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Tag Archive: DOJ

Evaluating the National Action Plan 2.0 Freedom of Information Act Proposals

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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.

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Shining a Light on Black Budgets

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CIALast week, the Washington Post reported that new documents leaked by Edward Snowden reveal the budgets of the sixteen United States intelligence agencies. The budgets, which had never previously been revealed to the American public, totaled $52.6 billion, including $14.7 billion for the Central Intelligence Agency, $10.8 billion the National Security Agency, and $10.3 billion for the National Reconnaissance Office. This revelation shines a badly needed light on the way that our intelligence agencies spend money. We’ve written about the importance of spending transparency many times before. As we’ve argued, “access to government spending information is a fundamental pillar of an accountable government. It provides a basis for citizen participation, promotes government integrity, and encourages greater efficiency.”

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Three Ideas to Open the Executive Branch

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Tonight, President Obama will deliver the State of the Union Address to Congress. He is expected to urge the Legislative branch to take action on guns, immigration, climate change and a laundry list of other issues. In order to make progress on the major questions of the day, the President will have to negotiate and compromise with Congress. But, that doesn't mean he can't make progress through other means. A few weeks ago, the Advisory Committee on Transparency heard three ideas that President Obama could consider implementing right away to make the Executive branch more open and transparent. Read on for the videos.

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For Transparency’s Sake, Release DOJ’s Secret Opinions

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The White House finally agreed to allow lawmakers (not the public) to see the DOJ's Office of Legal Counsel memo authorizing the use of drone strikes on civilians, the New York Times reports, but as a Sunlight analysis has shown, the administration is still withholding 37% of these crucially important legal opinions from public view (that were issued from inauguration in 2009 until March 2012). The administration is even holding on to much older opinions. 39% of OLC opinions issued between 1998 and 2012 are still being withheld from online publication, accounting for 201 of the 509 opinions issued during that time, our August 2012 analysis found. This three minute Advisory Committee on Transparency video, featuring CREW's Jeremy Miller, explains the importance of the OLC opinions. Secret law and good governance do not mix. While we recognize that there occasionally may be reasons that countenance against their full release, we recommend the following:

  • The Office of Legal Counsel should refresh its website to indicate how many memos are issued each year. It should adopt the default of releasing all memos, not just the ones it deems “significant” (as such a distinction invites abuse and mistrust), and should do so prospectively and retrospectively.
  • Where OLC cannot release an opinion in its entirety, it should release versions that are redacted as lightly as possible.
  • At a minimum, the titles of opinions should be released, and if even that raises insurmountable issues, descriptions of memos should be available in their stead.
  • Finally, the administration should consider bringing in a trusted reviewer from outside the executive branch who can credibly (and publicly) make recommendations about the release of additional opinions.

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