizen Access to Information: A Rollercoaster in 2013

What a rollercoaster of a year it was for citizen access to public information. Early in the year, a flurry of activity around improving freedom of information requests took place but then slowed down. Likewise, we are being teased with the possibility of serious improvements in the accuracy of federal spending datasets. We thought we were going to get better disclosure of fracking chemicals on federal lands, but good rules failed to materialize. After 38 years, legislation to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act has been introduced, but with preemption clauses, it could actually end up reducing protections. The information leaked by Edward Snowden has led to tough questions and pressure for better oversight of our national surveillance agencies, but to date no action has occurred. And the government shutdown shut down federal agency websites, leaving citizens in the dark. Here is our take on the biggest ups and downs in open government for 2013.

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New Report Recommends Best Practices for Executive Agency Freedom of Information Act Regulations

Americans deserve easy access to public information. For that to happen, executive agencies need effective procedures for responding to requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Although several agencies have adopted some good practices, most agency FOIA regulations are outdated and unfriendly to the public. To encourage agencies to improve their FOIA procedures, a goal under the president's 2nd National Action Plan on Open Government, the Center for Effective Government released a new report on Dec. 9, Best Practices for Agency Freedom of Information Act Regulations.

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Best Practices for Agency Freedom of Information Act Regulations

Of the 100 agencies in the federal government subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), dozens of agencies have not yet updated their FOIA regulations to reflect requirements in the OPEN Government Act of 2007. The OPEN Government Act required federal agencies to better assist people who make requests for public information under FOIA – for instance, by providing individualized tracking numbers in order to check the status of a request. Despite additional direction from President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder to improve FOIA processing, six years later, most agency regulations include few of the best practices described in this report.

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The Corporate Tax Rate Debate: Lower Taxes on Corporate Profits Not Linked to Job Creation

The American corporate tax system is badly broken. Some corporations pay more than a third of their profits in federal income taxes, while other equally profitable firms pay nothing at all. On average, corporations pay just 12.6 percent of their profits in federal income taxes, according to a recent study by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

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Platinum-Plated Pensions

In the current budget debate, the loudest calls for Social Security cuts are coming from two lobby groups led by CEOs who will never have to worry about their own retirement security.

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Coal Ash Waste Standards Inch Forward, But Industry Opposition Strong

This December will mark the fifth anniversary of a massive spill of coal ash in Tennessee that destroyed three houses and damaged more than 40 others. This event sparked intensified calls for the regulation of coal ash, a waste by-product produced when coal is burned. Federal efforts to deal with the problem of coal ash have progressed slowly, but agency action on the issue may be gaining momentum in light of recent policy developments. Meanwhile, coal industry proponents in Congress are revamping legislative efforts to thwart national protections against coal waste.

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E-Gov Spotlight: Centralized Product Recall Portal Needs Significant Improvements

The idea behind the U.S. government-run website Recalls.gov represents the best, most practical qualities of the Internet: to help consumers with valuable, timely, up-to-date recall information. Spanning six federal agencies, Recalls.gov aims to be a 'one-stop shop' for consumers concerned about the safety of the products they buy for themselves and their families. It is supposed to make finding recall information easy and efficient. However, the intentions of Recalls.gov are severely hampered by poor implementation, resulting in an unusable, inconvenient website.

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Hydrogen Fluoride – A Toxic Chemical in Your Neighborhood?

Across the nation, 167 industrial facilities currently store and use hydrogen fluoride, a dangerous and highly toxic gas, in their manufacturing processes. In the past 15 years, 129 incidents have occurred, causing 100 injuries and five deaths, a high accident rate given the number of facilities. Many of these facilities are located in densely populated areas, and a release of hydrogen fluoride could put millions in danger. However, safer alternatives to this toxic chemical are available. Find out if you live near one of these facilities with a new map by the Center for Effective Government.

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ALEC’s Latest Trojan Horse: The Attack on Standards and Safeguards Moves to the States

In recent years, special interests and their allies in Congress have pushed a number of dangerous proposals to "reform" the rulemaking process to undermine the standards and safeguards that guarantee clean air and water, safe workplaces, healthy food, and safe medicines. Now, these same special interests are pushing similar proposals in the states. Many of these so-called "reforms" expand or institutionalize requirements that delay and weaken important regulations and increase the already outsized influence of corporations in setting environmental, food, consumer, and worker safety policies.

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