Saturday, April 26, 2008

YOUR RIGHT TO KNOW--Open Government and Freedom of Information in California

YOUR RIGHT TO KNOW--Open Government and Freedom of Information in California

Leland-Yee-Senator.jpg By Leland Yee, Ph.D.
Assistant President pro Tem
California State Senate

Recently newspapers, broadcasters, online media outlets, schools, libraries, and civic groups across the country celebrated open government with Sunshine Week 2008. Here in California, I am working with First Amendment and public access advocates, teachers, students, and labor unions on a series of bills to provide greater transparency of government and increase public access to records that rightfully belong to the people. These bills range from protecting state whistleblowers and student speech rights to allowing public access of government contracts and reviewing of audits.

Protecting Journalism Teachers and Student Speech

This week, the California Senate approved legislation to protect high school and college teachers and other employees from retaliation by administrators as a result of student speech, which most often happens when a journalism advisor or professor is disciplined for content in a student newspaper. With this vote, California continues to lead the way in making sure true freedom of the press is alive and well on our campuses. Senate Bill 1370 follows a 2006 law I authored to prohibit censorship of college press by administrators and protect students from being disciplined for engaging in speech or press activities.

Allowing a school administration to censor in any way is contrary to the democratic process and the ability of a student newspaper to serve as the watchdog and bring sunshine to the actions of school administrators. It is quite disheartening to hear, that after we specifically prohibited prior restraint by administrators, that some are engaging in this type of nefarious activity and even firing quality teachers because of content in the student newspaper.

Specifically, SB 1370 would prohibit an employee from being dismissed, suspended, disciplined, reassigned, transferred, or otherwise retaliated against for acting to protect a student's speech.

There have been a number of documented cases throughout the state of journalism advisors being dismissed or reassigned due to student speech. In fact, my office has learned of cases in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Claremont, Fremont, Novato, Oxnard, Rialto, and Garden Grove.

A Los Angeles Unified School District case is one of many where a highly respected and successful newspaper advisor was removed from his position. In November 2006, the student newspaper published an editorial criticizing random searches conducted on campus. The newspaper advisor, Darryl Adams, was immediately removed after refusing to eliminate the editorial at the principal's request. Adams was later removed as basketball coach and even as announcer for the football games.

"In a span of four months, they all but stripped me of my professional existence," said Adams.

Another case involved Janet Ewell, a Garden Grove tenured teacher and certified journalism educator, who was removed as newspaper advisor in 2002 despite her students winning numerous journalism awards. The school's principal admitted to student reporters that he had removed Ewell as a result of editorials that ran in the school newspaper. The editorials focused on such issues as the school bathrooms, cafeteria food and a teacher who was unavailable to help students.

Ronnie Campagna, a journalism teacher of 18 years at San Marin High School in Novato, was removed in 2003 and replaced by a new teacher with no previous journalism experience after the student paper published stories critical of the administration. For example, one story criticized the school administration for not letting students stand up in the bleachers during varsity basketball games. The school board went so far as to attempt dissolving the entire program until parents protested and even offered to fund the class themselves.

In San Francisco, journalism and English teacher Katharine Swan was told that she must find a different school in which to teach after her students covered a first-year principal's attempts to effect prior restraint and influence coverage of events occurring at the school.

Last week, the Newspaper Association of America Foundation released a study that found students who work on high school newspapers and yearbooks are more likely to receive better grades in high school and college as well as score higher on college entrance exams.

SB 1370 will go a long way in ensuring student journalism is alive and well on our campuses.

Ensuring quality contractors, competitive bidding, and public access at UC

The Senate Appropriations Committee will soon consider legislation to ensure that the University of California contracts with responsible businesses and that there is a competitive bidding process every three years. In addition, the University of California (UC) Responsible Contracting Act requires the University to maintain a centralized database of contracts that is available for public review at each campus.

In coordination with the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), I introduced the measure as a result of numerous reports of UC's deficient and non-transparent contract bidding process. It was recently uncovered that a UC Santa Barbara contractor violated wage and hour laws. For more than a decade, UC Davis has failed to put out to a bid contract for food services. In fact, the same food service company has held the contract for over thirty years.

Each year, UC spends millions of dollars contracting for the delivery of products and services, yet the campuses are not required to maintain a centralized database of contracts and contractor information. SB 1596 will require such information be readily available to the public at each campus, health facility, and laboratory.

In addition, SB 1596 will establish a contractor responsibility program which requires contractors wishing to be considered for an award of contract with the University to file a questionnaire covering areas of past bankruptcy filings, convictions, loss of permits or license, and the disclosure of past judgments for issues such as taxes owed..

SB 1596 will also ensure competition by requiring all contracts be limited to three years terms and that upon completion of the term, the University shall solicit bids through a competitive bidding process.

Amidst growing public scrutiny of a food service contract at UC Davis, the University recently announced a six year extension coincided with the announcement of a multi-million dollar investment in the campus by the same contractor. It is unacceptable that UC Davis has contracted with the same campus food service company for decades without putting the contract out to bid. The cost to taxpayers and students as a result of this policy is immeasurable.

Recently, UC Santa Barbara awarded a low-bid contract to provide painting services on campus. Unfortunately, the contractor declared bankruptcy and the employees were unable to cash their paychecks for painting services they had already provided the University. Wages owed to workers included approximately $90,000. SB 1596 is expected to prevent such events from happening in the future.

SB 1596 will ensure that the University contracts with responsible entities, workers are protected, and the taxpayers' and students' dollars are being wisely spent. It is imperative that UC has a competitive environment where bidding is fair, transparency and accountable to the people of California

Providing Greater Access to Government Contracts

Recently, the California Senate approved legislation to allow greater public access to government contracts as well as audits and reviews of public agencies.

Senate Bill 1696 would prohibit a state or local agency from allowing an outside entity to control the disclosure of information that is otherwise subject to the state's Public Records Act. In addition, the bill would specify that regardless of any contract term to the contrary, a contract for the purpose of conducting a review, audit, or report between a private entity and a state or local agency is subject to the same disclosure requirements as other public records.

The need for the measure arose from the denial of a January 2007 request by the San Francisco Chronicle to the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF). UCSF refused to release an independent review of its finances or even the name of the firm that was issued a contract for $165,000 to carry out the review. UCSF claimed the auditing firm controlled the confidentiality of the contract and the audit.

Since the inception of the California Public Records Act, records created, held maintained or used by a state or local agency have been presumptively disclosable to the public unless an exemption in the law permits the agency to withhold requested information. The law was enacted to ensure accountability of government institutions and specifically states that "access to information concerning the conduct of the people's business is a fundamental and necessary right of every person in this state."

The public deserves to see how their tax dollars are being spent and should not be prevented access to contracts, audits, reviews or reports of government agencies. Simply entering into a confidentiality agreement with a third party will no longer be an excuse to not disclose information and avoid scrutiny and accountability.

Assisting State Whistleblowers

California's law to protect state employees who report waste, fraud, or abuse within state agencies, has done little to help Ruby Cornejo and Michelle Dille, two whistleblowers within the Department of Social Services (DSS). Cornejo and Dille, who had a combined 66 years of experience within the Department when they openly criticized a lax policy on criminal background checks for foster parents and childcare and senior home licensees, which they argued risked the lives of already vulnerable citizens.

The vocal criticism didn't sit well with the department's management. Cornejo and Dille reported their criticisms to the Bureau of State Audits in January 2003, only to consequently be retaliated against by their superiors. According to Cornejo and Dille, they faced four years of "continuous and unabated hostilities, harassment, and retaliation from DSS management."

The response from DSS management is a clear violation of the California Whistleblower Protection Act, which is designed to protect civil servants from improper retaliation or intimidation and is supposed to provide a timely review and resolution of complaints regarding "waste, fraud, abuse of authority, violation of law, or threat to public health and safety."

However, the State Personnel Board has still not reviewed or resolved the cases, and Cornejo and Dille have faced combined legal costs of approximately $500,000. As a result, I have introduced Senate Bill 1267 to increase and better define the legal rights of whistleblowers.

State employees have a fundamental right to report without retaliation instances of waste, fraud, and abuse. Without whistleblowers, government works in a vacuum and is often not accountable to the people it is supposed to serve. SB 1267 will ensure whistleblowers are not subjected to years of administrative hearings at the expense of themselves and taxpayers.

The cases of Cornejo and Dille are apparently not isolated cases. According to the State Personnel Board's report to the Governor and Legislature, of the 106 whistleblower retaliation complaints accepted by the Board between 2003 and 2005, none were resolved in favor of the complainant. 58 of the complaints were denied, 5 resulted in a "stipulated agreement" and 42 were "still pending."

Not only do these delays result in unfair costs to whistleblowers, but they also result in burdens to the state, and in essence, render the current California Whistleblower Protection Act useless.

SB 1267 would explicitly give whistleblowers the right to take their case to court if the State Personnel Board exceeds a 70 day timeframe in resolving the case; would prevent excessive timeframe extensions by requiring the personnel board to resolve cases within 70 days even if multiple complaints are consolidated into one investigation or hearing; would entitle the State and the injured party to seek reimbursement for their expenses, costs, and attorney fees when liability is established; and would provide protections for former employees, not just current employees.

It is our duty to ensure whistleblowers are protected and that their contentions receive prompt and impartial investigations. SB 1267 will allow public servants, without reservation, to best serve the residents of California.

I urge you to join me in supporting these much-needed measures – SB 1267, SB 1370, SB 1596, and SB 1696.

Leland Yee is a member of the California State Senate Democratic Leadership team and the Assistant President pro Tem of the Senate. Senator Yee is also a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley.

Posted on April 25, 2008

RIGHT TO KNOW: Open government a battle all over the globe

RIGHT TO KNOW: Open government a battle all over the globe

The Sydney Morning Herald in Australia recently carried an article in which New South Wales' ombudsman is conducting an unprecedented review of the state's Freedom of Information Act after the government repeatedly failed to conduct an independent review to ensure that government remains transparent.

There's apparently been long-term, widespread frustration with the current outdated FOI Act. The ombudsman's request also coincides with the Sydney Morning Herald's battles with police over the release of the names of pubs and clubs most linked to alcohol-related crime.

As evidence that the government has been increasingly shutting down public access, the ombudsman reported that the percentage of Freedom of Information Law applications honored in full dropped from 81 percent in 1995-96 to about 52 percent in 2005-06.

In support of the changes, a political party official criticized the Morris Iemma administration for "enjoying the spoils of a secret state" by not reviewing the outdated public access laws and changing the government's anti-access practices.

Restricted access to government is something we all have to guard against. It's nice to know that people in other countries are as vigilant and persistent in their pursuit of open government as some of the citizens in our country are.

– Mark Mahoney

Thursday, April 24, 2008

THE NSW Ombudsman has forced the state Government to join a national push for stronger freedom of information laws | The Australian

Iemma forced to back FOI scrutiny



Chris Merritt, Legal affairs editor | April 23, 2008


THE NSW Ombudsman has forced the state Government to join a national push for stronger freedom of information laws.

The Government yesterday pledged its co-operation soon after state Ombudsman Bruce Barbour announced he was holding his own review because the Government had failed to act.

"For almost 14 years, each NSW ombudsman, including myself, has called for an independent and comprehensive review of the FOI Act," Mr Barbour said. "In the absence of the NSW Government initiating a review of the act, I have decided to conduct my own independent and comprehensive review."

But after Mr Barbour informed the Government of his plans, Premier Morris Iemma welcomed the move. His spokeswoman said yesterday that the Ombudsman was best placed to undertake the review.

Mr Iemma had written to Mr Barbour supporting his initiative and offering the Government's assistance and co-operation, the spokeswoman said.

Mr Barbour announced yesterday he would be conducting simultaneous investigations of the FOI practices at a number of government agencies, local councils, universities and area health services. "These comprehensive investigations will involve audits of FOI files held by various agencies," he said.

Mr Iemma's spokeswoman said the Government would not attempt to block access to government agencies. And if Mr Barbour asked for more resources for the review, the Government would consider supplying them, she said.

The review follows similar inquiries in some other states and a strong endorsement for open government by participants at the 2020 Summit.

The Rudd Government is already committed to overhauling its FOI scheme and abolishing conclusive certificates that give ministers the legal right to block FOI requests.

Queensland is part way through a review of its scheme by David Solomon, journalist, barrister and former chairman of the state's Electoral and Administrative Review Committee.

When the Queensland review was announced, Premier Anna Bligh said she wanted to provide the public with greater accessibility to information and greater transparency.

But concerns have begun to emerge that the Queensland Government is placing some documents beyond the reach of FOI laws by transferring them to the state Crime and Misconduct Commission, which is exempt from the FOI scheme.

Legal academic Rick Snell said the NSW review was overdue as that state's FOI scheme "has not worked as well as it could have".

"It has not been well cared for and maintained," he said.

Despite a series of reports and discussion papers on the NSW FOI scheme, there had been little action, he said.

The key failings in the NSW scheme are believed to include: the complexity and inconsistencies in the scheme; different approaches between government agencies to whether information should be released; the cost of applications; and the increasing use of electronic records instead of paper documents.

Mr Barbour said he was encouraged by moves by Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia, which had shown a commitment to ensuring their FOI acts remained relevant and effective.


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Law and democracy can’t be taken for granted -

Law and democracy can't be taken for granted



Thu. Apr 24 - 5:43 AM

Last week, the Canadian Bar Association joined forces with Democracy 250 to celebrate law and democracy. The CBA has had Law Day since 1982 when the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom was proclaimed into law. It was a great week, with mock trials, legal information sessions, and poster and speech contests held all across Nova Scotia. This 250th celebration is a significant and worthy one.

We are truly fortunate in this province and country to not only be celebrating 250 years of the rule of law and democracy, but to also be the beneficiaries of them every day. One needs only to pick up the paper and read about human rights atrocities, miscarriages of justice, failing economies and the sort to realize how fortunate we really are.

But vigilance is required to keep and improve our legal and political systems. We need freedom of speech and freedom of the press. An independent judiciary is one of our cornerstones. We need committed citizens willing to serve in public. All of these and more are necessary and we must not take them for granted.

The celebrations and events of last week serve as a reminder to us all of the great things we have accomplished, the sacrifices made by our predecessors and the work we must continue. Nova Scotia has much to celebrate. Not only is this the 250th anniversary of representative government, we also had the rule of law firmly entrenched four years earlier with the establishment of the first court system in North America. We have had many other firsts: the first to use secret ballots (1759); the first policewoman (Rose Fortune of Annapolis, 1783); the first female Chief Justice in Canada (the Honourable Constance Glube, 1982); the first province to enact freedom of information legislation (FOIPOP, 1977); and the first black female mayor in North America (Daurene Lewis of Annapolis Royal, 1984-88).

Even some of our darker periods have led to improvements. The Donald Marshall Jr. inquiry resulted in a number of changes, including creating Canada's only prosecution agency that operates independently of government; and we have led in making improvements in judicial accountability, including a confidential assessment of justices and one of the first media liaison committees.

In 1835, Joe Howe defended himself in a speech lasting six hours and 15 minutes, and asked the jurors "to leave an unshackled press as a legacy to [our] children." Danny Cavanagh, in his April 19 opinion piece, asked the question, "Is democracy alive in Nova Scotia?" He, too, is a beneficiary of our heritage – the freedom of the press. We can publish without censorship or fear of being charged with sedition or treason. Whether you agree with someone or not, you are entitled to express it. As Voltaire stated, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

Mr. Cavanagh raised some interesting political issues. Again, we have the ability to raise them, to have them considered, perhaps made into legislation or even prevented from being made into law. This is all part of law and democracy. It is a balancing of interests. It is not perfect. Churchill said, "Democracy is the absolute worst form of government, except for all the others." He is correct. Democracy is difficult. It requires work; in fact, it requires daily vigilance by all citizens.

Are law and democracy worth celebrating? Yes. Former premiers John Hamm and Russell MacLellan continue to serve their province as co-chairs of Democracy 250. Is it worth spending money on engaging young people to vote, in increasing our understanding of democracy, the freedom to assemble and to speak freely, and even the right to protest? Yes, again.

I won the lottery the day I was born in Canada. Only three of my relatives chose to leave East Germany when the communists came in. My parents emigrated to Canada. I wake up every day in a great province and nation where my children can walk to school without dodging bullets. A place where you do not have to worry about being dragged from your house if you espouse views that are unpopular or contrary to the ruling party's. I proudly make my living as a lawyer and businessman in a place so wealthy that health care (albeit challenged) is a given, and where I even have enough time at the end of a day to contribute back.

This is a great province and great country, and we must continue to work for it. But a little celebration is also in order.

Robert Patzelt, QC, lives in Halifax.


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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Catchword of the Day: Democratic deficit - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Democratic deficit

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


A democratic deficit is considered to be occurring when ostensibly democratic organizations or institutions (particularly governments) are seen to be falling short of fulfilling the principles of the parliamentary democracy in their practices or operation where representative and linked parliamentary integrity becomes widely discussed. The phrase was coined by UK
Member of the European Parliament
Bill Newton Dunn in a pamphlet in the 1980s.


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Democracy Glossary: Accountability


Accountability means that the government in a democracy is responsible to the people for its actions. This responsibility is primarily ensured by periodic public elections through which the people choose their representatives in government. If those elected to represent the people are insufficiently responsive to them, they are likely to be rejected at the next election and replaced by others who promise greater accountability.


Both elected and appointed officials in government are held accountable to the people by laws that regulate their actions. These laws limit the government's use of power in order to protect the people from abuse. There also are laws that require transparency or openness in government so that the people may readily have information necessary to evaluate the performance of their elected and appointed officials.


The mass media of communication, such as newspapers, television, radio, and websites, provide the public with information about the performance of government. Laws that protect freedom of speech and of the press are therefore foundations of accountability in a democracy. In particular, the mass media regularly conduct public opinion polls to measure the people's approval or disapproval of particular representatives or of the government in general. Thus, independent and privately owned media outlets provide the people and their representatives with information that prompts accountability by the government to the governed.


Some democratic governments, such as those in Sweden, Lithuania, and Estonia, include the office of ombudsman, an appointed official who responds directly to individuals with a grievance against the government and who is empowered to seek resolutions of complaints. Most democracies also include agencies that regularly conduct evaluations of the performances of different parts of the government and communicate their findings to the public.



By John Patrick, Understanding Democracy, A Hip Pocket Guide (Oxford University Press)


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Canada Post under fire -

Canada Post under fire (Editorial)



Wed. Apr 23 - 4:48 AM

CANADA Post can't win. The post office says it's costing too much money to deliver mail free for MPs and senators, a Nova Scotia MP questions the post office's motives in reassessing rural deliveries, and now a special panel has been struck to review its overall operations.


Postal officials say they're losing millions of dollars annually because MPs and political parties are sending more mailouts to constituents. Despite the $22.2 million in annual subsidies Ottawa now pays to Canada Post to cover the costs of keeping politicians in touch with voters, postal officials want more money to perform the task. Details obtained by the Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act revealed a special project, dubbed Six Sigma, that showed Canada Post is being shortchanged by free mail for politicians. However, the post office refuses to give exact amounts on how much more mail is being delivered for politicians and their parties, and at what cost.


Canada Post can't have it both ways. The corporation should reveal how much money it's losing, or be prepared to absorb the losses. To claim the need to protect "commercial confidentiality" doesn't wash with taxpayers, who are being asked to foot the bill without being provided all the facts. Politicians should be required to make public everything they're sending to their constituents via free postage. If MPs, senators and political parties are abusing their special mailing privileges, it's time to change the practice.


Kings Hants Liberal MP Scott Brison has his own battle with Canada Post. Mr. Brison objects to the review underway by the post office to enhance the safety of those who deliver the mail, saying the exercise is aimed at depriving seniors of rural delivery and forcing them to pick up their mail at central locations.

Canada Post is obligated to protect its workers, some of whom feel unsafe in dropping off mail at certain rural boxes. Mr. Brison does more harm than good by questioning the motives of Canada Post. It's fine for him to try to help his constituents, but he'd serve them better by working at solving delivery problems, instead of undermining the entire process with a smear of the post office.

But Canada Post has more to worry about than Mr. Brison. Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon on Tuesday named a panel to review how the mail carrier operates and what it needs to do to stay viable. Mr. Cannon says Canada Post will not be privatized, but steps will be taken to ensure it remains viable and serves the needs of Canadians.

Canada Post is an institution Canadians love to hate. Reviewing its mandate is both timely and necessary, to ensure it serves the needs of its customers while remaining a viable operation.


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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

White House challenges release of visitor logs

White House challenges release of visitor logs


Apr 21, 2:14 PM (ET)




WASHINGTON (AP) - A federal appeals court sought compromise Monday between a liberal group demanding the names of White House visitors and the Bush administration, which says releasing the names would erode the president's power.

If released, the documents would show how often prominent religious conservatives visited the White House and Vice President Dick Cheney's residence, allowing a glimpse into how much influence they exerted on government policy.

White House calendars are not generally considered public records, but reporters and watchdog groups have used Secret Service documents, which normally are public, to report on White House visitors.

Rather than having those documents released on a case-by-case basis, the Bush administration wants them considered White House documents, which would keep them from public view for more than a decade.

A federal judge rejected White House arguments in December and ordered the documents released. On appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, government attorneys said the president has a well-established right to seek advice privately.

Releasing lists of visitors would trample on that right, said Justice Department lawyer Jonathan F. Cohn, and the logs should be treated like other White House documents.

The judges were skeptical. They said they wanted to find a way to protect the president's rights without broadly prohibiting access to information that should be public.

"What in the documents are so quintessentially presidential?" asked Judge David S. Tatel.

"The name of the person going in to visit," Cohn replied.

"That's a public building," Tatel said. "You can stand out on 17th Street and watch who goes in and out."

"The Secret Service might have some qualms with that," Cohn responded.

"They might have some qualms but they couldn't stop you from doing it," said Chief Judge David B. Sentelle.

Rather than balancing the president's interest with the public's, Tatel said, the government was simply disregarding the Freedom of Information Act. He said the policy would allow the president to "draw a curtain around the White House."

Judge Merrick B. Garland said he was concerned the Bush administration's policy could extend to other White House agencies such as the budget office, which normally releases public records. Under the government's theory, Garland said, visits to the White House social planner, caterer and gardener would all be secret because the president needs to receive advice privately.

The judges seemed equally dissatisfied with the argument of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, the group seeking the documents. Sentelle and Tatel said the group was using the Secret Service as an end-run, a way to get documents that normally would not be public.

"I think Congress would be surprised that, by requiring the president to receive Secret Service protection, it was opening up his calendars," Tatel said.

Sentelle became frustrated and at one point put his head in his hands after pressing attorney Anne L. Weissman to acknowledge that the president must be allowed to seek advice privately. He repeatedly urged her to explain how to balance the two interests.

"I don't understand what you don't understand," Sentelle said. "You're not acknowledging the separation-of-powers problem."

The judges pressed both sides to offer a compromise that would strike the right balance. Government lawyers said they couldn't discern from the logs which meetings were presidential policy meetings and which ones might not be sensitive, such as a meeting with the White House gardener. Weissman bristled at the idea that the government's only solution was blanket secrecy.

"I haven't heard from you a counter-suggestion," Tatel told Weissman. "We've never had a case like this."

Garland seemed to search for a solution short of the government's blanket secrecy but that would not allow journalists and special-interest groups to regularly request the names of every visitor to the White House. Under that scenario, he said., the president could never ensure that any meeting was confidential, he said.

The court did not immediately rule on the case. Nearly two dozen news organizations, including The Associated Press, filed court documents supporting the release of the Secret Service logs.

During the administration of President Clinton, political opponents made extensive use of Secret Service logs documenting White House visits by donors, money-raisers, pardon-seekers and former White House intern Monica Lewinsky.


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Malta Cabinet approves Freedom of Information Act

Malta Cabinet approves Freedom of Information Act

by David Lindsay



In what Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi described yesterday morning as a "big breakthrough for good governance in Malta", Cabinet, in its fourth meeting since the election, yesterday agreed on the draft of an act and to begin a Parliamentary debate on introducing a Freedom of Information Act into Maltese legislation.


The act, Dr Gonzi said, would be one of the first items to be put up for debate once Parliament reconvenes on 10 May.


In addition to the long-awaited Freedom of Information Act, Dr Gonzi yesterday confirmed that the Public Administration and Central Registry Acts will also feature at the top of Parliament's agenda once it begins the next legislature's sessions.


The public administration and central registry acts had been under discussion in the last legislature but will have to be debated again, since Parliament was dissolved in February before the acts were approved.


The central registry act deals with the public registry and creates a one-stop central registration system for all matters related to property and civil status.


"Certainty of ownership" under law is envisaged to be better established through the act, while the legislation would also give a legal basis to the core functions of the Civil Registrations Department.


The public administration act proposes "radical" changes to the public sector's modus operandi, so as to become more efficient and to meet the sector's ever-developing needs. Among a wide-range of initiatives, it also makes government departments and agencies more accountable for their actions.


Proposals on the two acts made during previous debates from the opposition and other parties, Dr Gonzi said just after the Cabinet meeting yesterday morning at Castille, would be taken on board and incorporated into the eventual legislation.


The Freedom of Information Act, Dr Gonzi said, would give citizens more rights in accessing information held by the government, information kept currently under the government's lock and key. The draft draws upon elements of similar acts established in other countries. A white paper on the issue had been published last summer, and comments received by organisations representing journalists and other parties would also be taken on board, Dr Gonzi confirmed.


The basic substance of last summer's freedom of information white paper, he said, would be preserved, while also reflecting proposed amendments, such as comments from the Broadcasting Authority, which pointed to certain types of information that still needed to be considered confidential and which should accordingly be kept on the 'off limits' list.


Comments from the opposition during debates on the central registry and public administration acts, Dr Gonzi said, would be taken on board so that what is presented to the next legislature reflects the last legislature's debates on the topics.


Dr Gonzi described the public administration act as one of the most important pieces of legislation debated by the last legislature, in that it proposes "radical" changes and new concepts in the way the public sector and the government operates.


Turning to other matters, Dr Gonzi commented that now that the casual elections have been wrapped up, the government could turn to discussing related matters of importance with the opposition, including matters such as the appointment of the next speaker of the house and the parliamentary pairing issue.


On the situation with Dar Malta, the prime property purchased in Brussels by the government – part of which is being used by Malta's Permanent Representation to the European Union – Dr Gonzi said the government had registered "substantial interest" in prospects for renting out unused space for commercial purposes, and that more would be known on such prospects within the coming weeks.


On the prevailing cost of living, Dr Gonzi said the government was closely following developments in the record price of oil, where he said the situation was "precarious" and constantly in flux.


This concern, he said, was coupled by the still high prices for cereals and the knock-down effect on the prices of foodstuffs. Financial turmoil in the United States, meanwhile, was creating financial instability in the markets of Malta's main trading partners.


Seeking to counteract such eventualities cropping up, the government had taken the decision to grant an additional cost of living adjustment this year in advance. Remaining competitive in the face of such challenges, however, was essential and Dr Gonzi added that the government would be keeping Malta's social partners up to date with developments concerning their effect on Malta.


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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

B.C. government under fire for `Orwellian' legislation

B.C. government under fire for `Orwellian' legislation

Jonathan FowlieCanWest News. Don Mills, Ont.: Apr 8, 2008.

Abstract (Summary)

David Loukidelis wrote to Environment Minister Barry Penner and Energy Minister Richard Neufeld, saying sections of two pieces of recently introduced legislation represent "a significant encroachment" on freedom of information laws.

Full Text (462  words)

Copyright Southam Publications Inc. Apr 8, 2008


Note: CNS-SECRET-CLIMATE-VANISL.466 words with 103 words in optional trim

VICTORIA - B.C.'s information and privacy commissioner says the government's new climate-change legislation permits too much secrecy and should be changed before it becomes law.

David Loukidelis wrote to Environment Minister Barry Penner and Energy Minister Richard Neufeld, saying sections of two pieces of recently introduced legislation represent "a significant encroachment" on freedom of information laws.

"This is a matter of significant concern, considering the importance of environmental protection measures relating to climate change and the need for openness and accountability in the monitoring and enforcement of such measures, " Loukidelis said in letters dated April 4.

He was concerned about a bill to establish a cap-and-trade system to limit pollution from large emitters, and another to set new environmental requirements for transportation fuels.

In both bills, the government is seeking extra powers to prohibit the release of information supplied by private corporations.

Mary Carlson, executive director of Loukidelis's office, said the changes go beyond what any other province is doing.

"It's creating an unnecessarily broad protection," Carlson said Monday, adding there is already legislation in place to balance corporate protection with public transparency.

"When you are a business and you are getting certain benefits from the government, or doing business with the government, there is more transparency there than if it was a purely private transaction," she added.

Penner said he had already asked to meet with Loukidelis.

"The drafters (of the cap-and-trade legislation) tell me they only worded (the legislation) the way they did in an effort to prevent the inadvertent release of potentially sensitive information for businesses that might reveal competitive information that is of interest to their competitors," said Penner.

"We will work with the privacy commissioner to see if we can address his concerns while still protecting the release of sensitive information," he added.

Neufeld, who introduced the low-carbon-fuel legislation, could not be reached for comment.

Darrell Evans, executive director of the B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association, called the language in the two bills "Orwellian."

"It's really a recipe for secrecy," he said.

New Democratic Party Environment critic Shane Simpson said the bills are further evidence of what he called the Liberal government's penchant for secrecy.

"This just adds to the secrecy that we have seen going on in the government. It adds to the secrecy around cap-and-trade and secrecy around climate change, " Simpson said.

"What this means is any discussions that are held with the large polluters, the large emitters, over what standards should be in place, about what the industry position is around negotiations on what cap-and-trade might look like - all of those discussions potentially are kept secret," he said.

"I think it's very concerning."

Vancouver Sun

Credit: Canwest News Service


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Miss. Governor's office wants over $14K to process e-mails for public records request

Governor's office wants over $14K to process e-mails for public records request

(Published April 14, 2008)

JACKSON, Miss. — Gov. Haley Barbour's office wants $14,170 to provide The Clarion-Ledger newspaper's public records request for four days of e-mails from the governor's staff.

The newspaper said in a story in Monday's edition that it was exploring its options.

The governor's office estimate included $7,500 for outside attorneys to review the e-mails for privacy and privilege issues. Other costs include staff time.

Barbour spokesman Pete Smith said Monday that the number of e-mails involved in the request would be about 8,000.

In a March 27 letter to the newspaper, the governor's office said it archives all its e-mails but has no ability to retrieve them without assistance from technology experts.

Leonard Van Slyke, an expert on Mississippi public records law and an attorney for The Clarion-Ledger, said state law allows the governor to recover the actual cost of retrieving requested records. However, he said he does not believe it covers the hiring of non-governmental employees to do it.

In Mississippi, the governor's e-mails are public record, although some material can be excluded for specific reasons, such as discussion of personnel issues or the trade secrets of government contractors.

The Clarion-Ledger was participating in an exercise sponsored by the Wisconsin-based Lucy Burns Institute, which promotes open government, when it made the records request. The paper asked for e-mails from midnight Feb. 15 through Feb. 19.

Information from: The Clarion-Ledger,


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Monday, April 14, 2008

Associated Press Of Pakistan - Govt to ensure public access to information: Sherry Rehman

Govt to ensure public access to information: Sherry Rehman

ISLAMABAD, April 14 (APP):  Minister for Information and Broadcasting Ms.  Sherry Rehman said Monday that the government would do all it can to ensure public access to information and work with stake holders to dismantle curbs on freedom of information. "Inspired by the vision of Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, we would remove all draconian media laws introduced by the previous regime and would facilitate the flow of information through an independent and free media,' she said while talking to a delegation of All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS).


The delegation that called her under the leadership of APNS President Hameed Haroon here.

The members of the delegation appreciated the media-friendly measures taken by the new democratic government and assured the Minister of their complete support in endeavours of the government for establishment of a free, fair and responsible media in the country.

During the course of the meeting, the members discussed various problems being faced by the print media in the country.

They demanded enhancement in the rates of newspaper advertisements, as the current rates are outdated and incompatible with the ground realities.

They also demanded rationalization of the rate of GST levied on the import of newsprint. Referring to the implementation of overdue 7th Wage Board Award, the delegation linked its implementation with the exclusion of non-journalists from the beneficiaries of the Award.

The Minister assured the delegation that she would look into the issues raised by them.

She said the new government would formulate media-friendly policies as announced by the Prime Minister in his first speech in the National Assembly.

The delegation included Jamil Ather, Senior Vice President, Imtinan Shahid, Vice President, Airf Nizami, Mujeeb-ur-Rehman Shami, Syed Fasih Iqbal and Dr. Tanvir A. Tahir, Executive Director of APNS.


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Yale accepts decision requiring more access to campus police records

Yale accepts decision requiring more access to campus police records



© 2008 Student Press Law Center


April 11, 2008


CONNECTICUT — Yale University will not appeal a state agency decision that makes the university's police department a public body and subject to the state's open records laws, Yale announced in a press release today.

"The University will abide by the FOI Commission's decision requiring disclosure of certain documents related to Yale Police Department officers; we are doing so because Yale recognizes the unique and public law enforcement role that its officers play in the City of New Haven," the statement said.

The commission's ruling came in response to an incident that occurred in 2007 in which a teenager was arrested and charged with breach of peace for riding his bicycle on a public sidewalk. Janet Perrotti, a New Haven public defender, suspected the officers of misconduct and filed a request under the Connecticut Freedom of Information Act for the personnel records of the two officers involved in the arrest.

Yale denied Perrotti's request, arguing that its police department was a private entity and not subject to state open record law. Perrotti appealed the decision to the Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission, the state agency that resolves disputes over open records requests.

The FOI Commission decided in favor of Perrotti Feb. 13, concluding that the Yale police department was a public agency for several reasons, including Yale police's "exercise of full police powers throughout the City of New Haven."

"As Yale Daily News has been saying, it has been the right move both morally and ethically," said Andrew Mangino, editor in chief of Yale Daily News, the student newspaper at the school.

Mangino said that the paper has been able to get information, such as arrest records, from Yale's police department with few problems. But he said the paper definitely will take advantage of expanded access to Yale police records.

"I'm pleasantly surprised that Yale officials in dropping the appeal did not just say 'we are doing so because we can't win,' but 'we are doing so because we shouldn't,'" Mangino said. "It is a key decision that speaks well of Yale administration and hopefully be a guide to other universities throughout the country."

By A. Matthew Deal, SPLC staff writer


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Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Quote of the Day - Buckminster Fuller's Epitaph

Something hit me very hard once, thinking about what one little man could do. Think of the Queen Mary — the whole ship goes by and then comes the rudder. And there's a tiny thing at the edge of the rudder called a trimtab.

It's a miniature rudder. Just moving the little trim tab builds a low pressure that pulls the rudder around. Takes almost no effort at all. So I said that the little individual can be a trimtab. Society thinks it's going right by you, that it's left you altogether. But if you're doing dynamic things mentally, the fact is that you can just put your foot out like that and the whole big ship of state is going to go.

So I said, call me Trimtab.


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Monday, April 07, 2008

High marks for C.B. high schools -

High marks for C.B. high schools

Strait board also shows well in think-tank's annual report card

By KRISTEN LIPSCOMBE Education Reporter

Fri. Apr 4 - 10:52 AM


To view the full report card, go to



Cape Breton schools garnered great grades in a report card released Thursday by the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, snatching six out of the top 10 spots in this year's ranking of high schools across the province.

Cape Breton Highlands Academy in Terre Noire stole the show, achieving the only A- grade in Nova Scotia.

Dalbrae Academy in Southwest Mabou ranked third and Baddeck Academy was fourth, with both schools achieving B+ marks.

On the mainland, Charles P. Allen High in Bedford received a B+ too, maintaining its grade from last year but moving up from seventh to second place. Dr. John Hugh Gillis Regional School in Antigonish was fifth on the list, also with a B+.
At the other end of the spectrum, four schools from the Halifax region were among the bottom 10 on the list of 65, with Musquodoboit Rural High in Middle Musquodoboit ranked 64th with a C-. Duncan MacMillan High in Sheet Harbour, Cole Harbour District High and Millwood High in Lower Sackville all receiving C grades.
Three of the 10 lowest-ranked schools are from the Chignecto-Central region, including Springhill Junior-Senior High, which got a C- and was at the bottom of the list.
Overall, the province's public school performance "is pretty consistent with how they performed last year," Charles Cirtwill, acting president of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, said after releasing results from the region during a news conference in Moncton.
"We have kind of a wide range of schools," he said in a phone interview. "We have schools that are doing very well across a large number of measures and then you have schools that have particular challenges, but no school's without something to work on and no school has a situation where there's nothing that they're doing well."
Strait region schools are usually successful, but he said they really stand out in this year's results with four in the top 10.
On the surface, the Halifax region appears to have dropped down the list, but Mr. Cirtwill stressed that two former top schools, Queen Elizabeth and St. Patrick's, have been replaced by the new Citadel High. Last year's report card ranked QEH at No. 1 and St. Pat's at No. 8.
"The problem with the Halifax board, of course, is that two of the schools that were doing quite well don't exist anymore," he said. "We won't have a sufficient data set for Citadel High for at least three years."

Mr. Cirtwill said the think-tank's main concern with Nova Scotia's school boards is their resistance to releasing standard exam results and teacher-assigned grades on a school-by-school basis. A ruling by Nova Scotia's review officer for the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act two years ago said "the release of student achievement data (is) in the public interest," the institute says.
While some boards such as Halifax have improved their information flow, Mr. Cirtwill said others, including Chignecto-Central, "continue to be a real problem in terms of reporting data that's useful to the public."

But Chignecto-Central superintendent Noel Hurley doesn't put much stock in the annual report card, pointing to continued academic success across his region.
"We're beating each other up with a comparison that, as far as I'm concerned, has very little validity," Mr. Hurley said Thursday.
For instance, he said, Chignecto-Central placed fourth in the province last November in a worldwide reading assessment. Chignecto-Central students also placed second in standard Grade 3 and Grade 9 assessments, he said.
"We should be celebrating how well we're doing in Nova Scotia, not beating schools down. Their data is muddled. They're really not a representation of how the schools are actually doing."
Jack Beaton, director of programs and student services for the Strait board, agreed that the think-tank's study uses "a rather narrow band of information that's used to determine academic achievement."
Although he was pleased to see Strait schools rated so highly, Mr. Beaton said he has serious concerns "around the whole idea of ranking schools."
"You need good measurement of how students are doing and how schools are doing before you can start coming to conclusions about what you should be doing in the future," he said.
Education Minister Karen Casey said the provincial government is doing its best to get information to the institute.
"In fact, we're quite anxious to get that information out so everybody can recognize the successes we are having and teachers and principals can build on programming that will help close that gap," she said after cabinet Thursday.
Ms. Casey said boards were asked to submit data so the province could distribute it to the institute. But she added the province doesn't have a sophisticated data system in place.
Mr. Cirtwill emphasized that the more we know, the better off our students are in the end.
"Everybody has a natural concern about having their performance assessed. It's an uncomfortable process at the best of times (and) people get worried that it's going to be a finger-pointing exercise.
"(But) we need to have a conversation. If you publicly report information, schools get better. . . . That's the bottom line."
With Amy Smith, provincial reporter


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Preserve Right To Know

Preserve Right To Know

April 6, 2008


If ever a bill deserved to die, it is one recently advanced by the legislature's Insurance and Real Estate Committee that would exempt private contractors performing state work from Freedom of Information rules.


The intent of the proposed change in the FOI law, its proponents say, is to protect businesses from revealing "proprietary" information. These include the so-called trade secrets of managed care organizations who provide Medicaid services on behalf of the state through the Husky program.


It is another salvo in a protracted battle over whether the HMOs should be able to keep certain information secret, such as the rates they pay physicians — when taxpayers shell out more than $700 million a year to make sure low-income people have acceptable access to quality medical care.


The attorney general, a Superior Court judge, the Freedom of Information Commission and this newspaper all agree that private organizations doing state business should be open and accountable to taxpayers, who have a right to know where their money's going.


Gov. M. Jodi Rell, who has made open government a hallmark of her administration, should denounce yet another attempt to undermine transparency. Last November, to her credit, she declined to renew the contracts of Husky health care organizations because they refused to commit to full disclosure.


Standing on principle is even more important now that the state Department of Social Services is about to negotiate new contracts with companies to run both the Husky program and the governor's Charter Oak Health Plan.


The proposed revisions to the law would allow exemptions not only for managed care companies, but any private contractor performing a government function. That would be a huge insult to the people who pay the bills.


Copyright © 2008, The Hartford Courant


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Friday, April 04, 2008

Getting to the Gate, an Equal Voice online tool for women interested in getting into politics. This course is free of charge; however, all users must register to access the course.

This online course aims to increase the number of elected women by providing practical tools for women of all ages, backgrounds and walks of life interested in running for public office.

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Chignecto-Central School Board slammed for refusing to provide grade data for study

Last updated at 11:51 PM on 03/04/08  

Chignecto-Central School Board slammed for refusing to provide grade data for study


"The other school boards have obviously done it, but because they've been bullied into doing it."


The News


NEW GLASGOW – The Atlantic Institute for Market Studies is calling on Nova Scotia school boards to quit being so stingy with their information.

Despite a freedom of information ruling that the release of student achievement data was in the public interest, no school board publicly reports provincial exam results or teacher-assigned grades on a school-by-school basis.

The report also cites Chignecto Central Regional School Board as the only school board to not supply separate provincial exam and teacher assigned grade data for its high schools.

"This is particularly troubling in light of an indepth report in 2007 by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development which found a direct link between a country's achievement on the Programme of International Student Assessment and the publication of performance results at the school level," said AIMS executive vice president Charles Cirtwell.

He asks, "What is it that they do not want the public to know?"

Meanwhile, Noel Hurley, superintendent of the school board, says AIMS should be considering the findings of those reports. Nova Scotia schools are doing very well, he said.

"Canada ranks second in the world – and we're lumped very closely to the mean of the Canadian group. So what we should be doing is celebrating our success instead of beating up on one group or one of our schools."

"The other school boards have obviously done it, but because they've been bullied into doing it. And, I would prefer to have our consultants and co-ordinators and teachers time working towards improving achievement at the school level – and not wasting time providing cannon fodder for someone to beat us up with."

Hurley said he takes exception to a few of the rankings on the report card, including those which cite university participation rates.

Even with socio-economic circumstances folded into the report rural schools fall short, but he said it's not because students are performing poorly once they leave high school. The report discriminates against those schools, he said.

"In Nova Scotia, with the highest tuition rates in Canada, it's not possible for  poor students to attend the first year that they finish school . We're tracking some of our students – and a lot of students will take a year or two years to earn some money to go to post secondary," Hurley said.

For example, tuition rates for community college in the province are nearly on par with those of Memorial University in Newfoundland.

"Rural incomes are roughly about 60 per cent of urban incomes. So, if you've got rural high schools, you've got kids that can't afford to go right away when they're done."

Hurley said he doesn't oppose an outside objective look at student achievement. He believes AIMS is doing the best it can, given the information it has.

"As many sources as you can get your information is fine. I'm not discounting everything they've done here,"

"One of the difficulties is that we don't have really good data that's reliable in Nova Scotia, from a test perspective. We're improving all of the time and the province is improving all the time."

He said the provincial government continues to make good progress in provincial assessment reports.

For now, he suggests that's the data that the institute should be considering, "Rather than trying to build a model when there's already a better model in place than what they have."

"I think it's time that somebody challenged  what they're saying here and pointed out how good we're doing, instead of how bad we're doing."


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MP Casey gets standing ovation, then fires submarine-contract barb -

MP Casey gets standing ovation, then fires submarine-contract barb


By STEPHEN MAHER Ottawa Bureau

Fri. Apr 4 - 5:32 AM


Nova Scotia MP Bill Casey wants the federal government to show him the whole chart on submarine contract tenders. (TOM HANSON / CP)


OTTAWA — The West Coast firm that beat out the Halifax Shipyard for a $1.5-billion submarine maintenance contract apparently had the highest bid, Nova Scotia MP Bill Casey charged during question period Thursday.

Mr. Casey, who believes the contract should be reopened, asked the government to confirm that the West Coast consortium was the highest bidder.

"When I applied through access to information to confirm this, it sent me this really nice chart but all the numbers are blanked out on it," he said in the Commons.

"Therefore, would the minister confirm that the bid chosen was the most expensive, highest-priced tender and would he now table the complete chart with the numbers so we can all see what the tenders were?"

James Moore, parliamentary secretary to Public Works Minister Michael Fortier, said he could not answer as the issue is before the courts. Irving, which owns the Halifax Shipyard, is suing the federal government, seeking to have the contract reopened.

"I would be glad to work with my colleague to get him whatever information he is looking for," Mr. Moore said.

He also said it was good to see Mr. Casey, who was back in the House to ask his first question since undergoing surgery on Jan. 31 for prostate cancer.

"I know all members of the House from all parties will welcome him back to the House and wish him a full recovery," Mr. Moore said. "It is great to see him back in the House."

Mr. Casey was greeted with a standing ovation from MPs in all parties.

The MP for Cumberland-Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley has been pursuing the submarine story from his home outside Amherst while recovering. He maintains that the government has broken its own rules in handling the submarine maintenance contract.

He says the contract meets the definition of a "major Crown project," a classification that requires a more complex purchasing procedure, including a process for distributing industrial benefits around the country.

The government denies this is so, but spokespeople have repeatedly been unable to point to rules that back up their contention, while Mr. Casey is able to cite regulations that appear to show the venture should be designated a major Crown project.



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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Quote of the Day

"If you think you are too small to be effective, you have never been in the dark with a mosquito."


-- Unknown


Sunlight Foundation Invites Collaboration on New Transparency Bill (US)


March 31, 2008

2:20 PM

CONTACT: Sunlight Foundation

Gabriela Schneider 202-742-1520 ext 236


Sunlight Invites Collaboration on New Transparency Bill


WASHINGTON, DC - March 31 - Today, the Sunlight Foundation launched a new Web site -- -- to invite the public to review and further shape an omnibus transparency bill the Foundation drafted.

"We have drafted what we think can become model transparency legislation-the Transparency In Government Act of 2008-and we now need citizens' help to refine and edit it," said Ellen Miller, co-founder and executive director of the Sunlight Foundation. "Our hope is that the final product can be used as a model for transparent government."

The Transparency in Government Act of 2008 updates current congressional disclosure requirements for the Internet age. It specifies technological and reporting requirements to make more information about lawmakers and their influencers, the work of Congress and of the executive branch meaningfully accessible to the public, with an emphasis on digitizing and publishing congressional information online.'s blog-like layout allows users to comment on the entire bill, or on specific sections. Citizens can address such policy questions as:

  • Should Congressional Research Service Reports be public?
  • How often should political action committees (PACs) and candidates disclose their campaign finance receipts?
  • How should the Freedom of Information Act be strengthened?
  • In what ways should lobbying disclosure be expanded?

"Developing this model bill via offers Sunlight an exciting opportunity to experiment with collaborative bill-drafting online," said Ellen Miller. "It is also a chance to start a dialogue about the specifics of government-wide transparency reform."

The legislation debated on is informed by ongoing collaboration with government and legislative information experts, congressional staff, non-profit organizers and bloggers who have participated in open government initiatives including the Sunlight-sponsored Open House Project, and builds upon the tradition of government reform efforts dating to the 1970s and before, including's Open Government Data Principles, the work of the Open Data Open Government group and countless other reform-minded citizens and advocates.

The Sunlight Foundation supports, develops and deploys new Internet technologies to make information about Congress and the federal government more accessible to the American people. Through its projects and grant-making, Sunlight serves as a catalyst to create greater political transparency and to foster more openness and accountability in government.


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