Live Blog: Sunshine Week—Celebrating Freedom of Information & Transparency

UPDATE – 10:47 PM POLITICO’s Josh Gerstein factchecks Holder’s Sunshine Week speech.

UPDATE – 10:44 PM A judge has ruled that certain material related to a 2010 mine explosion at Upper Big Branch Mine-South in Raleigh County, West Virginia that killed 29 miners and injured two is exempt from FOIA.

UPDATE – 10:42 PM Attorney General Eric Holder said during his Sunshine Week address that the Justice Department will begin to post “monthly lists of Freedom of Information Act requests to the department’s three highest offices.” These lists “for the offices of the attorney general, the deputy and associate attorneys general will publicly identify the subject matter and the disposition of requests.”

UPDATE – 3:18 PM The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) is marking Sunshine Week with some FOIA releases. This first release looks at Invacare, which according to the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) failed to take action after it was alleged that their medical beds were causing deaths.

UPDATE – 3:16 PM Center for Responsive Politics, which runs the website, celebrates Sunshine Week. They also ask, “Why do so many US senators refuse to fast-track their campaign records into the public arena? And who, we might ask the Republican presidential hopefuls, are the big money fundraisers whose identities you are keeping under wraps?”

UPDATE – 12:50 PM From last week, here is a report from the USA Today on open government legislation stalling in Congress.

Of note, this is why congress people would have little interest in passing such legislation:

“It hits them where they live,” said Daniel Schuman, the Sunlight Foundation‘s policy counsel and director of the Advisory Committee on Transparency, which advises policymakers on transparency issues. “When you have a Congress where it doesn’t take many people to stop something and you have heightened sensitivity (to scrutiny), it becomes disproportionately harder to make progress.”

Original Post

News media, civic groups, libraries, nonprofits, schools and others will be promoting discussion all week on open government and freedom of information. The discussion will be a part of Sunshine Week, which is a national initiative that was launched in March 2005 by the American Society of News Editors.

Here at Firedoglake‘s “The Dissenter” we will explore and focus on open government, transparency and freedom of information issues throughout Sunshine Week. The coverage will continue until Thursday morning when I will be heading to Fort Meade in Maryland to cover Pfc. Bradley Manning’s pre-trial motion hearing. As many know, Manning is accused of leaking classified information to WikiLeaks. His case has ignited much debate about government secrecy.

Josh Gerstein of POLITICO notes today, that because of Sunshine Week “you’re bound to hear a lot of claims being bandied about regarding how well the Obama administration is doing handling Freedom of Information Act requests.” Gerstein is correct. In fact, the AP has published a review of “federal data” on Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and determined the Obama administration cannot keep up with requests.

McClatchy has put together this infographic for people to use to inform others on the state of FOIA in the United States.

(photo: Sunshine Week)

Senate Judiciary Commitee Chairman Patrick Leahy says, for over four decades, “FOIA has carefully balanced the federal government’s need to protect important and sensitive information with the right of every citizen to learn what their government is doing.” More recently, it has helped citizens “living on and near Camp Lejeune Marine Base in North Carolina” learn “more about contaminated well water which is believed to have sickened — and in some instances killed — service members, members of their families and other residents for decades.”

Leahy wrote the FOIA provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The provisions allow for FOIA exemptions if the release of information could pose a threat to “critical infrastructure.” Tomorrow, on March 13, the Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on the implementation of this provision at 10:30 am. (The Dissenter” will have live coverage here.)

More formal posts on the state of government transparency in the United States are to come. But, in the mean time, consider what FOIA “guru” Kevin Baron has written about why FOIA is so important:

…FOIA is useful as a means of pushing back against a government that feels no remorse in pushing others around. Experience has taught me that a well-placed FOIA request to the right agency can work wonders in upsetting those who have themselves been able to wreak havoc upon the citizenry. Simply as an exercise or as a fishing expedition, FOIA can put agencies and the people working within them on notice that someone is paying attention. In this way, it also opens the door to future requests and provides direction. You will be amazed at what you can uncover.

Here at Firedoglake, we have some resources available for those citizens interested in using a key tool at their disposal to find out the truth about what is happening in their local community, state or country.

As Baron has said, public information is not public. It is not readily available unless citizens work to pry it out of the hands of some bureaucracy in US government. Even requests for information do not guarantee that the government will release information. Citizens have to aggressively fight for the release of information.

The government would function better if it did not have to release any information to the public. It would be inherently more undemocratic, but it would be more efficient. That is critical to understand when approaching issues of transparency and freedom of information.

So, now, in the spirit of Sunshine Week, here is a tune as we begin Sunshine Week coverage—a song for those who truly enjoy the moment when they get the information they requested, finally.

*NOTE: Updates will appear at the top throughout the day

Comments are closed.