2013 Sunshine Week in Review
by Anastasia Postnikova, 3/21/2013
For the Center for Effective Government, this year's Sunshine Week was a busy and productive time. We released two new reports and participated in several panels and events that gave us an opportunity not only to share our expertise and findings, but also to exchange ideas with other members of the open government community, government officials, and the media.
We released our first report, Delivering on Open Government: The Obama Administration's Unfinished Legacy, at the beginning of Sunshine Week. It found that in its first term, the Obama administration set a strong policy platform for open government and pushed federal agencies to share data and make better use of IT. However, the implementation of executive orders and openness plans was uneven across agencies, and the administration did not establish a promised "culture of openness."
On March 12, the Center for Effective Government held two webcast panels with the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) on the consistent implementation of open government policies in President Obama's second term and the reduction of national security-related secrecy.
The first panel, moderated by Katherine McFate of the Center for Effective Government, featured Lisa Ellman, Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP); Miriam Nisbet, Office of Government Information Services (OGIS); and Krista Boyd, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. In this panel, Lisa Ellman assured the audience that the president was still committed to improving his transparency record and talked about the commitments made through the Open Government Partnership. Krista Boyd announced and described the contents of the new legislation improving the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) that was introduced last week.
The second panel, discussing national security and secrecy, featured moderator Ginger McCall of EPIC and panelists Tom Blanton, National Security Archive; Steve Aftergood, Federation of American Scientists; Jim Harper, CATO Institute; and Scott Rosenthal, Senator Jeff Merkley's Office.
Also on March 12, the Center for Effective Government's Open Government Policy Analyst, Gavin Baker, participated in the Congressional Transparency Caucus' event, "FOIA: Today's Challenges and Tomorrow's Opportunities." He discussed solutions for more effectively delivering public information along with other FOIA experts. Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL), co-chair of the Transparency Caucus, gave opening remarks on the importance of transparency and the need for improvements.
On March 13, we released our second report, Freedom of Information Act Performance, 2012: Agencies are Processing More Requests but Redacting More Often. The report found that agencies were processing a larger number of requests and most of them reduced their backlogs. However, the number of partial (or redacted) releases that did not contain all the requested information increased.
That same day, the Center for Effective Government's Director of Open Government Policy, Sean Moulton, testified at the Senate Judiciary Committee during a hearing on the OPEN Government Act and freedom of information issues. In his testimony, Sean Moulton reported the findings of our FOIA analysis. Government witnesses at the hearing included Melanie Pustay, director of the Office of Information Policy at the Department of Justice, and OGIS Director Miriam Nisbet.
Randy Rabinowitz, Director of Regulatory Policy at the Center for Effective Government, participated in a panel discussion, "How to Make the Most of FOIA," at the National Press Club on March 14. She discussed the way her team used FOIA to research the activities of the Small Business Administration's Office of Advocacy, which culminated in a January 2013 report showing how the Office of Advocacy pushed the views of large chemical companies when inappropriately intervening in cancer assessments at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the National Toxicology Program. The report generated more scrutiny of this agency's activities by oversight committees in Congress.
The Center for Effective Government also participated in the celebration of the 15th annual Freedom of Information Day at the Newseum on March 15. Sean Moulton took part in a panel discussing fiscal transparency with Earl Devaney, the former head of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board. Among other discussions held at this day-long event was the introduction and screening of several clips from the upcoming documentary, War on Whistleblowers: Free Press and the National Security State, featuring famous whistleblowers and the journalists who reported their stories, and a keynote discussion with Floyd Abrams, an attorney who had a profound impact on the law of free speech.
Sunshine Week 2013 wrapped up on March 18 with the sixth annual Freedom of Information Day Celebration hosted by the Washington College of Law's Collaboration on Government Secrecy program. Sean Moulton and Gavin Baker participated in a discussion titled Freedom of Information Today. In this wide-ranging discussion, experts examined the findings of the extensive report that the Center for Effective Government prepared on the Obama administration's progress on open government in its first term. Among other highlights of this year's program was the presentation of the Robert Vaughn FOIA Legend Award to Leonard Schaitman, a 46-year FOIA veteran who has served as the federal government's principal appellate litigation supervisor for FOIA cases since 1973, and two panels about the legislative outlook for open government and the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Milner v. Department of the Navy.