Open Government: Access, Issues, Legislation

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The Washington Office actively engages in promoting the public's "Right to Know" information created and collected by or for the federal government. This concept is an expansion and strengthening of the long-standing principle that government should make this information available.

From 1981 until 1998, the Washington Office published Less Access to Less Information by and about the U.S. Government, a selective chronology of efforts to rest rict and privatize government information. These efforts continue and the Washington Office continues to be actively engaged in combating them. The public's right to information has come under steady pressure and challenge since September 11th, on the ostensible grounds of "national security" and "sensitive homeland security." Recently, information is being withdrawn, restricted and changed on what seem best characterized as ideological bases.

Moreover, the challenges to right-to-know are increasingly to public access to records of the federal government, through statutory restrictions, administrative actions, and Executive Orders. The ability to obtain access over time to government information that is 'born digital' is another problem of increasing dimensions. The American Library Association has also signed on to the document, “ Moving Towards a 21st Century Right-to-Know Agenda: Recommendations to President-elect Obama and Congress."pdf)

ALA Council Resolutions

Government Classification Reform

113th Congress

April 23, 2013

The ALA participated in a letter (pdf) to President Obama urging him "to promptly establish and provide active White House leadership for a Security Classification Reform Steering Committee to help correct what you have called “the problem of overclassification.”"

Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)

113th Congress

H.R. 1211: the FOIA Oversight and Implementation Act of 2014 (introduced 3/15/13)

February 26, 2014

The bill was sent to the Senate where it was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.

February 25, 2014

H.R. 1211, the FOIA Oversight and Implementation Act of 2014 passed the House with a 410-0 vote under suspension of the rules.

February 24, 2014

The ALA united with 26 other organizations in a letter (pdf) to members of the House of Representatives urging them to vote for the FOIA Oversight and Implementation Act of 2014.  H.R. 1211 is a bipartisan bill that would “amend the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to promote greater government transparency and accountability”.

April 30, 2013

 The ALA joined with like minded groups to write a letter (pdf) “to thank [Melanie Pustay, Office of Information Policy (OIP), U.S. Department of Justice] for providing data on Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) cases in an open, machine-readable format as part of the 2012 FOIA Litigation and Compliance Report.”

March 15, 2013

Chairman Issa (R-CA) introduced H.R. 1211, Freedom of Information Act with two co-sponsors, Reps. Elijah  Cummings ([D-MD) and Mike Quigley (D-IL).

February 19, 2013

The following letters were sent:

  1. The first letter was sent to Chairman Issa and Ranking Member Cummings of the US House of Representatives, House Oversight and Government Reform to thank them for their letter to the Department of Justice's Office of Information Policy.  "We greatly appreciate the breadth and detail of your requests for information from OIP. As you know, outdated FOIA regulations, excessive fee assessments, growing FOIA backlogs, and the misuse of exemptions are issues that continually frustrate FOIA requesters and are major concerns for many in the transparency community."
  2. The second letter was sent to President Obama asking him "to bring renewed attention to issues that continue to plague government-wide implementation, compliance, and enforcement of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)."

Action during the 112th Congress

The Faster FOIA Act of 2011 (S. 1466) sponsored by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), John Cornyn (R-TX), John Tester (D-MT), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) passed the Senate by unanimous consent on August 1, 2011.  Rep. Brad Sherman (CA-27) introduced the companion bill, H.R. 1564, in the House on April 14, 2011. The bill was referred to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform’s Subcommittee on Technology, Information Policy, Intergovernmental Relations and Procurement Reform.

Both the House and Senate versions of the bill would establish a commission that would be required to make recommendations to Congress and the President for reducing impediments to the processing of FOIA requests. While backlogs have presented a longstanding problem in agency implementation of the FOIA, the conditions and practices that create those backlogs are somewhat enigmatic. By conducting a thorough study of the root causes of FOIA processing delays and developing concrete recommendations, the commission will help agencies successfully implement President Obama's directive to reduce the significant backlogs of outstanding FOIA requests.

ALA’s Position: The ALA supports passage of the Faster FOIA Act of 2011. Public access to information by and about the government is a basic tenet of a democratic society. The Faster FOIA Act of 2011 would help to make more government information available to the public.

Access to Government Information

113th Congress

H.R. 1233: The Presidential and Federal Records Act Amendments of 2013 (passed the House on 1/14/14 and has been referred to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs)

February 10, 2014

The ALA joined with interested organizations in a letter (pdf) to Director John. P. Holdren, Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), Executive Office of the President “in response to the White House’s plan to perform a comprehensive review of Big Data and The Future of Privacy,  -- request the OSTP solicit public comments so as to encourage meaningful public participation in the development of this important policy”.

January 22, 2014

The ALA sent a letter (pdf)  to General Clapper, Office of the Director of National Intelligence to "respectfully requests that you reconsider the decision to discontinue distribution of the Open Source Center’s translations of foreign news media".  The ALA also comments that "discontinuing the World News Connection (WNC) when the Obama administration is calling for increased declassification and transparency in foreign surveillance activities is counterintuitive at best".

This letter has also been shared with the Senate and House Select Committee on Intelligence.

January 14, 2014

The ALA joined with like-minded organizations in a letter (pdf) to  Chairman Issa and Ranking Member Cummings of the  House of Representatives' Oversight and Government Reform Committee regarding  H.R. 1233, the Presidential and Federal Records Act Amendments of 2013.

 “H.R. 1233 imposes a time limit in which a former president must assert any claim of privilege upon a determination of the Archivist to make available to the public a record of that former president. The bill also establishes processes for managing the disclosure of records upon the assertion of privilege by a former president, and grants to the incumbent president the power to decide whether or not to uphold any privilege claim of a former president, absent a court order to the contrary.”

March 12, 2013

The ALA joined with like-minded groups to send a letter (pdf) to the House of Representatives’ Committee on House Administration, asking for their support of the H.R. 1380, Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports Act, introduced by Representative Mike Quigley.

Whistleblower Protections

ALA Council Resolutions

Action during the 112th Congress

  • The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012 (S. 743) – Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI) introduced the bill on April 6, 2011 and on May 8, 2012 the bill passed the Senate by unanimous consent. The companion bill in the House, H.R. 3289 was introduced by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) on November 1, 2011 and on September 28, 2012 the bill passed the House with an amendment.  The Senate unanimously voted on November 13th to accept the bill with the House amendment and on November 16th the bill was sent to the President.  The bill became Public Law No: 112-199 on November 27th after being signed by the President. This act will expand the scope of whistleblower protections in the federal government, including providing whistleblower rights to employees of the Transportation Security Administration.

Bills introduced:

  • Non-Federal Employee Whistleblower Protection Act of 2011 (S. 241) – Introduced by Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) on January 31, 2011. This bill would provide whistleblower protections for government contractors who provide information involving federal funds. The bill was referred to the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight.
  • Congressional Whistleblower Protection Act of 2011 (S. 586) – Sen. Charles Grassley (R- IA) introduced S. 586 on March 15, 2011. This bill would apply whistleblower rights to congressional employees. The bill was referred to the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

ALA’s Position: The ALA supports passage of whistleblower legislation  to ensure the American public's Right to Know – which promotes government accountability and fosters public participation; a long standing value of both libraries and librarians.

Open Government and the Obama Administration

Less Access to Less Information by and about the U.S. Government