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Monday, March 15, 2010

Sunshine Week and the never-ending story

It's Sunshine Week in the US, again leaving those here who would like to see media organisations really step up to the plate on the public's right to know and why it's important, green with envy at the resources, professionalism and wide scope of and support for the initiative. The unfortunate news is the poll published there today that shows the public thinks government secrecy is as strong as ever.

The National Security Archive  has also published the result of an audit of agency compliance with President Obama's directive on openness.
The Obama administration "has clearly stated a new policy direction for open government but has not conquered the challenge of communicating and enforcing that message throughout the executive branch," the report concluded.
Those here faced with the same challenge should note what appears to have happened when the writtten directives were issued last year by the President and Attorney General to agencies to do things differently:
Some agencies (13 out of 90) implemented concrete changes in practice as a result of the memos; some (14 out of 90) have made changes in staff training; and still others (11 out of 90)  have merely circulated and discussed the memos. The remaining agencies (52) either told the Archive that they have no records that demonstrate how they implemented the Obama and Holder Memos or did not respond at all to the FOIA request.
Update:The White House commented in this New York Times report on the audit:
"The White House, however, took issue with the group’s methodology and said that the administration had made clear progress in turning around an executive branch that is often averse to public disclosures. “What we have done this year is to build the infrastructure to build a lasting change,” Norm Eisen, the special counsel to the president for ethics and government reform, said Sunday.
“It’s not enough for us to make initial, strong pronouncements. How do you really turn the battleship to achieve a lasting impact?” he asked. He said that throughout the executive branch, public information officers “are really trying to turn that battleship, and the initial returns are positive,” with more documents being released in the last year under Freedom of Information Act, or F.O.I.A., requests. But “there’s much more to do” and it will probably take another year before the changes are fully seen, he added. Even so, he said that the White House’s early data suggested more reason for optimism than the National Security Archive report in tracking progress under the Freedom of Information Act.".. The administration planned to release a broader report on government openness next month.."

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