WASHINGTON, DC - Congressman Steve Israel (NY-02) introduced a banner piece of legislation today in an effort to make public government information available to all Americans online. This bill, the Public Online Information Act (POIA), is an effort to remedy the fact that significant quantities of government data sets are designated as "public," but are hard to find, and sometimes difficult to read. POIA will ensure that government information from across all agencies will be available to everyone within a few keystrokes on a computer.
POIA would mandate that executive branch agencies publish all publicly available information online in a timely fashion and in user-friendly formats within three years after the bill is signed. The bill also creates a new panel that brings together all branches of government to create guidelines for information sharing. The legislation requires each agency to establish a searchable catalog of all disclosed public documents. Finally, the bill would give the American people the right to petition the government for certain information, much like the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) does.
"Right now, our government will stamp something 'public' and lock it away in a warehouse in Maryland. That's about as accessible and transparent as a nuclear missile silo," said Rep. Israel. "It's time for 'public' to mean something different. My bill will require that all executive branch agencies make their public documents easily available online. People across the country - from scholars to school children - should be able to see any public government information from the convenience of their computer."
"The Sunlight Foundation is proud to support the Public Online Information Act, legislation that embraces a new formula for transparency: public equals online," said Ellen Miller, executive director and co-founder of the Sunlight Foundation. "We commend Rep. Israel for his work to ensure that government information will be available to everyone within a few keystrokes on a computer."
Examples of information that is required by law to be public but is not available online include:
· Pension plan annual filings with the Secretary of Labor on how their plans are funded, and the underlying assumptions behind their investment strategies.
· Reports disclosing lobbying activities (SF-LLLs) by government contractors and grantees made in connection with winning a grant.
· Filings by high level government officials of their personal financial interests.
· Reports of when executive branch officials travel is paid for by third-parties, and not the government.
The legislation includes a sunrise provision that would mandate that only newly created data be released after enactment, not government data previously released. In addition, POIA would give government agencies three years to build the capacity and regulations needed to comply with POIA. Finally, POIA would allow certain commonsense exceptions for disclosure such as documents that fulfill national security specification.
The bill is expected to be referred to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. To date, more than 25 organizations have called for congressional hearings on POIA, including: Association For Community Networking (AFCN), Brennan Center, Center for Democracy and Technology, Center for Media and Democracy, Center for Responsive Politics, Change Congress, Chicago Digital Access Alliance, CREW, Essential Information, Federation of American Scientists, Free Press, Government Accountability Project , Illinois Community Technology Coalition (ilCTC), Institute for Policy Innovation, iSolon, Legal Information Institute, Minnesota Coalition on Government Information, National Coalition for History, OMB Watch, Open the Government, Personal Democracy Forum, The Project on Government Oversight, Public Citizen, Public.Resource.Org, The Sunlight Foundation, US PIRG, WashingtonWatch.org.
Further information on the bill can be found at http://thePOIA.org. An animation of explaining why POIA is necessary and how it works is available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wD8dT236aS4 and embeddable using this code:
The Sunlight Foundation is a non-partisan, non-profit that uses cutting-edge technology and ideas to make government transparent and accountable. Visit SunlightFoundation.com to learn more about Sunlight’s projects, including Transparency Corps and Party Time.