Celebrate Open Government during Sunshine Week

From March 13-19, Americans will commemorate the importance of open government during Sunshine Week. Organized by the American Society of Newspaper Editors and a coalition of groups including OMB Watch, Sunshine Week is observed annually to coincide with the birthday of James Madison, the Founding Father known for his emphasis on checks and balances in government.

Transparency advocates and journalists nationwide will conduct activities to call attention to the benefits of access to information. Activities will include several public events in Washington, DC, and around the country, congressional hearings, film screenings, newspaper editorials and reporting, awards, and public proclamations.


Sunshine Week 2011 will kick off on Monday, March 14, with the Collaboration on Government Secrecy's Fourth Annual Freedom of Information Day Celebration. The day-long conference will feature discussions on Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) implementation and transparency activities in Congress. The Collaboration will also present Alan B. Morrison, founding director of the Public Citizen Litigation Group, with the 2011 Robert Vaughn FOIA Legend Award.

Also on the 14th, the Advisory Committee on Transparency will host a discussion on improving lobbying disclosure.

On March 15, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing titled "The Freedom of Information Act: Ensuring Transparency and Accountability in the Digital Age." The committee will first hear testimony from administration officials Miriam Nisbet, Director of the Office of Government Information Services, and Melanie Pustay, Director of the Office of Information Policy. The committee will then get an outside perspective from a panel featuring Sarah Cohen, professor of journalism at Duke University; John Podesta, president of the Center for American Progress; and Thomas Fitton, president of Judicial Watch.

The Project On Government Oversight continues its Whistleblower Film Series on the 15th with a reception and public screening of The Big Uneasy in Silver Spring, MD. The film is a documentary about the flooding of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina.

On March 16, the First Amendment Center will host the 13th annual National Freedom of Information Day Conference, in partnership with OMB Watch and several other organizations. In addition to presentations and discussions, the American Library Association will announce the recipients of its annual James Madison Award, and the National Freedom of Information Act Hall of Fame will announce its latest inductees.

On March 18, OpenTheGovernment.org will host a discussion on "The Road Forward on Open Government" that will explore the policy and technological issues associated with President Obama's openness efforts. The event's first panel, on the policy aspects of the administration’s Open Government Initiative, features Gary D. Bass, executive director of OMB Watch, along with administration officials Steven Croley, Special Assistant to the President for Justice and Regulatory Policy, and David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States. The second panel will focus on using technology to deliver information and engage the public and will feature perspectives from Jennifer LaFleur, director of Computer Assisted Reporting at ProPublica; Tom Lee, director of Sunlight Labs at Sunlight Foundation; and Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics.

Several of the events will be webcast for those unable to attend in person.

Other Activities

Sunshine Week has also released Ray of Sunshine, an online quiz about open government that will enable people to learn about government transparency in a fun and engaging way. Sunshine Week will also name the winners of its Local Heroes contest, an award to recognize citizens from across America who have helped to improve open government in their communities.

As occurs every Sunshine Week, several organizations are expected to release reports on government transparency, and legislators may keep with tradition and introduce new bills or resolutions to support government openness.

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