A new letter by Department of Justice (DOJ) officials reveals the department is engaged in limited enforcement activities under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The letter responds to an inquiry from the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to DOJ's Office of Information Policy (OIP), which oversees agency compliance with FOIA.
On May 23, the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) introduced the Chemical Safety Improvement Act of 2013. The bill would amend the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act, the nation's primary and outdated chemical safety law. Despite being promoted as a significant reform, the proposed legislation fails to improve the health and safety protections missing from current law. As it stands, it represents a significant retreat from the Safe Chemicals Act of 2013 that Lautenberg introduced earlier this year. The earlier bill should be the senator’s legacy.
Open and accountable government is key to successful development, according to a report by a United Nations (UN) panel released May 30. The report, titled A New Global Partnership: Eradicate Poverty and Transform Economies through Sustainable Development, was produced by a panel of global dignitaries at the request of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The report's emphasis on transparency represents the growing consensus among world leaders in favor of open government and could bolster support for transparency within the U.S.
On May 16, the U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released a revised proposed rule for hydraulic fracturing on federal public lands (commonly referred to as fracking). The new proposed rule not only ignores concerns about the public health and environmental risks of the natural gas drilling method, it also disregards recommendations by lawmakers and the U.S. Department of Energy's Shale Gas Production Subcommittee, which called for transparency and full public chemical disclosure. The proposed rule suggests the agency has placed industry concerns ahead of public health and safety. It also contradicts the new data standards the Obama administration issued just last week by executive order.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee unveiled its discussion draft of the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2013 on May 10. This legislation, more commonly known as the DATA Act, is intended to bring unprecedented public transparency to federal spending by requiring more spending data to be published online, in a standardized format, and in a searchable, downloadable database.
The Obama administration has released new data on the 333 lawsuits filed in 2012 under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The data shows that although FOIA lawsuits can be high profile, they are rare and the vast majority of requesters never pursue litigation. But more importantly, the information indicates that FOIA reforms, currently being considered by both Congress and the administration, can generate greater improvements for public access when they address earlier stages of the FOIA process.