Posts Tagged ‘watchdog’


FOI Tip of the Week: Enviro journalists’ go-to source for FOI stories and ideas

Between global warming debates and data, oil spills, and forest fire disasters, environmental journalists have a ton of ground to cover.

The Society of Environmental Journalists’ biweekly WatchDog TipSheet can help reporters covering environmental topics stay abreast of the latest developments in FOI.

The publication focuses on FOI issues in the U.S. and Canada.

In addition to stories on major developments in the environmental field, it also has plenty of story ideas for those looking for a new topic or angle to cover.

There’s also an archive of past issues dating from before May 2009.

It’s easy to keep up with the latest WatchDog TipSheet updates through RSS feeds and free email subscription.

– 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).

 

Transparency Triumph of the Week: Watchdog sticks up for nuclear whistleblower

After an investigation that lasted nearly a year, engineer Walter Tamosaitis is finally getting government support for blowing the whistle on nuclear practices by the Energy Department.

The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, an independent watchdog agency within the government, rebuked Energy Secretary Steven Chu and supported Tamosaitis in his claim that a $12.3 billion nuclear project’s safety culture has serious flaws.

The investigation into the engineer’s claims showed that he was unfairly removed from work on a nuclear project that was supposed to handle radioactive waste materials located near Hanford, Wash., after asking uncomfortable questions about its design.

63-year-old Tamosaitis was redirected into a basement storage room where he had little work to do, according to the LA Times.

He questioned engineering experts about the chemical mixing technology incorporated into the Hanford project’s design, which carried several risks, including the potential for hydrogen gas explosions.

Tamosaitis’ treatment is under investigation by the Labor Department.

Although the Energy Department’s handling of Tamosaitis is deplorable, at least a government watchdog has finally stepped up in support of him and has criticized the agency for its mishandling of both Tamosaitis and the project he was questioning.

– 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: Levee breaks may support Army Corps whistleblower claims, watchdog wants unified spending database

Levee issues show whistleblower may be right about Army Corps

Levee breaks on the Missouri River this week may support whistleblower Maria Garzino’s claims against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

A Politico article this week noted a February letter from Garzino to the Obama administration explaining various Corps failures. She presents information detailing how New Orleans is still as vulnerable to Hurricane Katrina-level flooding now as it was in 2005.

She also explained that the Corps deceived Congress and the public about a project that led, partly through faulty testing techniques, to the installation of equipment that can’t properly protect New Orleans from flooding.

A film, “The Big Uneasy,” shows how Hurricane Katrina could have been avoided. It follows Garzino and scientific investigation team leaders as they explain the Corps’ failures that contributed to the problems.

Stimulus watchdog calls for unified coding system for fund reports

The federal government’s primary watchdog for stimulus spending spoke with lawmakers Tuesday, calling for an oversight database that tracks federal spending based not on agencies but on funding recipients’ reports.

Recovery and Transparency Accountability Board Chairman Earl Devaney also recommended using a unified coding system for federal spending data. A unified database would save time previously spent working through different systems when codes didn’t match.

The unified system could use a cloud computing data storage model.

Cloud computing outsources IT services like data storage to a remotely accessed shared platform. While a vendor maintains the applications running via the cloud, the agency can more easily handle other issues.

This model is used on the Recovery.gov website and has saved time and money in the year since it was implemented, Devaney said.

– 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: Release of pricey Palin e-mails, oversight for Seattle schools

Two years later, Alaska to release 24,000 pages of Palin e-mails

It took more than two years, but the Associated Press, CNN, Andree McLeod of Anchorage and others will finally get the gubernatorial e-mails they wanted.

The requests from individuals and news outlets for Palin’s e-mails, made when she was running for vice president, will be honored by the state of Alaska soon.

The 24,000 pages are to be sent for copying this week and will then be mailed to the requesters.

But there’s a catch: 2,415 pages will be withheld due to exemptions from the state’s disclosure laws. And some of those that are released include an as-yet-unknown number of redactions.

The price for the long-overdue records release: $725.97 for copying fees, plus the cost of shipping about five boxes of the records at 55 pounds per box, according to the Anchorage Daily News.

The reasons for the two-year records delay, according to state officials, were that the state was unprepared for such a huge request for electronic data and that Palin’s use of a Yahoo account for business matters further complicated the process.

But it won’t just be the requesters who get to see the Palin e-mails. MSNBC.com, ProPublica and Mother Jones plan to publish the 24,000-plus pages in a searchable online archive.

Scandal sparks plans for Seattle school watchdog

There’s nothing like a scandal to drum up support for more official oversight.

A financial quagmire over a business development program resulted in the sacking of a superintendent and, now, a watchdog plan for Seattle Public Schools.

Seattle’s city council passed a measure Tuesday for the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission to create a district program for ethics and whistleblower protection.

The program will last until 2012, and hopefully beyond.

– 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: iPhone mishap for Dept. of Labor and consolidation criticism in Conn.

The U.S. Department of Labor got slapped with a FOIA lawsuit over documents related to, of all possible things, an iPhone application.

DOL used taxpayer funds to develop an app called DOL-Timesheet that helps employees keep track of their hours worked so they aren’t underpaid.

But the app is faulty. Workers can lose up to 65 hours of work time each year using it.

Americans for Limited Government filed a lawsuit for information on costs and for the app – information the DOL has yet to disclose.

Connecticut is facing its own freedom of information dilemma. Gov. Dannel Malloy wants to create an all-encompassing watchdog agency that would consolidate the state’s Freedom of Information Commission and oversight departments such as the Judicial Review Council.

The new Office of Governmental Accountability would be an umbrella for all watchdog actions, but an editorial in the Hartford Courant argues that this could compromise ethical responsibilities of the Commission.

While agencies could share office space, their staffs should remain independent, according to the editorial. The Commission should especially be kept out of the merger because it keeps all government agencies in check – even other watchdog departments.

– 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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