In August, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) made several changes to the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Mandatory Reporting Rule that will improve, but also delay, public access to critical air pollution data. The EPA will launch an electronic tool to collect and make public GHG pollution data from companies. However, the agency allowed firms in several industries to delay disclosing the factors used to calculate their GHG emissions.
The Obama administration is seeking to use technology to better support the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) system. The effort could improve access to government information, empower Americans, and strengthen democratic accountability.
Sunday marked the 10-year anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. This is an appropriate time to look back on what happened to government openness and access to information in the aftermath of the attacks. It seems that after 9/11, government officials stopped believing that Americans could be trusted with information – about their communities, about risks and dangers they could face, and about government actions on their behalf. Withholding information from citizens is a slippery slope for any democracy, yet over the past decade, government secrecy has expanded under the misguided belief that sacrificing citizen access to government information would somehow make us more secure.
The Obama administration's efforts to protect scientific integrity moved forward recently with the submission of five finalized agency policies and 14 draft policies, but progress has been slow and haphazard. The administration recognizes that sound, uncensored science is critically important to protecting public health and the environment. The administration also understands that agencies should foster a culture of scientific integrity that includes effective policies and oversight to protect science from political manipulation and research misconduct. However, it has yet to undo the damage wrought by the previous administration.
On Aug. 4, 17 federal agencies signed a memorandum of understanding that aims to address and reduce the disproportionate harm from environmental degradation that affects indigenous, low-income, and minority communities. The "Memorandum of Understanding on Environmental Justice and Executive Order 12898" (MOU EJ) is the most recent step taken by the Obama administration to address the environmental burdens facing these communities and to encourage people from affected communities to participate in public processes designed to improve environmental health and safety.
During the past week, leaders of the House and Senate announced the members of the debt ceiling deal's Super Committee. Now, all eyes are turning to the committee's co-chairs, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), to see if they will institute basic transparency standards that many within and outside government are calling for. With so much decision making power concentrated in the hands of just 12 members of Congress, the country deserves the maximum possible level of transparency in the committee's operations.
On July 22, the House passed an appropriations bill that makes deep cuts and policy changes to the Government Printing Office (GPO), an agency that plays an important role in current information dissemination for all three branches of the federal government. The bill raises troubling questions about Congress's understanding of and commitment to GPO’s primary responsibility for making public documents available to the American people.