Nelson shared the document over email with people who contributed to the online draft.
Thank you so much for contributing to the civil society model National Action Plan. The Plan has made its way from Google Site to Word doc (attached)! We will share these recommendations with the White House, and I encourage you to share your commitments with any government contacts you have. If you notice any errors made in the transition from web to document, please let me know. If there are any other organizations that should be named as contributors, we will certainly add them as well. The White House’s consultation for their plan will continue throughout the summer, so there are still opportunities to weigh in. Additional recommendations on surveillance transparency and beneficial ownership are in development. We will work to secure meetings with the relevant agencies and officials to discuss these recommendations and make a push for their inclusion in the official government plan. So, expect to hear from us in the coming weeks!
Earlier tonight, The United States House of Representatives voted 410-0 to pass the FOIA Oversight and Implementation Act. If the FOIA Act passes through the Senate, the bill would represent the most important update to United States access to information laws in generations.
“Transparency in government is a critical part of restoring trust and the House will continue to work to make government more transparent and accessible to all Americans,” said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VI). “By expanding the FOIA process online, the FOIA Oversight and Implementation Act creates greater transparency and continues our open government efforts in the House.”
The FOIA reform bill now moves to the Senate, which passed unanimous FOIA reform legislation in the last Congress.
As Nate Jones detailed at the National Security Archive, the Senate’s own legislative effort to reform FOIA, the so-called the “Faster FOIA Act” (S.627, S. 1466), was not picked up by the House: the open government bill was hijacked in service of a 2011 budget deal, where the FOIA provisions in it ultimately met an untimely end. Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA.), Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-MD), and Representative Mike Quigley (D-IL) chose to draft their own bill instead of taking that bill up again.
Open government advocates applauded the unanimous passage of the FOIA Act, although there are some caveats about its provisions for the Senate to consider.
“This vote shows strong congressional support for government transparency and the Freedom of Information Act,” said Sean Moulton, Director of Open Government Policy at the Center for Effective Government, in a statement:
Since its original passage nearly 50 years ago, FOIA has been a cornerstone of the public’s right to know. By modernizing FOIA, H.R. 1211 would improve Americans’ ability to access public information and strengthen our democracy.
We thank the chair and ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Reps. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Elijah Cummings (D-MD), who worked with the open government community to develop this legislation in a bipartisan fashion. We urge the Senate to advance legislation addressing these issues and other pressing FOIA reforms, including the need to rein in secrecy claims under Exemption 5, which restrict access to important information about government operations.
Access to public information is crucial to our democracy and the government’s effectiveness. It allows Americans to actively engage in policymaking in a thoughtful, informed manner and to hold public officials accountable for decisions that impact us all.
The bill represents important incremental, improvements to the FOIA process, but “it doesn’t address some fundamentalshortfalls in the way that the FOIA is implemented and viewed within the Federal government,” wrote Matt Rumsey, policy analyst at the Sunlight Foundation:
… A “presumption of openness” and improved online infrastructure are important, but the bigger challenge will be getting agencies to change their posture away from one of non-disclosure and often aggressive litigation that is opposed to openness. … It clearly shows that ensuring public access to government information is not a partisan issue, or even one that should divide the branches of government. We hope to see the Senate take up legislation in the near future so that both chambers can work together to send a strong FOIA reform bill to President Obama’s desk for him to sign.
Without a doubt these are needed reforms. As CREW has long advocated, however, meaningful FOIA reform must include changes in the FOIA’s exemptions to make the statute work as Congress intended. All too often agencies hide behind Exemption 5 and its protection for privileged material to bar public access to documents that would reveal the rationale behind key government decisions. For example, the Department of Justice denies every request for a legal opinion issued by DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel that determines what a law means and what conduct it permits, claiming to reveal these opinions would harm the agency’s deliberative process. This has led to the creation of a body of secret law — precisely what Congress sought to prevent when it enacted the FOIA.
To address this serious problem, CREW has advocated adding a balancing test to Exemption 5 that would require the agency and any reviewing court to balance the government’s claimed need for secrecy against the public interest in disclosure. Other needed reforms include a requirement that agencies post online all documents disclosed under the FOIA. The House bill, however, does not incorporate any of these reforms.
This post has been updated with additional statements over time.
Unless the Congress passes legislation to codify reforms and policies proposed or promulgated under a given administration, the next President of the United States can simply revoke the executive orders and memoranda passed by his or her predecessor.
Today, almost a year after its introduction, the FOIA Oversight and Implementation Act (FOIA), H.R. 1211, will go before the U.S. House for a vote. If enacted*, it would commit the reforms to the Freedom of Information Act that the Obama administration has proposed but go further, placing the burden on agencies to justify withholding information from requestors, codifying the creation of a pilot to enable requestors to submit requests in one place, creating a FOIA Council, and directing federal agencies to automatically publish records responsive to requests online.
While these actions were proposed by the administration in its National Open Government Action Plan, Congressional action would make them permanent.
If it passed both houses of Congress and is signed into law, the FOIA Reform Act would carry into law the spirit of President Barack Obama’s Open Government Memorandum of January 21, 2009 and subsequent Open Government Directive, along with Attorney General Eric Holder’s FOIA memorandum: “The Freedom of Information Act should be administered with a clear presumption: In the face of doubt, openness prevails.”
The bipartisan bill, cosponsored by House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA.), Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-MD), and Representative Mike Quigley (D-IL), has received support from every major open government advocacy group in Washington, DC. The released a letter to Congress this week urging the passage of the FOIA Reform Act. The Sunshine in Government and Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council also published letters in support of the bill. It has not, however, picked up a sponsor in the Senate yet.
“Requests through the Freedom of Information Act remain the principal vehicle through which the American people can access information generated by their government,” said Issa, in a statement last March. “The draft bill is designed to strengthen transparency by ensuring that legislative and executive action to improve FOIA over the past two decades is fully implemented by federal agencies.”
“This bill strengthens FOIA, our most important open government law, and makes clear that the government should operate with a presumption of openness and not one of secrecy,” said Cummings, in a statement.
“The single best thing we could do in open government is to get the American people engaged in the question of what high value data is,” said Aneesh Chopra, the first United States chief technology officer, speaking at this morning’s Politico “What’s Next in Tech” forum in Union Station. Video is below:
In an interview with Politico’s technology editor, Kim Hart, Chopra looked back at the lessons learned from his first two years on the job and ahead, appropriately, to what to expect in tech policy from the Obama administration. They covered a lot of ground, from open government successes to what’s next in Congress (hint: watch the push to open up spectrum for first responders) to supporting entrepreneurial growth.
What were Chopra’s lessons learned? He offered up three examples.
First, with support from the President, Chopra said that they’ve been able to open up discussion and build trusted relationships across the federal government, which has been “critical” to improving the way technology could be used and the long term policy posture.
Second, with that support, he’s been surprised on seeing the pace of response become fast. There’s a “lesson on balance of getting long term balance, versus getting results in 90 days,” he said, referring to the turnaround on projects like HealthCare.gov.
Third, Chopra emphasized the role of “government as a convener,” where the administration can use its influence to bring people together to accomplish goals with technology without new regulations or legislation.
Working tech policy levers
What are the levers that the first US CTO has worked to try to galvanize action on the administration’s priorities?
First, a commitment to openness. From Manor, Texas, to inner cities, “people have found ways to tap into info in ways that helps them do something different,” said Chopra, speaking to the phenomenon of Gov 2.0 going local. “85 to 90% of that activity is happening in places we wouldn’t have imagined,” not gathering in Washington.
Second, Chopra cited the White House’s work towards “voluntary, consensus-driven standards,” noting that he was ” very proud of the work on NHIN Direct.”
Finally, Chopra noted that there’s some $150 billion spent on research and development every year, which offers a number of ways to push forward with innovation in priorities like healthcare IT, energy, smart grid or communications.
Making meaningful use modular
Given the new Congress coming in to Washington, Chopra’s description on the bipartisan agreement on tech policy from his time in Virginia under Republican leadership has to be more than a little strategic. He talked about “getting to the right answer,” referring back to an former manager, David Bradley, and his management strategy of “True North.”
That approach will be rested in the next Congress, on rulemaking. and in moving forward with the tech policy decisions. Outside of the healthcare bill that President Obama signed into law, which continues to meet with significant opposition in Congress, Chopra noted that “healthcare is signature part of President’s agenda,” specifically advanced by more than 20 billion dollars in Recovery Act spending on healthcare IT.
Chopra looked back at two decisions related to approaching technology policy a bit differently. “Rather than walking into Best Buy and buying software, we created more flexible standards for meaningful use,” he said. As a result, “entrepreneurs that never thought of themselves as EMR companies are entering the market.”
The decision to make meaningful use more modular was also significant, asserted Chopra. “We opened up the regulatory regime so you could certify each and every regulatory module.”
In aggregate, Chopra associated that R&D investment, work to convene conversations, open up data and create more flexible regulatory regimes with a better outcomes: venture capital investment in HIT going up by 39%, citing a statistic from the National Venture Capital Association.
How did Chopra respond? He asked for more criticism, responding that you “must listen to people who are frustrated” and consider that much of the tech platform is in the space “where the plane is yet to land.” If you go through campaign promises, and look at executive ability to move the needle on different areas, Chopra asserted that the
biggest part of that – open government – has gone ahead. “It’s not ‘mom and apple pie perfect’,” he said, but they’re proud of delivering on 90 day deliverables like standards, or websites.
Part of the challenge of delivering on campaign promises is that budgetary or legislative action requires different stakeholders, observed Chopra, a reality that will become even more sharply defined in the next Congress. “The Recovery Act is a unique moment in time,” which, as he argued is “overwhelmingly the vehicle for campaign promises” in health IT and clean tech.
What’s next in United States technology policy?
Chopra also met with Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA), who is very supportive of increased government transparency through technology. Issa, a successful technology entrepreneur, is one of the most knowledgeable members of Congress when it comes to technology. Whatever comes out of his his legislative staff, or the new House Oversight committee, which he will chair, could represent a step forward for open government after the 2010 election.
Chopra also emphasized “modest but significant actions” that could improve the conditions for tech entrepreneurs in the United Stats, from open government data to regulatory action to smart grid or support for new learning technologies. On that count, Chopra offered up a “scoop” to Kim Hart, observing that the next area where he will focus on driving innovation will be into learning technologies, with more news coming at a Brookings Institute event in December.
The top opportunities that Chopra sees for entrepreneurs are in healthcare and energy, the former of which is already becoming hot with more healthcare apps provisioned with open healthcare data
“One policy lever is the role of public-private partnerships,” observed Chopra, highlighting the growth in STEM education, with over half a billion dollars in investment. “It’s not the money, it’s the platforms,” he said.
Chopra fielded a question Congressman Wu (D-OR), the current chairman of the House technology and innovation committee. After a discursion into what went wrong for the Democratic Party in the midterm, Wu asked what the next priority will be for Congress and Chopra to work together upon. His answer was simple: spectrum policy, emphasizing voluntary processes for formulating solution. The priority, he said, was to get a broadband network for public safety that’s interoperable for first responders.
Finally, Chopra talked about the story of the Alfred brothers, who founded Brightscope in California in 2008. The story of Brightscope is important: data driving the innovation economy. They knew about key data on 401(k) plan fees at the Department of Labor, worked hard to liberate it and now have a successful, growing startup as a result.