WatchDog TipSheet

Congress Doesn't Want You To Read These Reports

More evidence of Congress' ineffectiveness comes in its ongoing failure to keep its secrets actually secret. Its official policy is to keep the Congressional Research Service from publicly releasing the handy explainers it produces at taxpayer expense. Thanks again to the Federation of American Scientists' Government Secrecy Project for unauthorized publication of these reports.

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Report Lists State Open Data Policies and Portals

The federal government offers a launch pad for a range of journalistic projects, giving you one-click shopping for online state data portals where they exist. These portals bring together links to data from multiple agencies in a single state. Now, the nonprofit Center for Data Innovation has catalogued and rated state open-data policies.

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Shouldn't "Trade Secrets" Face a Sunset in Interests of Public Health?

One of the oldest tricks U.S. industry has used to hide the potential harm to public health done by chemicals it puts into the environment is to claim that their identities are trade secrets via a loophole established under the antiquated Toxic Substance Control Act of 1976. On August 21st, a coalition of groups petitioned EPA for toxic trade secrets to have an expiration date.

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EPA Promises to Look into Muzzling of Advisory Panel Scientists

In an August 15 email, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Chief of Staff Gwendolyn Keyes Fleming said EPA Science Advisor Bob Kavlock would review complaints from journalism (including SEJ) and open-government groups that scientists on EPA advisory panels were being told not to answer news-media or congressional inquiries without permission.

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States Hide Safety Failures Over Routing Data on Crude Oil Trains

Just over a year after an oil-train explosion in Quebec killed 47 people, information on the threats oil trains present to public safety is starting to seep through a long blackout in which railroads convinced pliable federal regulators that the public was better off not knowing. Journalists from the AP and McClatchy FOIA'd information loose from Amtrak on Maryland and Pennsylvania, two of the states that have been reluctant to disclose.

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White House Issues "Non-Response" to 38 J-Groups on Spin Complaint

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest responded belatedly on August 11, 2014 to 38 journalism groups, including SEJ, that had complained on July 8, 2014, about Obama administration press offices blocking journalists' access to federal officials. But it was a "non-response," according to SPJ president David Cuillier.

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FACA Database Offers Major Tool for Gumshoes

Journalists: if you haven't been paying attention to federal advisory committees, maybe it's time to start. These panels are a major back door through which industry exerts quiet influence on government regulators — but they are kept available to scrutiny by the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) and the Sunshine Act.

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Lobbyists Can Now Join Federal Advisory Committees

The Obama White House released a new rule reversing its ban on lobbyists in government.  The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) rule allows registered lobbyists to participate as members on panels covered by the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA). The rule change was forced by a court decision.

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EPA Muzzles Advisory Board Scientists

Journalism and science groups, including SEJ, protested an August 12, 2014, "don't talk" memo from EPA's chief of staff. The memo makes it clear: members of the agency's many science advisory panels are not to talk to the news media or Congress without permission. Attached to the memo was an "EPA Policy" restricting communications between Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) committee members and parties outside EPA.

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