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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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OGP: Opportunities and Limitations

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OGP2It’s been two years since the Open Government Partnership (OGP) was first announced. As Sunlight shares recommendations for the US’s OGP National Action Plan, we’re looking forward to attending and participating in the upcoming summit in London. OGP has demonstrated explosive growth, with the initial 8 founding countries expanding to 60 in a very short time, and more likely to be announced soon. This rapid expansion is an affirmation of government officials’ desire to grapple with transparency issues, and demonstrates an appetite -- particularly from the public --  for “open government” and making it more accessible to the people it serves. OGP has been important in helping governments move in that direction, particularly Brazil’s passing a new FOI law and the US committing to implement the EITI. OGP itself has been quite open in discussing its limitations, and no doubt there will be more of that at the next meeting. But it’s important, in advance of the upcoming summit, to offer a few observations about OGP’s structural limitations to provide context for the new national action plans.

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Suggestions for the OGP National Action Plan

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The Obama Administration is expected to release the second version of its Open Government Partnership National Action Plan this fall.  The Open Government Partnership (OGP) is the primary multi-national initiative for open government, founded in 2011. The original US plan, released on September 20, 2011, covered a lot of ground, but also suffered a lack of detail and ignored several of the most pressing transparency issues. (Both money in politics and national security went uncovered.)

Given the US’s leadership role in the world (and in OGP), and the variety of issues the country faces, we hope the US National Action Plan will demonstrate how an administration can use transparency reform to help address some of the most fundamental challenges it faces.

The following are four Sunlight priorities for the upcoming US National Action Plan, and are priorities that we’ve often repeated to White House officials in our work.

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