Transparency and Trade Agreements: If the Public Wouldn't Like It, Don't Sign It

On June 7, a panel of federal judges ruled that international trade deals can be exempted from federal disclosure laws. This decision, coupled with the unprecedented secrecy surrounding the negotiations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (which kicks off the 18th round of negotiations in two weeks), strips the American people of their voice and overrides the principle that public support or opposition of such agreements should guide U.S. policy.

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New Steps May Increase Transparency of Federal Contracts and Grants

A new policy could provide the public with better information about federal contracts and grants. On June 12, the Office of Federal Financial Management, a division of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), issued a memo directing agencies to improve the quality of data posted for public access on USAspending.gov.

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Defense Savings Could Partially Offset Sequestration

Sequestration's blunt approach to spending reductions is bad policy, and legislators from both parties have recognized this and proposed targeted savings at the Department of Defense (DOD) as a partial alternative. The amount of money at stake is significant. DOD and other defense-related spending typically represents more than 50 percent of federal discretionary spending each year.

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Return of the Regulatory Accountability Act: A Veiled Threat to Public Protections

On May 23, Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) reintroduced the Regulatory Accountability Act (RAA), a serious threat to environmental standards, workplace safety rules, public health, and financial reform regulations. The Regulatory Accountability Act of 2013, (S. 1029, and its counterpart in the House, H.R. 2122), is the latest version of a bill first introduced in 2011 and then again in 2012. The seemingly innocuous legislation is a drastic overhaul of the Administrative Procedure Act that would undermine the regulatory process. Advertised by its sponsors as a bipartisan proposal to improve rulemaking, the RAA would actually do the opposite.

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Only a Trickle of New Rules, Not a Wave

The business community and its allies on Capitol Hill have warned for over a year that a "tsunami" of new regulations will be flowing out of the Obama administration, undermining the anemic growth of the economy. To prevent this imagined emergency, they continue to propose draconian "reforms" of the regulatory system – changes that would further delay and obstruct the work of federal agencies attempting to implement the laws they were established to enforce.

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Explosion at Louisiana Chemical Plant is the Latest in a String of Chemical Accidents

On June 13, an explosion and fire occurred at a petrochemical plant in Geismar, LA (just south of Baton Rouge), killing one person, injuring at least 70, and forcing residents within a two-mile radius of the plant to stay indoors. The Williams Geismar olefins plant explosion was just the latest in a string of chemical accidents, highlighting the risk that hazardous chemicals can pose to workers and communities and the urgent need to shift to safer chemicals.

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DOJ Letter Shows Need for Stepped-Up Enforcement of Freedom of Information Act

A new letter by Department of Justice (DOJ) officials reveals the department is engaged in limited enforcement activities under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The letter responds to an inquiry from the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to DOJ's Office of Information Policy (OIP), which oversees agency compliance with FOIA.

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Slashed Public Payrolls Make the Unemployment Problem Worse

Although the private sector has been adding jobs, the United States still has roughly 2.4 million fewer jobs as of May 2013 than it did at the beginning of the latest recession, which started in December 2007, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But the problem is even greater. Given a growing population and the number of discouraged and underemployed workers, to reach an unemployment rate closer to the historical norm, more than 8.5 million jobs need to be created.

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We Need a Chemical Safety Bill Worthy of Sen. Lautenberg's Legacy

On May 23, the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) introduced the Chemical Safety Improvement Act of 2013. The bill would amend the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act, the nation's primary and outdated chemical safety law. Despite being promoted as a significant reform, the proposed legislation fails to improve the health and safety protections missing from current law. As it stands, it represents a significant retreat from the Safe Chemicals Act of 2013 that Lautenberg introduced earlier this year. The earlier bill should be the senator’s legacy.

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Transparency is Key for Sustainable Growth, Global Panel Says

Open and accountable government is key to successful development, according to a report by a United Nations (UN) panel released May 30. The report, titled A New Global Partnership: Eradicate Poverty and Transform Economies through Sustainable Development, was produced by a panel of global dignitaries at the request of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The report's emphasis on transparency represents the growing consensus among world leaders in favor of open government and could bolster support for transparency within the U.S.

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