The American Society of Access Professionals has announced the first FOIA training west of the Mississippi since 2011 - ASAP is holding a FOIA workshop in Denver Colorado on June 17 and 18. Register early for the best prices! More information can be found here.
The Hill has this article on concerns being raised by the financial community on the proposed FOIA amendments snaking its way through both sides of Congress.
If I was in Congress, I'd hold a hearing and make those that are thought to have concerns testify on the record so the concerns are known and then considered. [Note: This is not to imply that I share the concerns currently being raised, I just believe the best way to move forward is to have DOJ and others in and out of government testify under oath, as to their beliefs about the FOIA proposals.]
The FOIA bill pending in the House of Representatives was marked up today with a few amendments added. Government Executive has this story about the amendments, but I think that the Office of Legal Counsel discussed in the article may be the Department of Justice's OLC not the one in the White House as I do not believe the lawyers in the White House representing the President are subject to the FOIA.
The bill now goes to the full House. As it is different than the one that passed the Senate, the bills will then have to go to a committee of the whole and then back to each side of Congress for passage.
There have been rumblings that the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform will markup the FOIA bill that is pending before it on Wed. March 25. The committee's calendar has legislation markup scheduled for this date but it is currently blank on what legislation will be considered.
So it's Sunshine Week - the one week a year that the media pays attention to open government and writes articles about how bad the government is at it. Those of us who deal with FOIA and other government access laws know that its much more than just a once a year item and hope that next week, or next month those "celebrating" Sunshine Week will help push transparency issues when its not a special week for it.
But in honor of Sunshine Week, I'm going to pour some water on outrage that has been bubbling up - I've been outraged on some of these things for a long time, but Congress, the Courts and the Executive Branch have done nothing on them. First up, is the White House's deletion of its FOIA regulations for its Office of Administration. The US Today has a good explanation of this - and for those of you not wanting to click on the link- the W. Bush administration stopped the practice of having this office be subject to the FOIA which the current administration followed and which was blessed by the Courts. Thus, the regulation wasn't really something that was adhered to and it has been dropped. Do I think this office should be subject to the FOIA? Yes I do, but the outrage at this point should be on the fact that there has been no law making it specifically subject to the FOIA. This would be very pro transparency legislation.
Next up is the State Department and the Hillary Clinton email. A few years ago I brought a lawsuit on behalf of clients for certain records including emails. Very few emails were located and through that lawsuit it was learned that the State Department routinely deleted email tapes and had only master tapes that could be used in an emergency and were not really searchable for FOIA requests. So the ironic thing about the whole Clinton email thing is that her actions may end up having more of her emails from her time at the State Department located than if she had actually followed the actual protocol for sending emails on State Department servers and email accounts. This only highlights the need for all agencies to follow strong record management policies, including having agency records management personally brief all incoming agency personal, including the highest executive at the agency, and also the need to follow the recently introduced Capstone protocol introduced by the National Archives and Records Administration.
And finally, the Department of Justice has introduced new guidance for proactive disclosures. Hopefully, agencies will take the guidance to heart and increase the use of this very active tool for transparency.
The Center for Effective Government has given out grades for all major agencies FOIA Operations. And they are not good - a couple of agencies improved over last year's grades, but many did not and way too many got D's and F's. It looks like summer school is in store for most of these agencies.
The Associated Press has this article in which the State Department states it will be processing the Clinton emails for release under the FOIA.
In my dealings with the State Department, I've found that the biggest delays they have is in getting the material from the program offices for the FOIA office to process. I don't think that will be a huge hurdle here, so I would estimate that the documents will be released in a fairly short amount of time for FOIA.
The Daily Caller has this on previous FOIA requests for Hillary Clinton's e-mails while serving as Secretary of State. The response, per the article, was that no records existed. This was likely because FOIA staff had no idea where to look.
This is yet another example of why strong FOIA and records management leadership is needed in all of the government. The President issued guidelines on both, but they have been largely ignored by agencies because no one is enforcing his statements. A records management/FOIA tsar is badly needed (and it was needed in previous administrations as well).
Politico and the Washington Post both report that Judge Royce Lamberth of the District Court for the District of Columbia ripped the EPA's handling of a FOIA request brought to it for senior level agency emails.
This opinion is an example of how badly needed FOIA leadership is needed, and has always been needed, in the government. There is a need for someone who isn't afraid to tell non-FOIA agency personnel, no matter how high they are, that their actions are in violation of FOIA and records management principles -- and use all weapons to get transparency and records management practices to and kept at the highest level.