On April 26, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency publicly released a collection of web-based tools to enhance access to environmental information and encourage public participation in taxpayer-funded projects. This is part of a White House pilot program to encourage innovation in federal agencies and could empower citizens to improve their communities.
On April 27, the Federal Communications Commission approved reforms to modernize the disclosure requirements for broadcasters operating on the public airwaves. The rule will create an online database of TV stations' public files – previously available only by appearing in person at station offices – expanding public access to information about the stations' content, including political advertisements. But even as the rule moves forward, significant loopholes remain that will leave the public in the dark about political ad buys in substantial areas of key states during the current election season.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other major federal agencies released updated versions of their Open Government Plans on April 9. The EPA’s Open Government Plan 2.0 discusses its ongoing efforts to increase transparency and instill a culture of greater openness through activities designed to increase participation in rulemaking, allow greater public access to EPA data, and speed the processing of Freedom of Information Act requests.
On March 22, the U.S. Senate passed the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act, or STOCK Act, which will put thousands of disclosures from congressional and executive branch officials online for the first time. President Obama will sign the legislation into law on April 4. Many state governments already provide some online access to similar disclosures, and others, such as Maryland, are considering following suit.
In March, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) advisory panel recommended that the agency use its authority under the Clean Air Act to protect Americans against chemical disasters. Using safer chemicals could reduce or eliminate the threats and dangers that chemical plants pose to millions of people living downwind.
On March 19, OMB Watch released a new report that evaluates state and federal websites designed to ensure the accountability of public officials. The report, Upholding the Public's Trust: Key Features for Effective State Accountability Websites, examines state efforts to release public officials' integrity information online. Such transparency is crucial to guard against self-dealing and patronage. While states and the federal government have made progress in this area, more work lies ahead.