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Republicans Ask Watchdogs to Review FOIA Request Process

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Inspectors general at the Energy Department and Social Security Administration say their review of FOIA procedures at the request of senior Republican lawmakers showed no signs of meddling by political appointees.

Two dozen other agency and department watchdogs have yet to respond to a letter from Rep. Darrell Issa of California and Sen. Grassley of Iowa asking for a quick check of FOIA procedures. The two Republicans sent the letters about a month ago after media reports that the Homeland Security Department subjected FOIA requests from lawmakers, journalists and activist groups to a new “political review” process. Such requests were ...

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Re-Named Offshore Energy Agency Urged to Publish Production Data

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The scandal-wrecked Minerals Management Services changed its name to Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) as part of a promised wave of reforms, but consumer advocacy groups say more transparency is what is really needed at the offshore energy agency.

The agency should provide online access to more data about crude oil and natural gas production in the Gulf of Mexico and other offshore areas, as well as energy companies’ royalty payments to the U.S. government.

“The kind of data we want to see is on production numbers, so we can have better calculations to ensure ...

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‘Baby Steps’ for Federal E-Rulemaking Process

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Federal rules affect many aspects of American life, ranging from whether truck drivers can send text messages to standards for the quality of drinking water.

But most of the more than 8,000 rules that federal government agencies establish each year take effect largely unnoticed by consumers, even though agencies are required to seek public comment. The feedback – which is usually dominated by lobbyists and industry-backed groups – is then typically analyzed by an agency before it finalizes a regulation.

Open government advocates agree that the rulemaking process is far more open than years ago, when individuals had to physically visit ...

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Consumer Safety Agency Plans Crowdsourcing Database

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Over the objections of manufacturers, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) will launch a searchable, online database in March that collects consumer complaints about harmful or dangerous products.

The new crowdsourcing tool at www.SaferProducts.gov will require consumers to describe the harm caused by a product, to identify the manufacturer, and to attest that their complaint is accurate. Currently, most consumer complaints about a safety issue remain confidential unless the CPSC decides that a recall is merited.

“This will really beef up research and data we have on public safety,” says Nancy Cowles of Kids In Danger, a child ...

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Gitmo detainee classifications remain detatched from identities

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When the Guantanamo Review Task Force summary report was released in June — more than five months after its completion — it marked the latest step in President Barack Obama’s plan to close the detainee prison in Guantanamo Bay.

Without identifying them by name, the report split the 240 detainees in four groups: approved for transfer; subject of active cases or investigations; too dangerous to transfer but not feasible for prosecution; and Yemenis designated for “conditional” detention.

Andrea Prasow, senior counsel for the terrorism program at Human Rights Watch, says the report is not transparent enough because it fails to specify ...

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OMB struggles to track $800 billion IT spending by government

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IT Dashboard attempts to tracks billions of dollars spent by the federal government on information technology, but the website itself has out of date information and inaccurate ratings on the investment risks of some agency projects.

Federal investments for IT improvements have a tendency to run over budget, or in the worst of scenarios, fail to meet any projected goals. While the private sector has seen blinding technological advancement in a relatively short time, federal agencies have struggled to keep up, even with a government-wide IT budget of $79.5 billion for fiscal 2011.

With so much need for technology ...

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NIH urged to create a single website showing grantees’ funding

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Dr. Charles Nemeroff’s name is synonymous with what can go wrong when scientists who receive funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the U.S. government’s $31 billion a year medical research arm, fail to disclose business relationships that pose a conflict of interest.

In 2008 came the embarrassing revelation that the prominent psychiatrist accepted nearly $1 million in consulting fees from Glaxo Smith Kline over six years while also leading NIH research on that same company’s antidepressant treatments. Nemeroff was also the chair of the psychiatry department at Emory University.

The NIH is trying to ...

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EPA limits chemical accident data citing security concerns

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It has been 20 years since Congress included provisions in the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments to inform citizens of risks from factories using hazardous substances, but the data that details the potential effects of accidents at these sites is largely unavailable to the public.

In 1999, the Environmental Protection Agency began requiring plants that use a threshold amount of certain toxic or flammable substances to submit a risk management plan detailing what they are doing to prevent accidents and how they would respond if one occurred. But some lawmakers became concerned about one section of risk plans that laid ...

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Project updates on Recovery.gov lack clarity

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A Texas company that received $14,675 in economic stimulus money submitted a mandatory progress report to the federal government using just two words: “door mats.” A California solar energy company went to the other extreme, using technical language that gave little insight of what it did with a half-million dollars in taxpayer money.

“The purpose of the reports is to allow the citizens to know where the [stimulus] money is going and what is being used for,” said Jerry Brito, a senior research fellow at George Mason University who is monitoring the process on his website, www.stimuluswatch.org ...

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U.S. Energy, Mining Companies Must Disclose Government Payments

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U.S. energy companies will soon have to reveal how much they pay foreign governments for rights to produce crude oil, natural gas and minerals around the world.

Tucked near the end of the more than 2,000-page final version of the financial reform bill is language requiring energy companies to submit the payment information annually to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The provision was added by Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, a long-time supporter of the voluntary Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, and by Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, also a Democrat. That global initiative is backed ...

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