During Workers' Memorial Day on April 28, the country will honor Americans who have died from a job-related illness or injury. Relevant to that commemoration is the Department of Labor's online enforcement database, which sheds light on safety enforcement actions and company performance in protecting workers from injury, illness, and death.
How can federal agencies be more responsive in making the information they gather and hold available to the public? Agencies are currently grappling with that question as they prepare new "open government plans" required by the White House. On Feb. 28, the Obama administration issued guidance to outline the approach that agencies should take with the next set of open government plans, which are due June 1, 2014.
In a partial victory, the Wyoming Supreme Court ruled that Wyoming's District Court must reconsider public disclosure requests for chemicals used in fracking fluid, and the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (WOGCC) cannot simply claim information on fracking chemicals is protected under a trade secrets exemption. The lawsuit could set an important precedent in the disclosure of chemicals used in fracking, also known as hydraulic fracturing.
On Feb. 28, Idaho became the seventh state in the country to criminalize filming abusive or otherwise unethical activities on farms. These laws (dubbed "ag-gag" laws) limit transparency and keep Americans in the dark about food safety problems. Activists, journalists, and whistleblowers play a vital role in exposing animal abuse, unsafe working conditions, and other violations on farms.
On March 10, the Center for Effective Government released a report card grading federal agencies on their implementation of the Freedom of Information Act. The overall results were disappointing: no agency earned a top overall grade of an A, and half received failing grades. The good news is that in each of the three performance areas we investigated, at least one agency earned an A.
In August 2008, six-month-old Kennedy Brotherton Jones died when her head got trapped in her bassinet. Her parents later learned that another child had died in the same way in the same model of bassinet a year earlier. That death had been reported to federal product safety authorities, but the danger had not been communicated to the public – including Kennedy’s parents. Today, a government website provides information that can help prevent future tragedies.
As the number of chemical disasters and injuries continues to mount in 2014, evidence shows that the risks that chemical facilities present to the local communities in which they are located are greater than many residents previously understood. The Center for Effective Government has created a set of maps, showing how close many of these facilities are to schools and hospitals. The maps are helping communities press for new oversight, safer chemicals, and stronger enforcement of existing standards to prevent future disasters.