Vehicle safety is a significant concern for many Americans. As the ongoing General Motors recall has shown, problems with automotive parts can adversely affect millions of people. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is the federal agency that sets safety standards for motor vehicles and investigates defects. To keep customers informed, NHTSA's Safercar.gov provides a portal to information about potential problems with cars and automotive equipment.
On April 2, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on McCutcheon vs. Federal Election Commission, striking down aggregate limits on the contributions that individuals can give to political candidates. Coupled with the court's earlier rulings that loosened restrictions on corporate spending on election ads, this decision makes comprehensive and timely disclosure of campaign spending even more important. Voters should be able to see who is financing campaigns.
How can federal agencies be more responsive in making the information they gather and hold available to the public? Agencies are currently grappling with that question as they prepare new "open government plans" required by the White House. On Feb. 28, the Obama administration issued guidance to outline the approach that agencies should take with the next set of open government plans, which are due June 1, 2014.
Oversight of how federal agencies implement the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is critical to ensuring the public has robust access to government records. The Justice Department's Office of Information Policy (OIP) recently issued its annual assessment of how well agencies are processing FOIA requests and announced plans to substantially improve its assessment measures next year. The more robust assessment tool will better hold agencies accountable for providing information to the public.
On Aug. 26, the Center for Effective Government joined comments by the Public Interest Public Airwaves Coalition and the Sunlight Foundation urging the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to make information about televised political advertisements more accessible. Greater disclosure of political ad spending will strengthen the integrity of our elections by informing voters about who is buying such ads.
A key fund for government transparency programs is once again facing cuts. On July 10, the House Financial Services and General Government appropriations subcommittee approved a bill that provides no funding for the Electronic Government Fund (E-Gov Fund), the driving force behind many recent open government innovations. Instead, the bill merges the E-Gov Fund with another fund and cuts their combined funding level 15 percent from last year.
A new policy could provide the public with better information about federal contracts and grants. On June 12, the Office of Federal Financial Management, a division of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), issued a memo directing agencies to improve the quality of data posted for public access on USAspending.gov.
A new letter by Department of Justice (DOJ) officials reveals the department is engaged in limited enforcement activities under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The letter responds to an inquiry from the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to DOJ's Office of Information Policy (OIP), which oversees agency compliance with FOIA.
Open and accountable government is key to successful development, according to a report by a United Nations (UN) panel released May 30. The report, titled A New Global Partnership: Eradicate Poverty and Transform Economies through Sustainable Development, was produced by a panel of global dignitaries at the request of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The report's emphasis on transparency represents the growing consensus among world leaders in favor of open government and could bolster support for transparency within the U.S.
The Obama administration has released new data on the 333 lawsuits filed in 2012 under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The data shows that although FOIA lawsuits can be high profile, they are rare and the vast majority of requesters never pursue litigation. But more importantly, the information indicates that FOIA reforms, currently being considered by both Congress and the administration, can generate greater improvements for public access when they address earlier stages of the FOIA process.
On March 20, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform approved the FOIA Oversight and Implementation Act (H.R. 1211), sponsored by the committee's chair and ranking member, Reps. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Elijah Cummings (D-MD). The bill would take steps to improve agency compliance with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and require agencies to post more public information online. However, more reforms will be needed to address fundamental flaws in the current FOIA system.
Four years ago, President Obama entered office offering an inspiring vision for a more open and participatory government. A new report by Center for Effective Government staff credits the Obama administration for using its first term to construct a policy foundation that could make that vision a reality. However, the actual implementation of open government policies within federal agencies has been inconsistent and sometimes weak.
A recent letter from Congress to the Justice Department represents a positive development toward strengthening the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The letter, sent Feb. 4 by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, asks what steps the government is taking on a number of key transparency improvements.
Four years ago, when Barack Obama assumed the office of the President of the United States, he signaled his commitment to open and accountable government with a set of directives and executive orders designed to make his administration “the most transparent in history.” Significant progress was made in his first term, but the president's vision has not yet been translated into across-all-agencies improvements in openness, and in the area of national security, most civil liberties advocates are disappointed.