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Four Steps to Increase Government Transparency

This Sunshine Week, the Project On Government Oversight joins over 20 other organizations in asking the White House to get actively involved in the fight for openness. While the Obama Administration pledged to be the most open administration in history, they have little to show for that promise. With two years left in this term, we are urging the President to make good on his word and have suggested a few ways he can do so:

Support the ‘Presumption of Openness’ in FOIA Reform

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is the foundational tool for the public to request information about government activities. There is a bipartisan and bicameral effort in Congress right now to strengthen FOIA. In support of these efforts, the White House should issue a formal public statement of support for Congressional initiatives to codify the Administration’s own directive and its strong presumption of openness. For a more open government, the Administration should support legislation that ensures agencies may not withhold information unless they reasonably foresee that disclosure will cause specific identifiable harm to an interest protected by an existing exemption, or if the disclosure is prohibited by law.

Release the Drafts of the TPP and T-TIP Pacts

The United States Trade Representative’s negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP) trade agreements have remained shrouded in secrecy. Without access to information about these negotiations, the public has been and continues to be denied the opportunity to express their views about agreements impacting everything from the internet to intellectual property to public health.

Proactively Disclose FISA Data for which Disclosure Would be Mandated under Senator Leahy’s 2014 USA Freedom Act

The White House rightly supported the reforms outlined in Senator Leahy’s USA Freedom Act in the previous Congress. These reforms would have included a requirement that our intelligence agencies report on the total number of individuals or unique accounts whose information is collected under multiple surveillance authorities, and on the number of those who likely were  U.S. persons (or, if that were not technically feasible to determine, the number who likely were  located in the United States). Whether or not Congress statutorily requires such disclosures, your Administration can take those steps independently to promote better public understanding and appropriate oversight of U.S. surveillance programs.

Issue a Statement of Support for Restoring Intelligence Community Contractor Whistleblower Protections

Intelligence community contractors are currently defenseless against retaliation for disclosing government waste, fraud, and abuse. Congress has worked to expand whistleblower protections throughout your Presidency, and restoration of protections for intelligence contractors would help to safeguard taxpayer dollars and encourage greater accountability. This Sunshine Week, the White House should make clear its support for restoration of these critical protections.

Image by Flickr user Judy Baxter.

By: Elizabeth "Liz" Hempowicz
Policy Counsel, POGO

Photograph of Elizabeth Liz Hempowicz is Policy Counsel for the Project On Government Oversight.

Topics: Open Government

Related Content: FOIA, Information Access, Intelligence

Authors: Elizabeth "Liz" Hempowicz

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