Press Releases & Announcements
The 29 largest agencies responsible for handling 97 percent of all federal FOIA requests reported more releases, faster responses overall, but longer waits for agencies to resolve disputes. Appeals resulted in more disclosures. Among dozens of smaller agencies we also analyzed, public interest in information about banking and oversight of the financial sector drove up requests to the FDIC and Federal Reserve; neither could keep up.
This analysis by the Sunshine in Government Initiative compares what 29 agencies reported in 2009 and 2008 and shows slow but significant improvements in the way agencies handle implement the country's main open government law and paints a unique portrait of the federal government's responses to FOIA requests.2010-03-17
For the Office of Government Information Services, the new mediator of Freedom of Information Act disputes, to be effective within the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), "the Archivist must embrace OGIS's active engagement with other agencies and the public," Kevin Goldberg said in testimony to Congress.
A congressional hearing will focus public attention today on the challenges facing the new United States Archivist, David Ferriero. "Ensuring NARA's dedication to distributing its own records and its newly-vested ability to assess other executive branch agencies' disclosure decisions is vital to our democracy."
NARA is contending with maintaining the papers of the federal government increasingly in non-paper, digital form while making the current and historical record of the American experience accessible to the public.2009-12-16
The White House today released a much anticipated Open Government Directive that emphasized promises and plans over specific solutions for ensuring transparency in the executive branch.
The directive includes promising commitments to improve how agencies handle Freedom of Information Act requests, and directs agencies to reduce backlogs by ten percent annually. It does not, however, say how agencies should accomplish this or pay for it.
For more, read the SGI press release.2009-12-08
The Sunshine in Government Initiative is disappointed that Congress carved out an exception to FOIA to allow the Department of Defense to withhold hundreds of photographs documenting the treatment of detainees held by U.S. forces. Congress has cut litigation short -- despite two court rulings requiring disclosure of the photographs -- and drilled another hole in FOIA.
At the same time, we applaud Congress adopting statutory language requiring future exemptions to FOIA to mention the subsection of FOIA -- 5 U.S.C. 552(b)(3) -- that permits them.
September 30, 2009 -- In spite of strong statements from the White House supporting open government, "the secrecy reflex at some agencies remains firmly in place," the leader of The Associated Press said in prepared remarks to a Senate panel examining the state of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) on Wednesday.
Update (10/1/09): Read witness statements and view the hearing via webcast here.
Related (10/2/09): RCFP: Report criticizes SEC's compliance with FOIA2009-09-30
Representatives of more than 6,800 Washington-area reporters and several major national media organizations are urging press secretaries within Congress and the Obama administration to help end the practice of public officials attempting to speak only "off the record" when they are addressing large audiences.2009-08-18
On June 17th, the Senate approved the OPEN FOIA Act as part of S. 1285, endorsing greater transparency for proposals to put information beyond the public's reach under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). "The OPEN FOIA Act allows the public a voice before Congress carves exemptions into FOIA, a cornerstone of our democracy," said Rick Blum, coordinator of the Sunshine in Government Initiative. "This legislation lets the public cry foul when secrecy ideas are overbroad or unjustified. We hope the House acts as well to allow more open debate before enacting new FOIA exemptions." MORE 2009-06-18
The National Archives announced today that Miriam Nisbet has been appointed as the first director of the new Office of Government Information Services, which Congress created in 2007 to mediate FOIA disputes and recommend improvements to FOIA operations.
"While the federal FOIA mediator's office is still a long way from mediating its first FOIA dispute, it took a strong step forward today with the naming of its new director, Miriam Nisbet," said Rick Blum, coordinator of the Sunshine in Government Initiative. "She's a long-time advocate for open government, and this is a promising start for those who want the FOIA to work better."
For more, read the SGI statement. 2009-06-10
April 13, 2009 -- Federal agencies continue to give those seeking information through the Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, a frustrating and oftentimes unsatisfying experience, an analysis of federal agency reports shows. With fewer staff on FOIA, costs are rising and agency backlogs (33 percent of requests processed) remained unchanged in 2008.
"These numbers paint a baseline for measuring the impact of President Obama's Day One policies on transparency," said Rick Blum, coordinator of SGI. "If agencies improve their operations year after year, the Day One policy on disclosure will have made a substantial impact," Blum said, referring to the president's policy directing federal agencies to err on the side of disclosure when in doubt.
Among other things those reports show that:
* Falling behind. While the top 25 agencies processed 398,607 requests in 2008, about one-third (130,539) of that number remain backlogged, a rate unchanged from the year before
* More denied. Agencies completely denied the highest percentage (44 percent) of requests since performance reporting began
* Fewer responding. Departments and agencies cut FOIA personnel
* Each response costs more. The average cost of processing requests jumped from $294 in 1998 to $611 in 2008.
The full report and charts are available here.
Read the full press release. [pdf]2009-04-13
"On Day One of his administration, President Obama gave federal agencies a clear mandate to disclose more information under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and today Attorney General Eric Holder gave specific instructions on how to carry out that mandate," said Rick Blum upon the release of the Justice Department's memorandum to federal departments and agencies on implementing FOIA. "By restoring the presumption that federal agencies should disclose information absent a foreseeable harm or a legal ban, today's memorandum sends a clear message: when in doubt, let it out. The lights are back on."
See also the full Attorney General memorandum dated March 19, 2009. 2009-03-19
Freedom of information hit a milestone yesterday when Congress approved the budget for fiscal year 2009 and included $1 million for the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS), which Congress established within the National Archives and Records Administration to mediate disputes and recommend improvements to the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
The Sunshine in Government Initiative hailed the funding as a stimulus for transparency efforts. "This is an important step towards having a fully functioning FOIA ombudsman," said Rick Blum, coordinator of the Sunshine in Government Initiative. "For too many years, government transparency has been in crisis. As we celebrate Sunshine Week next week, journalists, bloggers and average citizens can celebrate knowing this office will soon help ensure requests for data and documents get a fair hearing. OGIS should help end stalemates and lengthy delays when faced with controversies over disclosure decisions. This investment will help agencies strengthen their responses to FOIA requests."2009-03-11
SGI Statement on President Obama's Transparency in Government Orders
Statement of Rick Blum, Coordinator of the Sunshine in Government Initiative
January 21, 2009
"It's wonderful that Priority One on Day One for this administration is transparency and restoring public trust," said Rick Blum, coordinator of the Sunshine in Government Initiative. President Obama has made strong statements that should have lasting impact on how the government operates. "Yesterday's policy of 'When in doubt, leave it out,' today became, 'When it doubt, let it out.' And this policy will help keep the public informed in our technology-driven, connected society. On open government, the dawn is breaking."
Read the press release.2009-01-21
The Sunshine in Government Initiative applauds the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Information Policy, Census and National Archives for holding an oversight hearing today on the National Archives' new Office of Government Information Services (OGIS), created by the OPEN Government Act (P.L. 110-175), the most comprehensive reforms of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in a decade.
"Last year, Congress created a place for the public to go for independent, fair assistance in resolving FOIA disputes," said Rick Blum, the coalition's coordinator. "We now know that the House and Senate appropriators support this office, and we're excited this independent office will start working soon. Now the Archives can begin shaping how this office works, using models in the many states that have these offices already in place," Blum said.
Read the full testimony.2008-09-17
SGI Recommends First Steps for FOIA Ombudsman
The National Archives and Records Administration should use resources when allocated from Congress for the new Office of Government Information Services to strengthen public trust in federal agencies' responses to Freedom of Information Act requests and cultivate a reputation for fairness in helping resolve disputes over government documents, according to recommendations released today from the Sunshine in Government Initiative.
AP President Tom Curley to deliver speech during Sunshine Week
Associated Press President Tom Curley will deliver a speech at the National Press Club in Washington, DC on freedom of information during Sunshine Week. The dinner address will update his 2004 speech in Riverside, California that is credited with helping galvanize news media groups into forming the Sunshine in Government Initiative. 2008-02-26
President uses budget to end FOIA ombudsman
Buried in the thousands of pages of budget documents released today is a paragraph that would eliminate the newly created independent FOIA ombudsman within the National Archives and assign responsibility for carrying out its functions back to the Justice Department.
SGI today sent a letter to key lawmakers objecting to the proposal.2008-02-04
FOIA Win! House vote sends FOIA reform to president
SGI applauds the House and Senate for passing important bipartisan reforms to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). 2007-12-18
Senate Judiciary Passes FOIA Reform; Ready for Floor Vote
The Sunshine in Government Initiative (SGI) applauds the Senate Judiciary Committee for passing legislation to give the public better tools to know what the government is doing by strengthening the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). For more, see: SGI Statement on Senate Judiciary Committee Passage of S. 849 2007-07-02
SGI Honors Lawmakers Bringing Sunshine in Government
For more information: SGI Press Release. We're pleased to announce during Sunshine Week that five leaders in government will receive SGI's first annual Sunshine in Government Award for their commitment and work to strengthen open government. Government openness is critical to the health of our democracy. 2007-07-16
SGI Urges Vote in Letter to Senate Leaders
May 21, 2007 -- Today the Sunshine in Government Initiative sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell asking for a Senate floor vote on S. 849, the OPEN Government Act.