Category Archives: Freedom of Information

Historical Supreme Court Cases Now Online: More Than 35,000 Decisions Now Available, Searchable on loc.gov

Source: Library of Congress, Press Release, March 13, 2018

More than 225 years of Supreme Court decisions acquired by the Library of Congress are now publicly available online – free to access in a page image format for the first time. The Library has made available more than 35,000 cases that were published in the printed bound editions of United States Reports (U.S. Reports). United States Reports is a series of bound case reporters that are the official reports of decisions for the United States Supreme Court dating to the court’s first decision in 1791 and to earlier courts that preceded the Supreme Court in the colonial era. The Library’s new online collection offers access to individual cases published in volumes 1-542 of the bound edition. This collection of Supreme Court cases is fully searchable. Filters allow users to narrow their searches by date, name of the justice authoring the opinion, subject and by the main legal concepts at issue in each case. PDF versions of individual cases can be viewed and downloaded.

Long-Proprietary Congressional Research Reports Will Now Be Made Public

Source: Charles S. Clark, Government Executive, March 23, 2018

Lawmakers who long protected their right to control reports from the Congressional Research Service now face a new era of full disclosure.

Buried in the 2,232-page fiscal 2018 omnibus spending bill Congress approved and President Trump signed is a much-debated provision to require the Library of Congress, beginning 90 days after the bill’s enactment, to post all the lawmaker-requested reports on a central website….

Essential or extravagant: Considering FOIA budgets, costs and fees

Source: A.J. Wagner, Government Information Quarterly, In Press – Corrected Proof, Available online 14 September 2017
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
This study seeks to square the competing arguments of the Freedom of Information Act’s necessity versus its financial burden by analyzing more than 500 FOIA annual reports, representing 93% of all cabinet- level data from 1975 until 2015.

FOIA expenses account for less than 1% of agency budgets, and while costs per request have increased over time, the small proportion of FOIA expense versus general budgets has remained stagnant.

Highlights
• A database of cabinet-level FOIA annual reports from 1975 to 2015 is analyzed.
• There are no federal requirements or close scrutiny of FOIA funding and budgets.
• Fees collected have accounted for only 3.2% of FOIA costs.
• Departments have accrued $6.3 billion in FOIA costs since 1975, or $386 per request.
• FOIA costs have amounted to 0.011% of general departmental budgets.

Predict Your FOIA Request Success

Source: data.world, 2017

Does your FOIA have a shot? This model is trained on 9,000+ FOIA requests tracked by MuckRock.

Predictions made using a K nearest neighbors classification algorithm with a test classification accuracy rate of 80%. Factors include word count, average sentence length, specificity (presence of nouns), references to fees, references to FOIA, presence of hyperlinks, presence of email addresses, and success rate of agency.
Related:
What makes a good FOIA request? We studied 33,000 to find out.
Source: Nicolas Dias, Rashida Kamal, and Laurent Bastien, January 30, 2017

Every journalist has ideas about what makes a good public records request. But surprisingly few people have actually tried to systematically analyze how requests can be written to improve their chances of success. To fill this vacuum, we analyzed more than 33,000 Freedom of Information Act requests and identified a few characteristics that were typical of those that were fulfilled…..

Governing in the Shadows: Rating the Online Financial Transparency of Special District Governments

Source: Michelle Surka, Rachel Cross, U.S. PIRG Education Fund and Frontier Group, Following the Money 2017: Special Districts, April 2017

From the summary:
Citizens’ ability to understand how their tax dollars are spent is fundamental to democracy. Budget and spending transparency holds government officials accountable for making smart decisions, checks corruption, and provides citizens an opportunity to affect how government dollars are spent.
“Special districts” are a type of government agency that exist outside of traditional forms of general purpose local or state governments, and serve key governmental functions such as public transit or housing. However, special districts are poorly understood by the public and often do business without adhering to modern standards of government budget or spending transparency. The lack of transparency and accountability of many special districts has caused concern among some state agencies and government watchdogs, as it can contribute to an atmosphere conducive to lowered efficiency and potential misconduct.

A review of 79 special districts’ online financial transparency shows that while a few districts are meeting the goals of “Transparency 2.0” – a standard of comprehensive, one-stop, oneclick budget accountability and accessibility – the vast majority do little to inform citizens about how they spend money. To empower and engage the public, enable citizen oversight of all branches of government, and improve the efficiency with which they operate, special districts, along with local and state governments, should expand the amount and improve the quality of spending data that are made available to the public online….
Related:
Press release

Most Special Districts Lag in the Transparency Department
Source: Mike Maciag, Governing, April 28, 2017

Special districts are all over, and according to one of the first nationwide reports on them, most aren’t revealing even basic information online about how they’re spending public money. …

The failure of an early episode in the open government data movement: A historical case study

Source: Xiaohua Zhu, Government Information Quarterly, In Press – Corrected Proof, Available online 6 April 2017
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
The open government data (OGD) movement that focuses on government transparency and data reuse did not appear out of thin air. Some early episodes of this social movement can be traced to the early 1990s.This paper presents a historical case study of such an OGD episode, a campaign targeted at a government database called JURIS, initiated by OGD advocates in the early 1990s. JURIS was a legal information retrieval system created by the Department of Justice and used by government employees, which contained federal court decisions (or case law), among many other primary legal materials. Public interest groups and small publishers intended to open up the database for public access and data reuse, but their effort failed and eventually led to the shutdown of the JURIS system. This paper provides a detailed account of the history, analyzes the reasons of the failure, and discusses outcomes of the campaign. Drawing from social movement theories, especially the political opportunity structure, the paper illustrates the complexity of the social political environment surrounding the OGD movement, especially with regard to an important type of government data, primary legal information, in the United States.

Highlights
• JURIS campaign was an early episode of open government data social movement.
• Study of a failed case reveals the complexity of open government data movement.
• Many factors shaped access rights to primary legal information in digital format.
• The case reveals the conflicts between public access and information privatization.
• The OGD movement needs favorable political culture and strong allies to succeed.

Freedom of Information Beyond the Freedom of Information Act

Source: David Pozen, Columbia Public Law Research Paper No. 14-541, February 1, 2017

From the abstract:
The U.S. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) allows any person to request any agency record for any reason. This model has been copied worldwide and celebrated as a structural necessity in a real democracy. Yet in practice, this Article argues, FOIA embodies a distinctively “reactionary” form of transparency. FOIA is reactionary in a straightforward, procedural sense in that disclosure responds to ad hoc demands for information. Partly because of this very feature, FOIA can also be seen as reactionary in a more substantive, political sense insofar as it saps regulatory capacity; distributes government goods in an inegalitarian fashion; and contributes to a culture of adversarialism and derision surrounding the domestic policy bureaucracy while insulating the far more secretive national security agencies, as well as corporations, from similar scrutiny. If this Article’s core claims are correct to any significant degree, then open government advocates in general, and progressives in particular, ought to rethink their relationship to this landmark law.

FOIA Wiki

Source: Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, The FOIA Project at TRAC, MuckRock, FOIA Mapper, 2016

This free and collaborative resource on the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552, is provided by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, with contributions from The FOIA Project at TRAC, MuckRock, FOIA Mapper, and users like you.

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