OGIS puts up new website

The FOIA Ombudsman is rolling out a new website this week.  The Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) created a sleek design with a library of informative background for new requesters and technical background for more experienced requesters.

Much of the new site will be immediately useful to FOIA users.  The OGIS Library should prove useful for requesters who are new to FOIA and want to better understand the FOIA-speak that they sometimes receive in agency responses, although this material is similar to the technical background on the Justice Department’s FOIA.gov.

Other parts are aspirational:  OGIS includes a section on Advisory Opinions but has not issued a single advisory opinion to date.  OGIS notes the office is developing guidance on to explain how and when they will be used.  Thus far, they have been a tool to be avoided, but we believe advisory opinions should be a useful tool that OGIS should use often.


Sunshine Week 2012

Sunshine Week, the annual celebration of open government, will be held March 11-17, 2012.  The week coincides with the birthday of James Madison (March 16th).

Initiated and sponsored for years by the American Society of News Editors, this year Sunshine Week is a collaboration between ASNE and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

In the past, journalists have conducted audits of FOI laws, policymakers write opinion pieces, editorial cartoonists contribute works for broad distribution, interest groups sponsor programs, and Congress holds a hearing or two to push bills or take stock of where we are with government transparency.

AP study of open gov laws shows Open Government Partnership faces big challenge

The Associated Press (the only newsgathering organization that is a member of SGI) found the majority of countries violate their freedom-of-information laws, the AP reported in an audit released on November 17.

The audit, in which the AP submitted requests for documents to test the speed and quality of responses, should provide a good baseline for evaluating the impact of the U.S.-led Open Government Partnership, which launched earlier this year.


CNN notes exemption complicates reporting on Penn State scandal

We give thanks in this week before Thanksgiving to the CNN staff reporting on the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State for explaining how a weakness in the public records law in Pennsylvania hampers efforts to unravel how officials responded to the allegations.   And for calling out the fired university president for fighting against transparency in the years since the alleged events occurred.

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Fixing FOIA: Commentators reacting to DOJ’s reversal

The reaction was swift when the Justice Department confirmed in a letter to Senators Charles Grassley and Patrick Leahy that they would not move forward with their plan to say documents don’t exist when, in fact, they do.  You can read the reaction through a simple Google search.

Fixing FOIA update: Justice backs away from “lying”

Today we’re happy to note the Justice Department is withdrawing its proposed rule to sanction responding to certain FOIA requests for law enforcement records as if records did not exist when, in fact, information does exist (but is out of FOIA’s reach).

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FOIA: The truth laces up its shoes

Imagine you’re in a bar and the guy next to you starts impressing a crowd with stories of battlefield bravery and military decorations. Only you know he’s faking. How could you prove it? It’s not far-fetched: California water official Xavier Alvarez claimed to be a Marine who retired with twenty-five years of service and a Congressional Medal of Honor for getting “wounded many times by the same guy” – but listeners had no way to know whether he was being honest.

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