Open government activists, journalists and interested citizens gathered today at Washington, D.C.’s Newseum to celebrate the 16th annual National Freedom of Information Day, part of this year’s Sunshine Week. The day-long conference kicked off with a panel discussion commemorating the 10th anniversary of OpenTheGovernment.org, a coalition of groups that share the goal of increasing government transparency.
Project On Government Oversight Executive Director Danielle Brian spoke during the panel with others who were involved at the coalition’s start, including Gary Bass, executive director of the Bauman Foundation, Tom Blanton, director of the National Security Archive at George Washington University, Rick Blum, coordinator of Sunshine in Government Initiative, and Patrice McDermott, executive director of OpenTheGovernment.org.
The group discussed the start of OpenTheGovernment.org (OTG), what has changed over the last 10 years, and priorities for the present and future.
“I think that of the great strengths of OTG was that it forced our 80 organizations to figure out what our priorities are,” Brian said.
The extensive use of secret law and lack of whistleblower protections were two major concerns of the panelists.
“We have privatized so much of our government particularly in the intelligence realm and seeing that we have so many people who are in the position to know of wrongdoing but have no meaningful protections is something that has to be dealt with,” Brian said.
The panelists also said that submitting a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request should be a last resort for obtaining government data. Making information available automatically, rather than through time-consuming, individual FOIA requests, is a priority for the coalition.
“I like to think of this idea as the post-FOIA world,” Brian said. “This is something the community has talked about—if something can be FOIA-ed, why shouldn’t it just be proactively be made available so people don’t have to ask for it. And that’s ultimately where we all want to get, where it’s assumed that if it can be made available that it is available.”
Sunshine Week is a national initiative intended to provoke discussion and brainstorming on how to make our government more open. Visit Sunshine Week’s website to view a full schedule of events.
Image by Avery Kleinman.