Tag Archives: open government

Why newspapers….?

While the spoken word can travel faster, you can’t take it home in your hand. Only the written word can be absorbed wholly at the convenience of the reader ~ Kingman Brewster Jr

The newspaper fits the reader’s program while the listener must fit the broadcaster’s program. ~ Kingman Brewster Jr.

These two quotes by Kingman Brewster, one-time President of Yale University, are so on target for National Newspaper Week that I couldn’t choose…  In both quotes focus is on the reader, the active participant in the communication chain that links source (in whatever format) with receiver (of whatever stripe.)

As for the first, some would argue that you can take the word home in your hand – assuming that you are I-phone equipped. Brewster assumes, though, that there’s more than convenience at stake, that the reason to tote, and eventually to read, the paper is that “only the written word can be absorbed wholly at the convenience of the reader.”  Tuning in or clicking on  are not synonymous with reading and reflecting on the written word.

To this I would add that newspapers give the reader credit for the capacity to think critically.  Though newspaper editors and print journalists are not hesitant to speak their own minds, they respect the fact that the reader has the wits to think about what they are reading. Editors even encourage readers to check the facts, to re-read an article, to reflect and respond.

In the “information age” everyone aspires to be the sender/source of information that’s “hot” or intended to persuade more than inform.  Newspapers — and serious readers — are challenged to focus on the process of gathering and sharing news and opinion.  Readers need to recognize and value the labor involved in truth-finding, in gathering and parsing diverse opinions, in communicating complex ideas to a diverse readership.  Readers need to recognize and value the unique “personality” that characterizes the publication itself.

Newspaper folks are not judged by their charming good looks, their wardrobe, their glib tongue or their star quality.  They earn their journalistic stripes by delving beneath the surface.  They invest the time to check the facts, to track down the dissenting opinion, to respect the fact that We the People make decisions based on the words they craft and the cartoons they draw. Newspapers pride themselves on the fact that the news is edited by rational, if opinionated, individuals.  Their responsibility is to inform an electorate that, if all goes well, retains the power to decide the fate of the democracy envisioned by those who crafted the First Amendment and assigned it to its prominent position in the Bill of Rights.

Above all, as the nation falls victim to weaponized information, newspapers have both the burden and the power to create a climate in which words matter and truth triumphs. The free press we honor during National Newspaper Week is the voice and the prevailing hope of a free nation.

National Newspaper Week – October 1-7, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

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The Church Committee – Dusting Off One Option for Overhaul of Oversight

“It is not often that nations learn from the past, even rarer that they draw the correct conclusions from it.”Henry Kissinger

Former Senators Walter Mondale (D-MN) and Gary Hart (D-CO) hope they can buck that trend. During this past week the two former Senators have taken a lead in speaking out on an issue that has reached front burner status for many organizations and individuals. The issue is a call for reestablishment of a new “Church Committee,” a hallmark in the history of open government initiatives, now honored forty years after its work.

Chaired by late Senators Frank Church (D-Idaho) and Vice-Chair John Tower (R-TX) the select investigative committee was charged with conducting a “thorough, bipartisan examination” of our government’s secret intelligence operations undertaken over the course of several presidential administrations.” During nine months of hearings the committee, formally titled the “United States Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities” (the “Church Committee nickname is obvious….) interviewed over 800 officials, held 250 executive and 21 public hearings. Their goal was to probe widespread intelligence abuses by the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Security Agency. Bottom line, the Church Committee concluded that every administration, beginning with FDR and continuing through Nixon, had abused its secret powers. (http://www.intelligence.senate.gov/churchcommittee.html)

The most visible result of the Church Committee was the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), source of the secret FISA court of recent headline fame. The other visible result is creation of the powerful intelligence committees in the House and Senate.   Both entities have warranted widespread criticism from a host of critics. Further, in the wake of 9-11, Congress passed new laws that greatly expanded the reach of intelligence agencies and limited Congressional – thus public – oversight of the federal agencies. In sum, many believe that this has led to overreach and abuse of surveillance programs.

Bill Moyers’ 2007 retrospective on the work of the Committee offers a good review of the findings and implications of the work of the Church Committee. (http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/10262007/profile2.html)

In light of perceived overreach, as well as massive changes in technology and diminished oversight, there is increasing call for establishment of a 21st Century Church Committee.”  The issues has been boiling over for nearly a year since Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein accused the CIA of spying on the committee…. The composition of the 114th Congress presents new challenges to the concerned public.

Given their experience and history Senator Walter Mondale and his colleague, Senator Gary Hart, are speaking out. The former Senators have written the foreword to a report issued by seventeen former staff members of the Church Committee who have gathered their thoughts to produce a report calling for a comprehensive re-evaluation of this nation’s systems of intelligence oversight. (https://www.brennancenter.org/publication/strengthening-intelligence-oversight) Briefly, the Senators conclude that “much of the error and abuse we found resulted from excessive secrecy that forfeited the strengths of our constitutional system: the value added by the input of informed overseers in Congress and the courts, and the pubic support earned through democratic accountability.”

The Senators add that “today, intelligence activities are back in the news, too often for the wrong reasons. Many Americans are questioning whether the structural reforms developed as a result of the Church Committee investigation remain sufficient to ensure intelligence activities are properly tailored to meet their objectives without infringing on individual rights or betraying American values.”

The recommendations for Congressional action identified by the veteran staffers are these:

  • Assessing whether Congress has the appropriate resources to maintain effective oversight of intelligence activities.
  • Examining whether committees are able to get the information necessary to properly guide intelligence activities and inform the rest of Congress and the public
  • Modifying the FISA process to make it more transparent and accountable.
  • Reassessing the government’s aggressive foreign intelligence surveillance practices, which jeopardize the United States’ role as a leader in promoting human rights and democracy in the international community.
  • Adopting measures to reduce over-classification, which squanders intelligence resources, impedes information sharing denies the public access to information it can use to better understand threats, and promotes leaks by eroding respect for the classification system. [Summarized by Brennan Center for Justice, 1-27-15]

Granted, the inner workings and the intelligence community are overload for most Americans.  Still, Senator Mondale stays in touch with the things that probably should matter to his Minnesota neighbors. His call to attention is no doubt worth a listen.

 

 

 

 

Open data opens opportunities for small business

You know it’s holiday shopping season when the toy commercials start popping up to lure toddlers, Thanksgiving dinner has to be moved up so shoppers can get to the mall and small business owners remind the shopping public of their unique merchandise and contributions to the main street economy.

Saturday, November 29 is Small Business Shopping Day https://www.facebook.com/SmallBusinessSaturday, a day to shop local and a prompt to highlight the data/information resources that government agencies provide independent business entrepreneurs and developers.

Admittedly there’s more information than small business people have time to ferret out; still, it’s a worth noting that wise use of good information pays handsomely in terms of time and investment saved and income produced. Bill Gates, who once qualified as a small businessman, has pointed out that good advice, combined with good ideas, is the secret of success.

Good advice is the purported business of several government agencies, programs and resources. Small Business Shopping Day offers a reminder to take critical look at the good advice, the data, the outreach, priorities, and online resources of the SBA and of other agencies designed to support small business.

The Small Business Administration is most obvious first step for advice. SBA is the nerve center of a vast distributed network of helping agencies, including Small Business Development Centers, Women’s Business Centers, Veterans Business Outreach Centers, US. Export Assistance Centers, Minority Business Development Centers, programs for people with disabilities, for American Indians, even a web-based Young Entrepreneur Series. SBA also supports and works closely with SCORE, an independent nonprofit that matches retired executives with entrepreneurs.

Perhaps best known of SBA’s program is the small business loan program. For example, small business developers need to know that federal government procurement contracts for small businesses; 23% of prime contracts are earmarked for small business, with funds set aside for women-owned, disadvantaged and service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses.

The SBA website offers a wide mix of chats, videos, training on how and why to start a business, the basics of entrepreneurship, how to hire and fire, taxes, contracts, regulations, lots about patents and copyrights, intellectual property rights, even a training session on how to “get out” with tips on how to close the door when the time has come.

With an eye to the nature of many digital age small business new sites have sprung up; examples include the Intellectual Property Rights Center (http://www.iprcenter.gov) and Stopfakes (http://www.stopfakes.gov.) which deals in part with trade negotiations and international commerce.

Small business developers who are interested in knowing more about export opportunities can tap into Business USA, (http://business.usa.gov) launched in October 2011 to make it easier for America’s small businesses and exporters to access government services.

For information seekers encounter problems or want to understand their right to know, SBA offers a useful online guide to the agency’s requirements and procedures as defined in the SBA’s compliance for the Freedom of Information Act. http://www.sba.gov/about-sba/sba_performance/open_government/foia/general_foia_information

Clearly, timely information is an indispensable tool for the entrepreneur. At the same time, keeping an eye on the quality and accessibility of government information is the business of any concerned member of the public who cares about a robust economy fueled by the energy and ideas of small business people.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Election Day Musings

Hard times arouse an instinctive desire for authenticity.

Coco Chanel

The occasion to quote Coco Chanel does not arise often. Still, her pithy wisdom illuminates the paralysis that has gripped the American electorate during this season’s political campaigns. Though we the people hold to the conviction that we are the ultimate deciders of our political and social fate, we are adrift in a sea of information overload, bombarded by misinformation, doomed to operate from a position of information skepticism.   Our instinctive desire for authenticity is thwarted.

It is no wonder that we have lost control of our most valuable resource. Information is implicit, an invisible and ubiquitous thread that’s woven throughout the fabric of our environment, a force that frames the politics, economics, and social forces that shape our lives. Though we cannot see information pulsating through the channels that bombard the world around us, we need to understand the sources and the impact of this unique human resource.

A primary responsibility of the government is to produce and make accessible the information that Americans need to make good decisions. It is, then, the primary responsibility of the people to hold the government accountable to act in the public interest as determined by the electorate and their representatives.

Bottom line: We the people depend on our elected representatives and on government agencies, federal, local and state, to harness the power of information and telecommunications technology to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. It is incumbent on us as citizens in a democracy to understand the sources, the politics, the economics, the flow and the character of information, this nation’s natural and renewable resource.

In these hard times our priority must be to demand transparency, to hone the skills of access, and to feed our instinctive desire for authenticity.

 

 

 

Code + Collaboration – Open government is greater than the sum of its parts

The challenge of genuine, sustained, respectful collaboration, both the hope and the life blood of the information age, fascinates me. Over time I have learned to value viable collaboration and to celebrate the power of a diverse community of human beings who share the serious work it takes to identify, then achieve, a common purpose. I understand that collaboration is organic. More important, I appreciate that, while people and organizations will pay for goods and services, no one wants to pay for collaboration.

At last week’s CodeforAmerica Summit I relished the experience of serious, mature collaboration for a mighty cause, to build an open government movement. In breakouts, hackathons, formal presentations and everywhere in the hallways geeks, gurus and gawkers engage in the real work of collaboration, with little time or inclination to ponder the fact that the “labor” in the term is not by chance.

Yes, there were lots of geeks, many of them volunteers, speaking in code and acronyms, feverishly enthused about open government and apps to make that happen.   And then there were the corporate types eager to share the systems their companies have designed to expand the market by making local, state, federal, even global information more accessible to more concerned citizens.

And there were droves of representatives of the public sector – elected officials, data gurus, librarians, analysts, planners, advocacy groups concerned about everything from public transit to clean water to food shelves, public education and emergency services.

Each of these constituencies assumed personal and institutional responsibility to hold their government accountable – and to help their neighbors, communities and institutions understand and engage in the open government movement.

Some resounding themes of the CodeforAmerica 2014 Summit that stand out in my reflections:

  • Focus on the user – how designers must learn to listen to and sincerely engage users, both end users and those whose job it is to serve end users;
  • The need to embed sustainability into the system and into the environment in which the system will survive and thrive;
  • Deep respect for the commitment and role of public servants who have ideas to share but are too often constrained by the system itself;
  • The expanding and change-making role of women in the field of technology for the public good;
  • The internal connections that link the many nodes of the open government movement — the continuum that spans from the individual member of the public to a world of government information that ranges from local transit to climate change and food security;
  • The role of broadly defined collaboration among government officials, public employees, citizen activists, and the information industry.

The participants in CodeforAmerica 2014 are designing the tools that improve interactive communication between government and those governed. I hope these same folks and pioneers of their ilk will find time and support to reflect on their experiences as builders of technologies that re-order democratic systems. I also hope that these dreamers and creators will record their ideas about the capacity of the tools and the needs of the people so that together the sectors they represent will see the wisdom of collaboration as the only path if we as a society are to create an enlightened market for open government that is accountable to the public and that befits the digital promise of the world’s democracies.

Public Libraries & Open Government – Some post-conference reflections

Note:  Last May I had the opportunity to participate in a conference on The Role of Public Libraries in Enabling Open Government, organized by the Center for Technology and Government, University of Albany, State University of New York and funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.  This post is the reflection that I wrote after that conference.  Though this is not a typical “Poking Around” post – in length, content or approach – I thought it might be of some interest to some readers:  M

Thoughts on The Role of Public Libraries in Enabling Open Government

Though I am not and never have been a public library administrator, the challenge of participating in this discussion of The Role of Public Libraries in Enabling Open Government excites and inspires me.  Because I lack the administrative bona fides my participation in the May conference was as an outsider who cares deeply about how we frame the issue and create effective approaches to the possibilities.

My professional background is as a librarian, working for the most part in multitype library collaboration.  I have also served as a member of the Minnesota State Board of Education, as founder and volunteer ED of the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information, on the ALA Legislation committee, and more.  At present I am the Outreach Coordinator with OpenTheGovernment.org, a DC-based coalition of civic society organizations, committed to transparency and accountability in government at all levels.   My thoughts are those of an outsider who cares about the untapped potential of public libraries in a changing environment, about open government and about the symbiotic relationship that calls out to be nurtured.  The question on the table is how to make that happen

In my decades of trying to link libraries and librarians with the fundamental principles of open government in a democracy I have observed and participated in the growing pains that shape ways we conduct government business in an environment transformed by information and communications technology.  Now, working inside the beltway, I have a visceral sense of the cataclysmic change that is reshaping the behemoth federal system and its relationships in the information tsunami.   Above all, I understand the challenge facing public librarians who, individually, institutionally and as a profession, must learn to swim in an information ocean that is teeming at high tide.

My reflections are based on experience and on a deep sense that public librarians must first clarify their perception of the “big picture” of open government, then shape policies and procedures that position public libraries as serious players – now, while the open government tide is cresting.

Briefly stated, we need to step back to position public libraries in a broader context – to avoid the inclination to rearrange chairs on the deck of the Titanic….. To wit, public libraries must seize the opportunity to make bold moves including, but not limited to, these:

  • Position libraries, library leaders and an expanding range of library staff higher up on the information chain. This requires a mental shift so that library staff, especially leaders, see themselves as links in a complex and fluid information environment in which virtually every institution is in flux and in which we’re all trying to figure out the policies and procedures of open government.  Public libraries need to engage as active players in the process itself.
  • Clearly articulate the value that public library workers of many stripes add to the open government mix.  Library leaders need to be more than dutiful administrators of their agencies; library boards, elected officials and other decision-makers must understand the potential of the institution.  Potential collaborators need to understand the range of services and, even more, the diverse pool of talent represented by the public library.
  • Engage in discussions of information policy OUTSIDE of the library setting – work with open government policy groups (e.g. state open government coalitions, national groups, including OpenTheGovernment.org) as well as with new enthusiasts such as Code for America and countless local manifestations of CfA-type groups.  Library leaders need to  have the patience to think creatively about how to harness the surge of energy and talent that hackers offer – to help direct all that effort to enhance open government.
  • Support open government as a concept at the federal, state and local levels. Virtually every special interest advocacy groups (e.g. environmental groups, food/ag groups, transportation advocates) has huge but unrecognized open government implications.  Advocacy groups need to understand open government first, THEN make the library connection, the “why” before the “how” of open government.
  • Act proactively and with passion – work with those organizations, individuals who set the public agenda, be anticipatory not reactive – not just with elected officials but the organizations, media, community leaders who set the pace and carry the message.
  • Get on boards and committees – LISTEN – don’t talk about the library – instead, identify the information “thread”, then show how the library can meet that need.  Build on and at the same time re-brand the traditional library role to meet contemporary needs and possibilities.
  • Better understand the complexities of government per se.  Librarians always focus on legislation, how to get more money to support libraries.  There have long been creative and successful efforts to link the role of libraries with adult learning, literacy, economic vitality.  There is a history and there are models of “insinuating” libraries in the broader contact.  Engaging public libraries in the all-inclusive concept of open government is more overwhelming, but it’s worth looking at the successes of history.
  • Pay closer attention to the executive branch of government – i.e. the role of regulation, how legislative mandates are actually implemented by executive agencies, what happens after a law is passed  – the devil in the details.
  • Connect with the media, an institution also in cosmic flux  – not just to promote the library but to understand the flow of information.  Serious journalists who are also re-positioning their institutions on the information chain can be effective partners in articulating the role of public libraries, convincing open government advocates of libraries’ potential and of guiding readers/viewers/listeners to resources available through and at the library.  Seasoned journalists are old hands of appreciating the importance of open government. They are also familiar with the rules and the tools, particularly FOIA.  The journalism world includes organizations of special journalists – health care, education, environment, agriculture, government, editorial writers, law and others that share with public libraries the job of informing the public.
  • Pay attention to the government documents depository networks.  I heard no mention during the conference of this existing system that operates somewhat sub rosa   The gargantuan system connects academic, special and public libraries with the information chain that has been in place for decades.  The system may not play the role or be the system it once was and what it could be, but it is a living network that should not be ignored.  Though the technology has changed the tools, the concept is solid – that public, academic and special libraries are a functioning and efficient distribution system for federal, state and local government information.
  • Learn from special libraries – corporate, law, health science, federal/state/local government librarians.  Though most do not serve the public directly, these professionals “think like librarians” and are adamant public library users and supporters.  They also share membership in library networks.  Special librarians are experts at anticipating and identifying their patrons’ needs and at collaborating with information partners across institutional lines.  If one of the strategies is to be mentorships and internships, consider collaborating not just with public but with special libraries, particularly state agency libraries that serve not only an agency but the general public.
  • Follow what’s happening in academic libraries, the training ground for public library users.  Suffice to say, the user cohort, faculty and students alike, has transformed expectations of services, access, the very role of the institution, the building, the staff, the resource base.
  • Likewise, heed the changes happening in schools – where learners and teachers alike have 21st century tools of access at their fingers but limited awareness of resources (public libraries or government information).  Work with educators, including school librarians and administrators, to raise the level of expectation as well as to forge information age skills in young learners.
  • Acknowledge and deal with the fact that very few people have an idea of how much government information is available, sometimes but not always accessible – or, for that matter, that the government is a major producer and disseminator of data, information tools, digital resources including huge archival resources increasingly accessible in digital format.  Work with open government advocates to educate the public about why it matters — why information by and about the government is the sine qua non of a democracy in which the government is accountable to the people – and the people have the responsibility and require the tools to fulfill that role.
  • Recognize that government information is organized and shared in ways other than traditional library materials.  Searchers, including public librarians, must understand the structure and processes of government as being other than the structure of knowledge that shapes traditional library classification systems.
  • Take into consideration the obvious fact that the differences among public libraries are huge – a small town library that is the primary source for residents is very unlike a major urban library that operates in an entirely different context.  One size does not fit all; while size determines strategy the  impact of the public library in the community served is parallel.  Find the common ground.
  • Validate the fact that government agencies that expand their outreach and openness by going through the public library will save money – that fact needs to be made clear to decision-makers, which means that libraries may have to provide metrics
  • Build on the fact that public libraries already provide extensive training on use of digital technology – access to free and open government information should be a focus of that training.  People can learn at the same time how to use government information about consumer issues, health care, neighborhood resources, environmental information, voter information (more than job info) as part of their ongoing training on the tools.  Information by and about the government is free – it’s also amazingly diverse and FUN.  Lots of great stuff for kids can be an entrée to the wealth of government information that is readily accessible.  People without means who are introduced to government information as part of their tech training

will incorporate use of free and open government information into their quiver of resources.

  • Find or plant library evangelists within appropriate networks.  At the local level this means nonprofits (environmentalists, parent advocacy groups, food safety, disabilities community) as well as neighborhood associations, faith community, immigrant groups, disabilities community, foundations, good government groups, and other forces of influence in the community.  Communicate through their channels- people go to information resources they trust….
  • The need for evangelists exists at the state and federal levels as well.  In the political arena, the principles and contours of open government are being shaped by a host of civil society organizations that influence the policies and procedures of federal government as well the implementation of practices that work their way through the information chain to end users at the local level.  Library evangelists working within the system are key to stressing the role of public libraries in assuring that information is accessible and useable for the end user.

Librarians are inclined to think they have to explain and to do it all themselves – sometimes it’s better to demonstrate, to listen and to collaborate on the common purpose of open government.  Public libraries must acknowledge that they have an image issue – they must adamantly reinforce the positive, the library as a pillar institution in a democratic society, while downplaying the stereotype, low expectation or invisibility that we must admit persists in the public mind.  To ignore the persistent public perception is folly – to reinforce an anachronistic image is to ensure that public librarians will never be at the table to engage in shaping open government principles, policies or practices.

I hope that whatever strategies conference attendees propose to promote public libraries’ engagement reflect a broad vision of open government and a proactive role for public libraries that may place unwelcome demands on institutions and individuals resistant to cosmic change.  My hope is that my observations are helpful in meeting the challenge

 

Independence Day Birthday Greetings and a Public Spotlight on FOIA at 48

On my first day working in the DC office of OpenTheGovernment.org I was introduced to the security system, access code 7466.  Colleagues seem bemused that I did not immediately recognize this as July 4, 1966, date of the initial passage of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).  Since then the code has changed and I have learned more than I ever expected to know about FOIA.  Truth to tell, I have come to have enormous respect for this fundamental legislation, the bulwark of our nation’s protection of the people’s right to know.

Though some would say that FOIA is more honored in the breach than in the observance I worry much more about the fact that, for far too many of us, FOIA has come to be synonymous with national security, the province of attorneys and journalists, a mysterious process too pricey, too arcane, too complex for mere mortals.  In truth, FOIA is an indispensable tool that is available and accessible to the rest of us, which is why we need to engage in the ongoing hoopla surrounding FOIA as it approaches middle age….

Like most Americans FOIA, at the tender age of 48, is not about to sit on the shelf. Instead, FOIA is hot, ready to strut its stuff, retool, reinvent, whatever it takes to embrace the political and technological challenges of the day.  FOIA is taking its turn on center stage.  Everyone goes through this as the Big 5-0 approaches – not a bad idea for laws to pause for reflection at the same pace.

The 48th birthday celebration for FOIA blasted off on June 24 when U.S. Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and John Cornyn (R-TX) introduced the FOIA Improvement Act of 2014.(  http://www.leahy.senate.gov/download/alb14471 )

The intent of the bill is to significantly restrict the government’s ability to withhold information by citing what is known by insiders as the “withhold it because you want to” exemption.   The act also strengthens the FOIA ombuds Office of Government Services (OGIS), promotes more proactive online access to government information, and pushes back on agency attempts to weaken the 2007 Open Government Act amendments.  An earlier, less stringent, bill has already passed unanimously in the House. (FOIA Oversight and Implementation Act, February 2014)

Response to the Leahy-Cornyn proposal is immediate and generally positive from the open government community.  A quick google search will disclose comments by a host of advocacy groups of every stripe.  What matters now is that elected representatives understand that strengthening FOIA—the backbone of transparency and accountability — matters to “the rest of us,” the folks who care about food safety or the impact of fracking or the new EPA standards or transportation or children’s health or toxins or transportation safety or…..

It’s easy enough to brush up a bit on all things FOIA:

*If you’re the sort who likes to start from the beginning, check out the official FOIA website at http://www.foia.gov/index.html– keep in mind FOIA is a work in progress so if you see ways it can be improved, now’s the time….

*For specifics on FOIA at work, check out the National Security Archive, the unflappable agency that just keeps digging to unearth records long shielded by policy and practice from the public eye. http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/nsa/the_archive.html

*To learn about examples of the impact of FOIA as the force behind the headlines, take a look at the “FOIA Files” compiled by Sunshine in Government – see http://sunshineingovernment.org/wordpress/?page_id=1533

*The public ombuds within government is the Office of Government Services, a major target of the Leahy-Cornyn bill – Learn about OGIS at https://ogis.archives.gov

*More to the point, engage in the process.  The folks at the National Archives and Records Administration, a major player in all things FOIA, are currently re-thinking their role and processes.  It’s fun to join the discussion of the real people who really do the real work of tending the daily business of open government   http://blogs.archives.gov/foiablog/2014/06/25/foia-advisory-committee-begins-setting-priorities/)

*If you’re the voyeuristic type that just can’t get enough of this stuff, check out The Government Attic, a treasure trove of stuff that’s been gathering dust all these years, now released through the FOIA process – today’s favorite, the FBI files back when they had time to worry about “The Untouchables” (http://www.governmentattic.org/11docs/FBIfilesUntouchablesTV_1948-1962.pdf}

The point is, let your fingers do the walking, and you’ll be a FOIA fan in short order.

As a FOIA fan you’ll need time to prep for the celebration of FOIA’s happy birthday on the 4th.   You’ll want to mention to the visiting President that transparency matters to Minnesotans.  You’ll need to get up to speed and engage in the buzz that  FOIA is getting these days.

Take away – A lot has changed since July 4, 1966.  Access to information by and about our government matters more than ever – we the people are increasingly responsible to be independent seekers and evaluators of resources, to hold our government accountable.  By default information access, open government, accountability will fall into the abyss of “everybody’s business and nobody’s business.”

As citizens it is a privilege to commemorate the birthday of FOIA by paying attention!  Those who shaped the fundamentals of our independence had a lot of confidence that we the people were the best deciders and that our decisions rest on good information by and about the government.   FOIA matters to all of us.

Besides, when approached in the proper spirit, birthday celebrations, even for  monumental laws approaching 50, can end up being pretty entertaining.