Now HERE is an FOI Request We Can All Cheer!

A hoppy, heady FOI request!

A group of home-brewing enthusiasts and transparency advocates want the government to hand over the recipe for the home brewed beers created at the White House.

As reported by Government Executive, a Reddit user has submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for the recipe, arguing that “disclosure of the requested information is in the public interest because it is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations of activities of the government.”

The FOIA request added: “If you could send me a copy autographed by the president, you’d be the coolest FOIA officer in the whole federal government.”

Another group of internet users has created a ‘We the People” petition, requesting the recipe. That petition needs more than 24,000 more signatures to generate a response.

News of the White House home brews leaked, so to speak, when it was served at two White House parties last year. More recently, Obama brought a number of White House ales on trail to hand out  to voters as gifts.

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A Fine Example of Why the Public Needs Access to Dashboard Cam Video…

A state FOI law working just as it should:

Police video recorded the night a young man was fatally shot in a northeast Arkansas patrol car while his hands were cuffed behind his back hasn’t resolved questions about whether he shot himself in the head as officers said.

Jonesboro police released footage to The Associated Press and other news organizations under a Freedom of Information Act request this week. They released more footage Friday amid questions about why the first batch of video appeared to end before the officers found Chavis Carter, 21, slumped over and bleeding in the back of a patrol car on July 28 as described in a police report. Police have said officers had frisked Carter twice without finding a gun.

Police said the second batch of video occurred after Carter was discovered, but that footage wasn’t immediately available in its entirety.

“There’s still nothing in there about what actually happened with Chavis,” Benjamin Irwin, a Memphis-based lawyer representing Carter’s family, said Friday before the second batch of video had been released.

Voter impersonation less likely than a lightning strike…

A GREAT example of FOI-driven reporting from a consortium of journalism students. This is EXACTLY the kind of stuff we need to be doing!

A new nationwide analysis of more than 2,000 cases of alleged election fraud over the past dozen years shows that in-person voter impersonation on Election Day, which has prompted 37 state legislatures to enact or consider tougher voter ID laws, was virtually nonexistent.

The analysis of 2,068 reported fraud cases by News21, a Carnegie-Knight investigative reporting project, found 10 cases of alleged in-person voter impersonation since 2000. With 146 million registered voters in the United States, those represent about one for every 15 million prospective voters.

The News21 report is based on a national public-records search in which reporters sent thousands of requests to elections officers in all 50 states, asking for every case of alleged fraudulent activity – including registration fraud; absentee-ballot fraud; vote buying; false election counts; campaign fraud; the casting of ballots by ineligible voters, such as felons and non-citizens; double voting; and voter impersonation.

The analysis found that there is more alleged fraud in absentee ballots and voter registration than in any of the other categories. The analysis shows 491 cases of alleged absentee ballot fraud and 400 cases involving registration fraud. Requiring voters to show identification at the polls – the crux of most of the new legislation – would not have prevented those cases.

Here’s a great behind-the-scenes how-we-did-it

Louisiana State Museum, Baton Rouge, Louisiana...

Louisiana State Museum, Baton Rouge, Louisiana. 1940 ballot box labeled “Spoiled” from election fraud investigation. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

from Leonard Downie Jr., who coordinated the effort.

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FOI At Work: Federal Retirement Benefits

 

Retirement

Retirement (Photo credit: 401(K) 2012)

USA Today took a look a the Civil Service Retirement System database, obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request. The Office of Personnel Management withheld some information, including names, ages and length of service.

More than 21,000 retired federal workers receive lifetime government pensions of $100,000 or more per year, a USA TODAY/Gannett analysis finds.

Of these, nearly 2,000 have federal pensions that pay $125,000 or more annually, and 151 take home $150,000 or more. Six federal retirees get more than $200,000 a year.

Some 1.2 percent of federal retirees collect six-figure pensions. By comparison, 0.1 percent of military retirees collect as much.

The New York State and Local Retirement System pays 0.2 percent of its retirees pensions of $100,000 or more. The New Jersey retirement system pays 0.4 percent of retirees that much. Comparable private figures aren’t available.

The six-figure pensions spread across a broad swath of the federal workforce: doctors, budget analysts, accountants, public relations specialists and human resource managers. Most do not get Social Security benefits.

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Four Types of FOIAs….

Sarah Larimer, a former student who works for the online sports site Grantland and who is an inveterate FOI warrior, offers some tips and a lot of good humor in this column on the four types of FOIAS…

Before we get going, I should probably explain what I’m doing here. In a previous life, I covered local politics and crime in D.C., a job I enjoyed for myriad reasons. The District of Columbia is a complex and wonderful city, full of interesting characters, compelling stories and great conflict. It’s also filled with secrets.

One of the very best parts of my job was reporting on Freedom of Information Act requests. It’s like getting a peek at your kid sister’s diary, if your kid sister just misappropriated government funding and/or covered up a professional scandal. I just ate it up.

So even though I’ve moved on to a different gig, I’d like to try to help you navigate this world. It’s not nearly as boring as it sounds.

 

Rick Perry’s presidential run: $3.7 in state overtime.

Overtime is ALWAYS an FOI home run…Texas Watchdog

Governor Rick Perry of Texas speaking at the R...

Governor Rick Perry of Texas speaking at the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans, Louisiana. Please attribute to Gage Skidmore if used elsewhere. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

took a look at Gov. Perry’s tab and found some big-gubmint-style spending!

Overtime fueled the $3.7 million cost of security for Gov. Rick Perry’s run for president.

Department of Public Safety sergeant in the governor’s security detail earned $65,143.36 in overtime, more than his actual annual salary of $64,401.96, a study of all overtime earned by state employees in 2011 by the Houston Chronicle shows.

The top two and five of the top 10 overtime earners in the state are members of the DPS Executive Protective Bureau, which generated a total of $499,000 in overtime last year, the Chronicle reported.

They were among 1,988 state employees who earned at least $10,000 in overtime in 2011. In all, 56,948 employees ran up $122 million in overtime, the Chronicle analysis shows.

The state auditor’s office reported in January the state carried 310,865.4 full time positions in the first quarter of 2012, compared to 318,814.2 employee positions in the first quarter of 2011

Food stamp and Medicaid application backlogs resulted in $27.8 million in overtime for employees of the Health and Human Services Commission, the highest amount of overtime for a state agency, the newspaper reported.

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California bill would require searchable format for public records…now that’s progress!

Great news from the good folks at CaliforniaWatch:

California could become the first state in the nation to require that public agencies provide their records in searchable formats, such as Excel or Word.

A bill making its way through the Legislature would establish an open data standard, requiring agencies to buy software that offers data in searchable formats when replacing existing technology. Agencies would also have to use these formats when posting data online or responding to requests for public records.

Currently, many agencies provide information in image files that are not searchable even though they also store that data in more easily searchable formats.

An open standard would provide greater transparency, according to the bill’s author state, Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco. Yee’s office began writing the legislation after First Amendment advocates complained that some public records were largely impenetrable because they could not be searched…

…New Hampshire is the only other state that has approved a similar, if less restrictive, open source law. New Hampshire’s legislation, approved in January, requires state agencies to consider open source software when acquiring software and encourages public agencies to make public records available in an open data format.

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