A new federal website launched Oct. 1 could speed processing of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and release more information to the public. FOIAonline is a multi-agency portal that allows the public to submit and track requests, receive responses, and search others' requests through a single website. The system also provides agencies new features to assist with processing requests, which could improve timeliness and reduce backlogs. Agencies can also use the system to publish their responses to FOIA requests, which would make this information more widely accessible.
On Sept. 18, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Van Hollen v. Federal Election Commission (Van Hollen), a lower court ruling that effectively required more disclosure of political spending. But the Court of Appeals' blow to political spending transparency is mostly a symbolic one: over the last six months, most nonprofit political advocates have found ways to skirt the disclosure requirements and keep their donors anonymous.
The latest offering from the Senate on federal spending transparency is far less ambitious that its House counterpart, but if enacted, it would be a big win for transparency and accountability. There would still be some areas of spending transparency to be addressed in future legislation, but if the Senate's version of the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act (DATA Act) becomes law, the public will have a clearer picture of federal spending and new tools for accountability.
Under the Safe Drinking Water Act, water utilities are required to provide annual drinking water quality reports to consumers. These reports, usually attached to a customer’s water bill, contain information on any contaminants in the water, any violations of water quality standards, and sources of public drinking water. But a new proposal being considered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) could actually reduce public access to these water quality reports.
Sept. 20 marked the one-year anniversary of the launch of the global Open Government Partnership (OGP) and the release of the U.S. National Action Plan detailing the Obama administration's commitments to strengthen transparency in the federal government. The partnership and the administration's implementation efforts have both made significant progress toward their goal of more open and responsive governments in the U.S. and worldwide.
In August, a major fire at a Chevron oil refinery in California sent thousands of people to hospitals and forced local residents to hide in their homes with their doors and windows shut. The fire, which sent clouds of black smoke over the San Francisco Bay area, highlights the risks that refineries and chemical plants can pose to local communities and the need for ready access to information that residents can use to protect themselves and their families from chemical disasters.
The federal government recently unveiled a number of valuable reforms that will pave the way to a more transparent, efficient, and innovative government. The reforms implement and complement the Digital Government Strategy released by the Obama administration in May.