Freedom of Information in American Government

This week, I have had much occasion to meditate on the Obama administration’s approach to openness in government.  Accountability is only possible through transparency, and this has become a basic premise that is central to my own commitment to open-source living.
So it was a great relief to see that the first Executive Order of Obama’s first day in office was this:
http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/Transparency_and_Open_Government/
In it, President Obama says:

My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government.  We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.

In President Obama’s next official order as our President, he says about FOIA, there is to be a new ‘presumption of disclosure’, described here beautifully:
http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/FreedomofInformationAct/

Government should not keep information confidential merely because public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure, because errors and failures might be revealed, or because of speculative or abstract fears. Nondisclosure should never be based on an effort to protect the personal interests of Government officials at the expense of those they are supposed to serve.

OMB Director Peter Orszag’s supporting memo on how each Agency is to carry out such a policy is at:
http://www.whitehouse.gov/open/documents/open-government-directive

In it, he articulates three interrelated principles:

The three principles of transparency, participation, and collaboration form the cornerstone of an open government.  Transparency promotes accountability by providing the public with information about what the Government is doing.  Participation allows members of the public to contribute ideas and expertise so that their government can make policies with the benefit of information that is widely dispersed in society.  Collaboration improves the effectiveness of Government by encouraging partnerships and cooperation within the Federal Government, across levels of government, and between the Government and private institutions.

And he directs, in a good deal of detail, that all Agencies to do the following:
  1. Publish Government Information Online
  2. Improve the Quality of Government Information
  3. Create and Institutionalize a Culture of Open Government
  4. Create an Enabling Policy Framework for Open Government

Unfortunately, political orders and directives do not remake a bureaucratic culture, and it is the work of the leaders and workers at various agencies to fulfill on the vision of transparency, and to trust both their own and the nation’s interests are best served by bringing the Truth to light.

3 thoughts on “Freedom of Information in American Government

  1. Thanks — there is also the Peace Corps reading room here:http://www.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=pchq.policies.docs#foiaHere is the request I submitted this morning:___To:Peace CorpsFOIA Officer, Office of Management1111 20th Street, N.W.Washington, D.C. 20526Dear FOIA Officer:This is a request under the Freedom of Information Act (5 U.S.C. 552). I request that electronic copy of the following Peace Corps documents be provided to me:•
    FY09 Operating Budget and FY09 Actual Expenditures in line-item detail•
    FY09 All Submitted and All Approved Requests for Additional Resources•
    FY10 Operating Budget and FY10 Actual Expenditures to date in line-item detail•
    FY10 All Submitted and Approved Requests for Additional Resources•
    FY11/FY12 Proposed Budgets and Strategic Plans for Country expansion, program expansion, and IT operations and program development•
    Job Title, Description, Pay grade range, and KSA’s for each full time position in the agency•
    KSA responses, resumes, and actual pay grade of every current agency employee for their current position within the Agency•
    RFPs, RFP Responses, Contract Award Assessments, and Contracts for all full-time consultants and experts in all branches•
    OCIO Request for Additional Resources for General Support System Certification & Accreditation and all related project plan documentation•
    All OCIO Strategic Plans and Roadmaps generated in FY08, FY09, FY 10In order to help you determine my status for the purpose of assessing fees, you should know that I am an Agency employee and Union member. This request is made for civic purpose and not for commercial use of any kind. I prefer the records be made available electronically only. I do request a waiver of fees for this request because disclosure of the requested information to me is in the public interest because it is likely to contribute significantly to the public understanding of the operations or activities of the Peace Corps and is not primarily in my or any commercial interest. If not posted to the Peace Corps website directly, all disclosed documents will be made available on a website for returned volunteers and other Americans so that we may be more aware of and participant in our government’s operation, in the spirit of President Obama’ first Executive Order on Open Government.I can be reached via means below. Please contact me if necessary to discuss any aspect of my request.Sincerely,Vikram Surya Chiruvolu

  2. I received official notification from the agency’s FOIA officer that this request would not be processed because it was too broad.

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