Sunshine Week 2011 Blog Posts
- Posted byon March 16, 2011 at 10:18 AM EST
This week is “Sunshine Week.” Led by the American Society of News Editors and originally funded by the Knight Foundation, Sunshine Week is observed by media organizations around the country. It coincides with National Freedom of Information Day—March 16—selected to fall on James Madison’s birthday. Journalists, good-government groups, transparency advocates, educators, and many others interested in government transparency host events throughout the week to promote open government and freedom of information. They do so to assess the extent to which government is truly open, and to encourage citizens to seek information from their government and participate in public affairs.
Sunshine Week provides an ideal time to recount the Administration’s many open government successes since last March. And so each day this week, we will identify various ways in which agencies have made our government more open and, in turn, more democratic and more efficient. On Monday, the Department of Justice launched FOIA.gov, and we reviewed some of the substantial progress agencies across the government have made to disclose more and withhold less. We will recount, among other things, how greater transparency has saved government resources, and how technology and openness have been fused in ways that improve the everyday lives of our citizens. We will also feature the enormous work many agencies have done over the past year to make government more open and foster public participation. As the examples are too numerous to catalogue here, I encourage you to visit agencies’ own Open Government websites, which feature their recent successes.
Open government is a commitment, though, not a task. Thus the Administration’s efforts to promote open government are, as they should be, still ongoing. Nor is greater transparency desirable in every case and circumstance. Our government also owes its citizens, among other things, protection of their personal privacy and business confidentiality, effective law enforcement, and a strong national defense. That understood, the Administration’s commitment to open government, and the great progress it has made so far, are unmistakable.Steve Croley is Special Assistant to the President for Justice and Regulatory Policy
- Posted byon March 14, 2011 at 6:33 PM EST
Ed. Note: This post originally appeared on The Justice Blog.
FOIA.gov is a site dedicated to the Freedom of Information Act, a law at the very heart of open government. Congress passed the FOIA in 1966 and since then it has been known as the law that keeps citizens “in the know” about what their government is doing. Any citizen can make a FOIA request about any topic.
FOIA.gov makes it easier than ever to find information about the FOIA. With clear explanations and short videos, we’ve explored all the major aspects of the FOIA, including how you can make a request and what happens when you do.
We’ve also gathered information on where to send a FOIA request into one location. Just click on the name of a department and you’ll see where to send your request and the names of the officials responsible for making sure your request is completed.
If you want a quick glance at an agency’s data – we’ve got that too. Select any agency and you’ll see top-line data, like the number of requests for the most recent year and the number of total and partial grants made.
For more detailed information from an agency, you can generate your own report.
Each year, every federal agency is required to report to the Justice Department, which oversees FOIA compliance, basic information about how they complied with the law. This data is compiled into an annual report. This includes data like:
- How many requests were received?
- How many requests were processed?
- How old is an agency’s oldest request?
- How much did it cost to answer requests?
FOIA.gov takes that data and lets you search, sort and compare the information. You can compare one agency to another. You can even compare the data from within the offices of a single agency.
Every year, we’ll add the numbers to the database, allowing users to see trends over time. Using the “FOIA Spotlight” we will spotlight some of the most interesting documents to be released under the law. We’ve invited every agency to submit their suggestions for this section of the site.
The Freedom of Information Act is a key part of open government. FOIA.gov celebrates that, while providing a deeper look at how agencies are striving to improve their compliance with the law. We welcome your feedback on how we can improve the site in the future. If you have ideas, e-mail us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Melanie Ann Pustay is the Director of the Office of Information Policy (OIP) at the Department of Justice. OIP oversees agency compliance with FOIA directives and encourages all agencies to fully comply with both the letter and the spirit of the FOIA on behalf of the President and the Attorney General.
To learn more about the Obama Administration's commitment to good government, read about Sunshine Week 2011.
- Posted byon March 14, 2011 at 2:52 PM EST
Ed. Note: Records show that agencies have indeed made disclosure through FOIA a priority this past year. Learn more about the Justice Department's latest annual reports.
Sunshine Week is a welcome opportunity to size up the federal government’s progress in implementing the President and the Attorney General’s directives on openness and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). I’m glad to report that Agencies have made a lot of progress over the past year.
Many agencies — including the Departments of Commerce, Defense, and Health and Human Services, among many others — have taken concrete steps to improve their administration of FOIA.
Their efforts are collected at a new website dedicated to the Act, FOIA.gov. Launched on the first day of Sunshine Week by the Justice Department’s Office of Information Policy (OIP), FOIA.gov provides detailed information about agencies’ FOIA activities, including important steps agencies around the government have taken to improve their FOIA architecture. FOIA.gov also provides ordinary citizens with basic information about FOIA and instructions about how to make a FOIA request. FOIA.gov is itself a testimony to the Administration’s commitment to FOIA.
And because greater disclosure of information through FOIA requires investment over the long term, the Administration is announcing additional steps during Sunshine Week to promote FOIA’s implementation further, including:
A New Federal Job Title
Today, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) will allow agencies to use a new federal job title, FOIA Officer or FOIA Specialist, to designate agency staff committed to the administration of FOIA. OPM will also initiate a process to create a new job series for FOIA and other information professionals, so that agencies may more effectively recruit staff focused on FOIA. Learn more about the memos issued by OPM here.
A New Series of “Requester Roundtables”
Bringing together the FOIA requester community with federal agencies, the Office of Information Policy (OIP), in cooperation with the National Archives and Records Administration’s Office of Government Information Services (OGIS), will begin a new series of “Requester Roundtables,”. These regular roundtables will address specified issues of interest to the requester community, and facilitate FOIA practices best suited to requesters’ needs. OIP and OGIS will also provide agencies as well as requesters with best practices, specifically in the area of “complex” FOIA requests, to better match requesters’ needs with agencies’ capabilities.
A New Tool for Agencies to Process Requests
Agencies that require greater FOIA capacity on an episodic basis, to respond to unexpected spikes in FOIA requests for example, will also have a new tool at their disposal in 2011. The General Services Administration will undertake to amend its "Office, Imaging and Document Solution" Schedule 36 to provide a mechanism for agencies to acquire new technology, technical assistance and resources to assist with processing FOIA requests.
During upcoming weeks, agencies will proactively post on their Open Government web pages agency directories, so that citizens can more easily identify agency offices to meet their needs. In additional, agencies will also post official congressional testimony and agency reports to Congress required by statute, so that the public has better access to communications between agencies and the legislative branch. And over the next year, following the President’s Memorandum of January 18, 2011, agencies will proactively provide information about their regulatory compliance and enforcement activities, so that the public can hold both regulated parties and agencies themselves more accountable.
In these ways and more, agencies will continue to continue to provide still greater information through FOIA, wherever the law and sound policy allow.
- A New Federal Job Title
- Posted byon March 14, 2011 at 1:32 PM EST
New numbers are in. Agencies’ Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) records show that agencies have indeed made disclosure through FOIA a priority this past year. According to the latest annual reports collected by the Justice Department, the use of FOIA exemptions by the fourteen cabinet departments decreased over the last year. Agencies are sharing more and withholding less.
Agencies also report that they relied on exemptions 2 and 5—those most within their discretion—far less frequently over the past year, down 20 percent and 26 percent respectively. And of all FOIA requests processed for the possible applicability of exemptions across all agencies to which FOIA applies, the government made partial or full disclosures about 93 percent of the time; in only some 7 percent of those cases did agencies withhold all requested documents. What’s more, in about 56 percent of the cases, the agency made a full disclosure, up a full 6 percent over last year. Agencies reduced their FOIA backlogs as well—the cabinet agencies by 10.9 percent and all agencies across the government by 10.2 percent.
- Posted byon March 11, 2011 at 2:29 PM EST
Competing in the global economy will take cutting our deficits while investing in the areas critical to long-term economic growth and competitiveness. By out-educating, out-innovating, and out-building our competitors, we will enable our private sector to grow, create jobs, and thrive in the years ahead.
At the same time, we cannot win the future with a government built for the past. We live and do business in the information age, but the organization and operation of the Federal Government has not kept pace. For too long, taxpayer dollars have been wasted on ineffective and inefficient programs, and the Federal Government has not done all it can do to support the Nation’s companies, entrepreneurs, and innovators.
Already, the Administration has taken on this waste. The President’s budget consolidates and eliminates duplicative programs and proposes more than 200 terminations, reductions, and savings totaling approximately $30 billion in savings in 2012 alone. We cut contracting spending for the first time in 13 years; we’re saving billions of dollars by improving how the government buys and utilizes information technology; and we’ve proposed a plan to accelerate selling off excess federal real estate that would return $15 billion over the first three years.
Today, the President is taking two important steps to take these efforts to the next level.
First, in his State of the Union address, the President announced an initiative that we need to reorganize the Federal Government in order to give Americans a 21st century government that’s efficient and effective and will support American competitiveness. He asked me and Lisa Brown to lead that effort.
Today, the President issued a memorandum directing us to conduct a review of the federal agencies and programs involved in Trade, Exports and Competitiveness, including analyzing their scope and effectiveness, areas of overlap and duplication, unmet needs, and possible cost savings. The President has asked for recommendations for potential action to restructure and streamline government programs focused on trade and competitiveness within 90 days.