Governments should connect the demand expressed in freedom of information requests to the proactive disclosure of open data.Continue reading
Recently, Sunlight filed our first FOIA lawsuit against the GSA to get 14 years of data - we got almost everything we wanted, but some info was withheld. Now we've got all the data - and no black redaction bars!Continue reading
Just two days after the filing of Sunlight’s first lawsuit, and after more than five months of agency recalcitrance, we received the documents we sued for under the Freedom of Information Act.Continue reading
Today the Sunlight Foundation filed its very first Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit. In May 2013, we sent a FOIA request to the General Services Administration (GSA) requesting a copy of all contract notices that had been posted on Fedbizopps.gov since 2000. These notices would allow members of the press, researchers, and our developers to analyze government spending patterns, to look for inaccuracies, corruption, and waste.
Despite our repeated inquiries and reminders, Sunlight never heard back from the GSA about our FOIA request in the more than five months since then. So we decided to take action.Continue reading
During this week’s Open Government Partnership meeting in London, the Obama Administration announced the broad strokes of its National Action Plan 2.0 Freedom of Information Act reforms.
The Administration’s announced plan has several goals: the implementation of an online FOIA portal, drafting of a unified set of FOIA regulations, creation of an interagency working group and an advisory committee to improve FOIA processing, and improved FOIA trainings for agency employees.
While these plans do give the transparency community reason to be cautiously optimistic, it is important to note that there is no mention of proactive disclosure anywhere in the plan. Proactive disclosure is integral to any effective transparency plan. It meaningfully increases public access while easing the burden on FOIA processing by eliminating duplicative request processing.
As for the efficacy of the goals included in the NAP 2.0 plan, the new FOIA proposals could be very positive or could make things even more difficult for requesters - the devil really is in the details.Continue reading
When can a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request be worth millions of dollars? When it is made by an investment company hoping to gain information about potential stock purchases (and sales). A recent Wall Street Journal article details the use of FOIA requests by investment firms. These firms make document requests to ascertain potential corporate liabilities and successes, requesting, for example, documents detailing Food and Drug Administration inspections and customer complaints about consumer products and pharmaceuticals. To be clear, what the Wall Street Journal describes appears to be perfectly legal - just another form of research conducted by companies that are doing their due diligence before making large scale investments.
But it has touched a nerve within the open government community. Open government advocates argue that the investment firms are taking advantage of the FOIA in order to gain insider information that only benefits the firm and is never shared the public at large. It raises complex questions when a public interest law is used to create private gain, even though the FOIA originally accounted for commercial requesters.
Seeing potential gains in efficiency, accountability, and fairness, FOIA reformers see stories like this one as opportunities to propose new FOIA procedures to promote public access.Continue reading