Posts Tagged ‘budget’


FOI DAILY DOSE: British Columbia gets proactive about open gov, Mass. budget planned in secret

British Columbia plans for more transparency

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark is poised to make good on her promise to make government more transparent, notably with a directive supporting the active disclosure of data.

Clark has already promoted online communications and town-hall meetings as important avenues for open government, and her proposed policy of proactive disclosure would greatly increase citizens’ access to government information.

British Columbia’s government would regularly make data public that is currently only accessible through formal freedom of information act requests, according to a Vancouver Sun editorial.

Clark plans to move toward an open data model that will provide citizens with information on a variety of topics, ranging from the environment to health to spending, in a searchable and easily accessible format.

Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham has warned the government that privacy rights must be considered when planning such broad information disclosures.

Stephanie Cadieux, Minister of Labour, Citizens’ Services and Open Government,  and the cabinet committee on open government are developing a specific game plan for implementing this open data policy, although – ironically – it is exempt from access-to-information legislation (as are all cabinet committees).

Mass. budget negotiated behind closed doors

The Massachusetts legislature negotiated a $30.6 billion budget deal in almost total secrecy.

The budget, approved in July, was planned by six legislators who met for 24 days in discussions kept out of the public’s notice. The locations and times for the meet-ups, as well as their agendas and debates, were kept quiet, and no minutes were taken for any of the meetings, according to the Boston Globe.

This kind of information blackout isn’t uncommon in Massachusetts, which has almost no requirements for lawmakers to publicly discuss government business. Fewer than 20 states have similar secrecy practices, and Massachusetts is one of about 10 states in which citizens don’t even have the right to see legislators’ records.

Although public testimony was collected and floor debates were held concerning the budget, the key choices made at the opening and closing of deliberations were decided in secret.

When the legislature votes to approve measures, it is often more of a formality because key leaders have already made the real agreements behind closed doors.

If you want to know more about Massachusetts’ not-so-open open government laws and how they compare to those of other states, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has an open government guide that’s awfully helpful.

– Morgan Watkins

Morgan Watkins is SPJ’s summer Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern and a University of Florida student. Reach her by email (mwatkins@spj.org) or connect with her on Twitter (@morganwatkins26).

FOI DAILY DOSE: 2012 spending bill’s open gov effects, RCFP involved in Ohio real estate records case

2012 spending bill includes boons, obstacles for transparency

The House Financial Services and General Government Appropriations subcommittee approved its spending measure for the 2012 fiscal year Thursday.

The bill shifts the Electronic Government Fund into the General Service Administration’s Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies, which handles government IT work such as the management of USA.gov.

The E-Gov Fund supports open government websites like Data.gov, and the bill would give OCSIT $50 million for the 2012 fiscal year. This is a $7.8 million increase from the 2011 funding for both OCSIT and the E-Gov Fund, but it is $20.5 million less than their combined budgets in the 2010 fiscal year.

The bill would also forbid the Consumer Product Safety Commission from spending money on its consumer product safety database, which it was required to create after a 2008 law responding to several major product recalls.

This could make it easier to conceal safety risks in consumer products, according to OMB Watch.

The legislation would also forbid agencies from spending money to implement President Obama’s draft executive order that, if he signs it, would make potential federal contractors disclose political contributions to bid on contracts.

The bill is scheduled for markup by the full House Appropriations Committee on June 23.

RCFP calls for Ohio county to stop overcharging for records

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press filed a friend-of-the-court brief encouraging the Ohio Supreme Court to reject Cuyahoga County’s high copy fees for electronic real estate records.

The county has a $2 per page fee for the Cuyahoga County Recorder’s services when filling electronic records requests for real estate data. The RCFP brief argues that this requirement conflicts with state law and, if upheld by the court, could later become the normal fee structure for other Ohio recorders.

Charging such high fees (prices for some requests could hit the six-figure range) for copying real estate records onto a CD-ROM is unacceptable, RCFP Executive Director Lucy Dalglish said in a press release.

The resources used for an employee to physically photocopy pages versus copying them onto a CD aren’t comparable, and fees should reflect the actual cost of reproducing records, according to Dalglish.

Cuyahoga seems to be the only Ohio county where the Recorder requires such high fees for real estate records.

– Morgan Watkins

Morgan Watkins is SPJ’s summer Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern and a University of Florida student. Reach her by email (mwatkins@spj.org) or connect with her on Twitter (@morganwatkins26).

FOI DAILY DOSE: Open gov orgs push for money for E-Gov Fund, ACLU sues for WikiLeaks-released U.S. cables

Transparency groups call on Congress to restore open gov funding

Accountability group OMB Watch released a letter Monday that urged Congress to consider restoring funding for the Electronic Government Fund, or E-Gov Fund.

More than 30 open government groups signed the letter.

The E-Gov Fund supports government websites like USAspending.gov and Data.gov and bolsters transparency initiatives.

The 2011 fiscal year budget deal cut the fund’s financial support from $34 million to $8 million.

The House Appropriations Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee is scheduled to mark up a bill for the 2012 fiscal year on June 16, which will include information on the E-Gov Fund’s budget.

The letter requests that the subcommittee consider restoring funding for the E-Gov Fund in the measure.

ACLU sues for declassification of U.S. diplomatic cables

The American Civil Liberties Union is suing the U.S. State Department in an attempt to force the declassification of embassy cables already released by WikiLeaks.

The ACLU’s April FOIA request for 23 cables already released by the website was ignored. Thus, the lawsuit.

WikiLeaks support group plans pro-Manning protest

A Boston-based group called Civic Counsel plans to hold a protest Wednesday opposing the treatment of Bradley Manning and the grand jury investigation into WikiLeaks.

It will be held in Boston on the day activist and Bradley Manning supporter David House is to appear in court due to a grand jury subpoena.

Manning is accused of leaking U.S. diplomatic cables and other information to WikiLeaks in 2010.

– Morgan Watkins

Morgan Watkins is SPJ’s summer Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern and a University of Florida student. Reach her by email (mwatkins@spj.org) or connect with her on Twitter (@morganwatkins26).

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