On Aug. 26, the Center for Effective Government joined comments by the Public Interest Public Airwaves Coalition and the Sunlight Foundation urging the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to make information about televised political advertisements more accessible. Greater disclosure of political ad spending will strengthen the integrity of our elections by informing voters about who is buying such ads.
In the aftermath of the West Fertilizer explosion in April, Congress and the Obama administration are looking for ways they can better address chemical plant security and safety. A congressional hearing on Aug. 1 focused on how the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) chemical security program missed problems at the West Fertilizer plant. On the same day, President Obama issued a new executive order instructing federal agencies to form a working group to identify and fix any regulatory or informational loopholes.
The latest data on chemical storage risks shows that over 50 billion pounds of toxic and flammable chemicals are stored at 12,761 facilities nationwide. As the tragic explosions at the West, TX fertilizer plant and a Geismar, LA chemical plant have demonstrated, these facilities pose serious threats to workers and communities throughout the country. The distribution of high-risk chemical facilities – i.e., those that handle significant quantities of 140 dangerous chemicals – are available at a website the Center for Effective Government created and maintains through the Right-to-Know Network (RTKNET.org).
A key fund for government transparency programs is once again facing cuts. On July 10, the House Financial Services and General Government appropriations subcommittee approved a bill that provides no funding for the Electronic Government Fund (E-Gov Fund), the driving force behind many recent open government innovations. Instead, the bill merges the E-Gov Fund with another fund and cuts their combined funding level 15 percent from last year.
On June 7, a panel of federal judges ruled that international trade deals can be exempted from federal disclosure laws. This decision, coupled with the unprecedented secrecy surrounding the negotiations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (which kicks off the 18th round of negotiations in two weeks), strips the American people of their voice and overrides the principle that public support or opposition of such agreements should guide U.S. policy.
A new policy could provide the public with better information about federal contracts and grants. On June 12, the Office of Federal Financial Management, a division of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), issued a memo directing agencies to improve the quality of data posted for public access on USAspending.gov.
On June 13, an explosion and fire occurred at a petrochemical plant in Geismar, LA (just south of Baton Rouge), killing one person, injuring at least 70, and forcing residents within a two-mile radius of the plant to stay indoors. The Williams Geismar olefins plant explosion was just the latest in a string of chemical accidents, highlighting the risk that hazardous chemicals can pose to workers and communities and the urgent need to shift to safer chemicals.