We’re No. 7! We’re No. 7!

I want a big foam finger.

Fabled Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis once said, “sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” If that is in fact the case, then the world as a whole is a pretty grimy place, according to the latest edition of the Open Budget Survey.

The biennial report, published by the International Budget Partnership, tracks government spending transparency across the globe. Of the 100 countries assessed in the survey, 77 “fail to meet basic standards of budget transparency,” with the average score a lowly 43 out of 100 points…

the U.S. comes in seventh in the Open Budget Survey’s rankings. As the Washington Post’s Wonkblog explains, “overall, the document is a pretty strong vote of confidence in the federal government’s transparency efforts.”The Wonkblog goes on to say that the U.S. gets knocked down for its lack of a pre-budget statement, lack of details in reviews of prior expenditures and, most importantly, a total lack of a “citizens budget,” which the IBP explains as being “accessible, nontechnical presentations of budget information.”

The U.S. and its neighbors scored well overall, as the Guardian explains, with western Europe and the U.S. averaging75 out of 100 points, while the Middle East and North Africa managed to average just 18 out of 100 points. In a race to the bottom, Qatar, Myanmar and Equatorial Guinea rank dead last.

The IBP gathers its data through a series of 125 questions answered by independent researchers in 100 countries, which account for a population of 6.1 billion, or 89 percent of the world’s population in 2010. And while the survey paints a rather dismal portrait of government transparency in general, IBP states that the study has seen “steady, albeit incremental, progress over the four rounds of the survey since 2006,” with the average score of 40 countries with comparable data sets jumping from 47 out of 100 when the survey began up to 57 out of 100 in 2012.

Bloomberg Puts Obama Administration to the FOIA Test

This will leave a mark…

On his first full day in office, President Barack Obama ordered federal officials to “usher in a new era of open government” and “act promptly” to make information public.

As Obama nears the end of his term, his administration hasn’t met those goals, failing to follow the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act, according to an analysis of open-government requests filed by Bloomberg News.

Nineteen of 20 cabinet-level agencies disobeyed the law requiring the disclosure of public information: The cost of travel by top officials. In all, just eight of the 57 federal agencies met Bloomberg’s request for those documents within the 20-day window required by the Act.

“When it comes to implementation of Obama’s wonderful transparency policy goals, especially FOIA policy in particular, there has been far more ‘talk the talk’ rather than ‘walk the walk,’” said Daniel Metcalfe, director of the Department of Justice’s office monitoring the government’s compliance with FOIA requests from 1981 to 2007.

Full article here

Official photographic portrait of US President...

Official photographic portrait of US President Barack Obama (born 4 August 1961; assumed office 20 January 2009) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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2012 Secrecy Report Card Released…

The 2012 Secrecy Report released today by OpenTheGovernment.org — a coalition of more than 80 groups advocating for open and accountable government— reveals that positive changes from the Obama administration’s open government policies nevertheless appear diminished in the shadow of the President’s bold promise of unprecedented transparency. Ultimately, though, the public needs more information to judge the size, shape, and legitimacy of the government’s secrecy.

Patrice McDermott, Executive Director of OpenTheGovernment.org, said “In the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks and the launch of multiple wars, we chronicled a major growth in the secrecy of the federal government. The Obama Administration has set policies that are starting to turn the tide in favor of open government. But, as far as we can tell from existing numbers, those policies have yet to fully change the direction of government.”

Efforts to open the government continue to be frustrated by a governmental predisposition towards secrecy, especially in the national security bureaucracy. Among the troubling trends: the National Declassification Center will not meet its goal for declassifying old records on time; the government continues to use the state secrets privilege in the same way it did prior to release of a new procedural policy; and the volume of documents marked “Classified” continues to grow, with little assurance or reason offered for the decision that the information properly needs such protection.

The report also indicates some of the Administration’s openness policies are having a positive effect. The federal government received and processed significantly more public requests for information than in previous years. The Office of Special Counsel is also on track to deliver an all-time high number of favorable actions for federal employees who have been victims of reprisal, or other prohibited personnel practices, for blowing the whistle on waste, fraud, abuse, or illegality. Even in the national security field, there is some progress: most notably, the total amount of money requested for intelligence for the coming year was formally disclosed. This is a tremendous success because such disclosure was resisted by government officials for so long. Additionally, the number of people with the authority to create new secrets continued to drop…

Read the full report here.

The report’s contributors will be “hosting a twitter chat from 4 – 5pm (eastern) on Tuesday, September 18. Please follow #secrecy12”
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The State Integrity Investigation takes a look at state FOI…and finds it lacking

This nationwide look at the state of state FOI is sure to generate a lot of discussion…be sure to check out your state’s grade, but warning — it’s likely not very good:

Most elected officials don’t want to tell citizens anything but the good news. But practiced speeches, triumphant press conferences, and highly polished press releases are little more than the announcement of policy decisions. By that time, the facts have been spun, sweetened and seasoned for public consumption. If you want the full story, you probably have to ask.

Though every state has some form of an “open record” law, exceptions and interpretations in many states are designed to protect the government, and leave the burden of discovery on the citizen. The State Integrity Investigation uncovered numerous legal and financial obstacles that prevent revelations of how and why a state government takes action. According to Caitlin Ginley of the Center for Public Integrity, “in state after state, the laws are riddled with exemptions and loopholes that often impede the public’s right to know rather than improve upon it.”…