The coming lame-duck session is the last opportunity for Congress to enact a bipartisan bill that would make modest improvements in the Freedom of Information Act. Will transparency trump gridlock when Congress returns after the November 4, 2014, midterm elections? That remains to be seen.
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Three major journalism groups held a joint convention in Chicago September 15-17, 2014, which included a panel discussion on Obama administration secrecy. News industry leaders used the occasion to point out that the Obama administration's deeds and practices did not match its claims of transparency.
An environmental group is suing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for denying a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for information on the impacts of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline on whooping cranes, piping plovers and other endangered species. Photo: Piping plover/USFWS.
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.Topics on the Beat:
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.Region:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Pressure to bring a bipartisan power-boost bill for the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to the Senate floor mounted June 26, 2014, when a coalition of some 50 groups urged action. The bill would narrow a broad exemption that has in some cases shielded from disclosure almost anything not published in official and final form.