posts about or somewhat related to ‘open government’

Hello, Sunshine Week
Sunshine Week is on us. Here are a few good resources on open government and transparency.
SunshineWeek.org lists events, has toolkits and shows how the Freedom of Information Act Works.
The Sunlight Foundation provides information on transparency issues, and provides API’s for developers to hack government data.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Transparency Project has  backgrounders on all things FOIA.
FOIA.gov let’s you query data and file your requests.
Reading US Attorney General Eric Holder’s now five-year-old memo to federal agencies on becoming more open to FOIA requests is eye-opening. The ostensible goal was to make agencies more open and transparent. 
Seems the message has been lost. Via the AP: 

The Obama administration has a way to go to fulfill its promises from Day 1 to become the most transparent administration in history.
More often than ever, the administration censored government files or outright denied access to them last year under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, cited more legal exceptions it said justified withholding materials and refused a record number of times to turn over files quickly that might be especially newsworthy, according to a new analysis of federal data by The Associated Press.
Most agencies also took longer to answer records requests.
The government’s own figures from 99 federal agencies covering six years show that halfway through its second term, the administration has made few meaningful improvements in the way it releases records. In category after category - except for reducing numbers of old requests and a slight increase in how often it waived copying fees - the government’s efforts to be more open about its activities last year were their worst since President Barack Obama took office.

Image: Phil Lapsley, discussing turning the Freedom of Information Act into a hacking tool, via the EFF.

Hello, Sunshine Week

Sunshine Week is on us. Here are a few good resources on open government and transparency.

  • SunshineWeek.org lists events, has toolkits and shows how the Freedom of Information Act Works.
  • The Sunlight Foundation provides information on transparency issues, and provides API’s for developers to hack government data.
  • The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Transparency Project has  backgrounders on all things FOIA.
  • FOIA.gov let’s you query data and file your requests.

Reading US Attorney General Eric Holder’s now five-year-old memo to federal agencies on becoming more open to FOIA requests is eye-opening. The ostensible goal was to make agencies more open and transparent. 

Seems the message has been lost. Via the AP

The Obama administration has a way to go to fulfill its promises from Day 1 to become the most transparent administration in history.

More often than ever, the administration censored government files or outright denied access to them last year under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, cited more legal exceptions it said justified withholding materials and refused a record number of times to turn over files quickly that might be especially newsworthy, according to a new analysis of federal data by The Associated Press.

Most agencies also took longer to answer records requests.

The government’s own figures from 99 federal agencies covering six years show that halfway through its second term, the administration has made few meaningful improvements in the way it releases records. In category after category - except for reducing numbers of old requests and a slight increase in how often it waived copying fees - the government’s efforts to be more open about its activities last year were their worst since President Barack Obama took office.

Image: Phil Lapsley, discussing turning the Freedom of Information Act into a hacking tool, via the EFF.

#OpenGov
President Obama signs an Executive Order: Making Open and Machine Readable the New Default for Government Information.

To promote continued job growth, Government efficiency, and the social good that can be gained from opening Government data to the public, the default state of new and modernized Government information resources shall be open and machine readable. Government information shall be managed as an asset throughout its life cycle to promote interoperability and openness, and, wherever possible and legally permissible, to ensure that data are released to the public in ways that make the data easy to find, accessible, and usable.

Image: Twitter post from Luke Fretwell.

#OpenGov

President Obama signs an Executive Order: Making Open and Machine Readable the New Default for Government Information.

To promote continued job growth, Government efficiency, and the social good that can be gained from opening Government data to the public, the default state of new and modernized Government information resources shall be open and machine readable. Government information shall be managed as an asset throughout its life cycle to promote interoperability and openness, and, wherever possible and legally permissible, to ensure that data are released to the public in ways that make the data easy to find, accessible, and usable.

Image: Twitter post from Luke Fretwell.

Chris Sopher, Media Innovation Project Manager at the Knight Foundation, discusses the current Open Gov challenge. Two days left to get your application in.

I caught up with Chris at SXSW. The Knight Foundation booth was right next door to ours. -- Peter

Mostly Cloudy During Sunshine Week

To coincide with Sunshine Week, the Sunlight Foundation released their Open Legislative Data Report Card. Some states are doing well, many aren’t, with most scoring a Gentleman’s C or below.

Grades are based on what Sunlight calls the Ten Principles for Opening Up Government Information. For this report card, their criteria is based on six: completeness, timeliness, ease of access, machine readability, use of commonly owned standards and permanence.

The Society of Professional Journalists takes a different tact to explore government openness as they examine what obstacles reporters face when interviewing employees of federal agencies:

[A] survey of journalists who cover federal agencies found that information flow in the United States is highly regulated by public affairs officers, to the point where most reporters considered the control to be a form of censorship and an impediment to providing information to the public. According to a survey of 146 reporters who cover federal agencies, conducted by the Society of Professional Journalists in February 2012, journalists indicated that public information officers often require pre-approval for interviews, prohibit interviews of agency employees, and often monitor interviews. Journalists overwhelmingly agreed with the statement that “the public was not getting all the information it needs because of barriers agencies are imposing on journalists’ reporting practices.

Meantime, over at the Washington Post, Josh Hicks gives a rundown of what’s going on with FOIA requests:

The Center for Effective Government said Wednesday that the administration’s rate of response to FOIA requests had improved in 2012 but that the percentage of replies with redacted information had grown.

“While processing has gone up, we see a record-setting rate of partial grantings,” said Sean Moulton, the center’s director of open-government policy.

Federal agencies averaged a “C-minus” grade for FOIA compliance in Cause of Action’s analysis, also released Wednesday.

The group sent identical FOIA requests to 16 federal agencies in April. In its report, it said that one-quarter of the agencies provided no information and that the average response time for the others was 75 business days — more than double what the law requires.

Reporters filing FOIA requests with the Commerce Department have to wait even longer. The average turnaround time there is 239 days.

And then there’s national security and whistleblowing. We’ll let the Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald take it away. The gist of it runs like so:

Along with others, I’ve spent the last four years documenting the extreme, often unprecedented, commitment to secrecy that this president has exhibited, including his vindictive war on whistleblowers, his refusal to disclose even the legal principles underpinning his claimed war powers of assassination, and his unrelenting, Bush-copying invocation of secrecy privileges to prevent courts even from deciding the legality of his conduct.

Looking for more opinion and updates on Sunshine Week? Visit The SPJ or SunshineWeek.org’s opinions page.

Images: Screenshots, best and worst of the Sunlight Foundation’s Open Legislative Data Report Card. Select to embiggen.

Sunlight Foundation Launches Open States

Via the Sunlight Foundation:

After more than four years of work from volunteers and a full-time team here at Sunlight we’re immensely proud to launch the full Open States site with searchable legislative data for all 50 states, D.C. and Puerto Rico. Open States is the only comprehensive database of activities from all state capitols that makes it easy to find your state lawmaker, review their votes, search for legislation, track bills and much more.

If you watch the video one of the important points of tracking the legislative data is that laws and such often flow up from the state to federal level rather than the other way around.

Consider it an early warning system of a type.

Data is available on the Open States Web site, through APIs and through bulk downloads.

Chicago Lobbyists
ChicagoLobbyists.org is a great example of what can be done with open data: create a Web app that increases governmental transparency and informs citizens about a key aspect of contemporary governance.
From the creators:
What is this?
ChicagoLobbyists.org is an open data, open government, and open source project intended to improve the transparency of interactions between the City of Chicago and lobbyists and their clients. All data comes from the City of Chicago Data Portal.
Who built it?
This is a project by Chad Pry, Derek Eder, Paul Baker and Ryan Briones. It started on July 16th, 2011 at the Google Hackathon with some amazing help from Chirag Patel, Ruthie BenDor and Nick Rougeux. Paul noticed the lobbyist data, conceived the project, and got the team together. Chad and Ryan did the bulk of the backend development with help from Derek and Chirag. Derek and Ruthie did the frontend development. Nick and Paul worked on the user interface prototypes.

Would be great to see this on a state by state and federal level.

Chicago Lobbyists

ChicagoLobbyists.org is a great example of what can be done with open data: create a Web app that increases governmental transparency and informs citizens about a key aspect of contemporary governance.

From the creators:

What is this?

ChicagoLobbyists.org is an open data, open government, and open source project intended to improve the transparency of interactions between the City of Chicago and lobbyists and their clients. All data comes from the City of Chicago Data Portal.

Who built it?

This is a project by Chad Pry, Derek Eder, Paul Baker and Ryan Briones. It started on July 16th, 2011 at the Google Hackathon with some amazing help from Chirag Patel, Ruthie BenDor and Nick Rougeux. Paul noticed the lobbyist data, conceived the project, and got the team together. Chad and Ryan did the bulk of the backend development with help from Derek and Chirag. Derek and Ruthie did the frontend development. Nick and Paul worked on the user interface prototypes.

Would be great to see this on a state by state and federal level.

Internet and Surveillance: The Challenges of Web 2.0 and Social Media
Edited by Christian Fuchs, Kees Boersma, Anders Albrechtslund and Marisol Sandoval
A 40-page intro is available here (PDF).

Internet and Surveillance: The Challenges of Web 2.0 and Social Media

Edited by Christian Fuchs, Kees Boersma, Anders Albrechtslund and Marisol Sandoval

A 40-page intro is available here (PDF).

I take very seriously my obligations as a journalist when reporting about matters that may be classified or may implicate national security concerns. I do not always publish all information that I have, even if it is newsworthy and true. If I believe that the publication of the information would cause real harm to our national security, I will not publish a piece. I have found, however, that all too frequently, the government claims that publication of certain information will harm national security, when in reality, the government’s real concern is about covering up its own wrongdoing or avoiding embarrassment…

…Any testimony I were to provide to the Government would compromise to a significant degree my ability to continue reporting as well as the ability of other journalists to do so. This is particularly true in my current line of work covering stories relating to national security, intelligence and terrorism. If I aided the Government in its effort to prosecute my confidential source(s) for providing information to me under terms of confidentiality, I would inevitably be compromising my own ability to gather news in the future. I also believe that I would be impeding all other reporters’ ability to gather and report the news in the future.

James Risen, in an affidavit (PDF) asking a federal judge to dismiss the US government’s attempts to get him to identify his confidential sources in the upcoming trial of Jeffrey Sterling, a CIA officer accused of leaking classified information.

Via Secrecy News.

Background via Politico.

When President Barack Obama took office, in 2009, he championed the cause of government transparency, and spoke admiringly of whistle-blowers, whom he described as “often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government.” But the Obama Administration has pursued leak prosecutions with a surprising relentlessness. Including the Drake case, it has been using the Espionage Act to press criminal charges in five alleged instances of national-security leaks—more such prosecutions than have occurred in all previous Administrations combined. The Drake case is one of two that Obama’s Justice Department has carried over from the Bush years.

Gabriel Schoenfeld, a conservative political scientist at the Hudson Institute, who, in his book “Necessary Secrets” (2010), argues for more stringent protection of classified information, says, “Ironically, Obama has presided over the most draconian crackdown on leaks in our history—even more so than Nixon.”
sunfoundation:

How Many Open Gov Projects Are There (and How Do You Find Them Fast)?

Last year, former Deputy CTO for Open  Government Beth Noveck reached out to GovLoop Founder Steve Ressler  about leveraging the energy of community members to complete a  gargantuan task: read through all of the Open Government Plans and  compile a list of the hundreds of projects named within them. We had  already created a dataset with all the Open Government Plans (which happens to be our 3rd most popular dataset, by the way), so we felt up to the challenge.

sunfoundation:

How Many Open Gov Projects Are There (and How Do You Find Them Fast)?

Last year, former Deputy CTO for Open Government Beth Noveck reached out to GovLoop Founder Steve Ressler about leveraging the energy of community members to complete a gargantuan task: read through all of the Open Government Plans and compile a list of the hundreds of projects named within them. We had already created a dataset with all the Open Government Plans (which happens to be our 3rd most popular dataset, by the way), so we felt up to the challenge.

Government Sunlight to Sunset?

Many of the Obama administration’s key open government initiatives are about to fall under the budgetary chopping block.

Via Federal News Radio:

One government official, who requested anonymity because they didn’t get permission to discuss the topic, said funding will begin to run out on April 20 for public sites IT Dashboard, Data.gov and paymentaccuracy.gov. The source said [the Office of Management and Budget] also is planning on shutting down internal government sites, including Performance.gov, FedSpace and many of the efforts related the FEDRamp cloud computing cybersecurity effort.

Cutting these programs is a surprise, especially those that have demonstrated their economic worth. In a video released in mid-March, Federal Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra demonstrated how IT Dashboard has saved the US government over $3 billion. 

Meanwhile, Data.gov has served as high profile lab where public data is released so citizens can remix, mashup and generally use public information to analyze and understand how government allocates resources and why it acts in the way it does.

It’s only a few years old and one would think efforts would go into increasing the data quality within it, and accessibility to it, rather than starve it. 

Currently, open government champions such as the Sunlight Foundation (site | tumblr) among others are campaigning against the cuts.

Full story via Federal News Radio: Listen | Read.

The United States Freedom of Information Act was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson in 1966 and is meant to give citizens access to previously unreleased federal government information and documents.

Over the years, different presidents have both restricted and expanded the law. For example, the Clinton administration issued executive directives that allowed for the release of previously classified national security documents that were more than 25 years old, while the Bush administration limited access to the records of former presidents.

The Knight Foundation released a study yesterday on FOIA’s progress under the Obama administration. Here’s some of what they have to say:

On his first day in office in January 2009, President Barack Obama issued a presidential memorandum instructing federal agencies to “usher in a new era of open government.” In March 2010, however, the 2010 Knight Open Government Survey found that only 13 out of 90 agencies had actually made concrete changes in their FOIA procedures. The resulting national headlines sparked a new White House call to all agencies to show concrete change.

This year, the 2011 Knight Open Government Survey found that a few more than half of the federal agencies have complied – up from 13 to 49.

“At this rate, the president’s first term in office may be over by the time federal agencies do what he asked them to do on his first day in office,” commented Eric Newton, senior adviser to the president at the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which funded the study.

Resources:

Coming to a State Near You
The Participatory Politics Foundation and the Sunlight Foundation launched OpenGovernment.org yesterday to track government data, state legislatures, voting information and media mentions on the state level. Currently, information is available for California, Texas, Wisconsin, Louisiana and Maryland with funding efforts in place to bring the project to all 50 states.
Alex Howard reports on O’Reilly Radar:

"We’re providing a concentrated activity stream that offers a more calibrated way of staying in touch with state government," said David Moore, executive director of the Participatory Politics Foundation. "We believe in the power of peer-to-peer communications, which means connecting with people online and empowering them to share information with one another."
The idea, said Moore, is simple in conception but difficult in execution: create a free, open source platform where “it’s as easy to follow your state senator as it is to follow your friends on Facebook.” 
To get to launch today, the team rewrote the code base for OpenCongress, including an improved Ruby wrapper for open government APIs. The code for the wrapper is available through GitHub. Official legislative information is integrated with Follow the Money, ratings, news and blog information.

Coming to a State Near You

The Participatory Politics Foundation and the Sunlight Foundation launched OpenGovernment.org yesterday to track government data, state legislatures, voting information and media mentions on the state level. Currently, information is available for California, Texas, Wisconsin, Louisiana and Maryland with funding efforts in place to bring the project to all 50 states.

Alex Howard reports on O’Reilly Radar:

"We’re providing a concentrated activity stream that offers a more calibrated way of staying in touch with state government," said David Moore, executive director of the Participatory Politics Foundation. "We believe in the power of peer-to-peer communications, which means connecting with people online and empowering them to share information with one another."

The idea, said Moore, is simple in conception but difficult in execution: create a free, open source platform where “it’s as easy to follow your state senator as it is to follow your friends on Facebook.”

To get to launch today, the team rewrote the code base for OpenCongress, including an improved Ruby wrapper for open government APIs. The code for the wrapper is available through GitHub. Official legislative information is integrated with Follow the Money, ratings, news and blog information.