Tag Archives: sunshine week

How AHCJ engages in sustained push for transparency year round

Sunshine Week logoIn early February, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services advertised a telephone question-and-answer session intended for “non-press associated individuals.” Essentially anyone could listen in – except the members of the media. Crazy, right?

But when a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists asked CMS to change the wording of the February invitation, the agency’s press office declined.

Learning of this, Irene Wielawski, chair of AHCJ’s Right to Know Committee, immediately contacted Mark Weber, a high-ranking public affairs official at HHS with whom the committee speaks regularly. Weber took action, and within days, a new invitation went out specifying that the call was open to all interested “people,” with no restrictions on the media.

A small victory – but a swift one, and an example of how a sustained push for government transparency can make a difference. Continue reading

Sunshine Week: Committee advocates for access to information

swlogo-198x300This is Sunshine Week, a yearly celebration of open government. It’s held every year in the week that includes the birthday (March 16) of President James Madison, a champion of the First Amendment.

Sunshine Week has its roots in a 2002 protest by journalists against efforts by Florida’s legislature to weaken the state’s public records law. Today, it is a national endeavor of the American Society of News Editors and The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, but many other organizations take the occasion to note the importance of open government and a free press. Sunshine Week’s slogan is “Your Right to Know,” which brings me to the work of the Right to Know Committee of the Association of Health Care Journalists.

Through research, letters, op-ed columns and meetings with government officials, the committee advocates for access to the information health care reporters need to do their jobs. But the purpose, says Vice Chair Felice J. Freyer, who has served on the committee since 2007, goes beyond making reporters’ jobs easier.

“In demanding government transparency, we’re upholding a fundamental principle of democracy – the citizens’ right to easily see what their government is doing, in their name, with their tax dollars,” Freyer says.

The work has its share of frustrations, not unlike journalism itself, where the reporting effort does not always yield commensurate public response. Our straight-up wins are rare but we have made progress on several fronts: Continue reading

Survey: Only half of federal agencies have better FOI procedures

A report from the Knight Open Government Survey found that, despite some progress, federal agencies are only halfway there when it comes to delivering on the president’s day-one promise to improve FOIA procedures and openness across the board.

There is some cause for optimism there, as last year that number was about 14 percent. For the curious, Knight also provided a full PDF of how the 90 different agencies in the survey stacked up.

But before I highlight a few health-related entries, I can’t resist pointing out the survey’s methodology section, which will help explain how the results are organized.

The 2011 Knight Open Government Survey team filed FOIA requests with the 90 federal agencies that have chief FOIA officers, asking for copies of concrete changes in their FOIA regulations, manuals, training materials, or processing guidance as a result of the “Day One” Obama memorandum, and the March 2010 White House memorandum from then-Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and White House Counsel Bob Bauer. The Emanuel-Bauer memo told agencies to 1) update all FOIA material, and 2) assess whether FOIA resources were adequate.

The key takeaway then is that this is a measure of administrative regulation, and not one focused on responsiveness to actual FOIA requests beyond the one used to create each data point. With that in mind, here’s how our friends at health-related agencies stack up.

Concrete action on two steps

  • DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES
  • OCCUPATIONAL SAFETY & HEALTH REVIEW COMM.
  • DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS

Concrete action on one step

  • OFFICE OF NATIONAL DRUG CONTROL POLICY
  • DEFENSE NUCLEAR FACILITIES SAFETY BOARD
  • FEDERAL MINE SAFETY & HEALTH REVIEW COMM.
  • NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION

No final response to FOIA request

  • COUNCIL ON ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY
  • PUBLIC HEALTH SERVICE

No acknowledgement of FOIA request

  • CHEMICAL SAFETY & HAZARD INVESTIGATION BRD.

Freedom of Information Audits and Government Transparency from Knight Foundation on Vimeo.

FOI blog to follow throughout the year

Long after Sunshine Week has passed us by we recommend keeping an eye on the Art of Access blog (RSS feed). sunshine-week1

Created by Charles Davis and David Cuillier as a companion to the book of the same name, it’s a regularly updated source of rock-solid news and analysis. Davis, a professor at the Missouri School of Journalism  (where AHCJ is based), is the former* executive director of the National Freedom of Information Coalition. University of Arizona professor Cuillier is the chairman of the Society of Professional Journalists’ Freedom of Information Committee.

*An earlier version of this post referred to Davis as the executive director of NFOIC.  Ken Bunting has held that position since July 1, 2010. Our apologies for the mistake.

AHCJ leaders hold series of media access meetings with government officials

AHCJ representatives held a series of meetings in Washington, D.C., last week to press for government openness at the state and federal levels.

AHCJ President Charles Ornstein and board member Felice Freyer (chair of the sunshine-week1organization’s Right to Know Committee) met with representatives of the Health and Human Services Department, the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, as well as 12 newly appointed state health directors organized by the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.

The federal officials professed a commitment to openness, within limits, and promise to look into specific requests to further that goal. The state health officials, who heard a panel presentation about working effectively with reporters, were receptive and eager to talk with AHCJ about building relationships at the state level.

Read more for details from each meeting …

Related

Freyer will moderate a panel on this topic, “Right to know: Getting information from government agencies,” at Health Journalism 2011. The panel features Peter Ashkenaz, director of communications, FDA Office of Regulatory Affairs; Lisa Chedekel, senior writer and co-founder, Connecticut Health I-Team; Lucy A. Dalglish, executive director, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press; and Lilian Peake, M.D., M.P.H., director, Thomas Jefferson Health District, Virginia Department of Health.