Tag Archives: sunshine week

Sunshine Week: Committee advocates for access to information

Irene M. Wielawski

About Irene M. Wielawski

Irene M. Wielawski (@wielawski), an independent journalist based in New York, is a founder and former board member of AHCJ and serves on the organization’s Right to Know Committee.

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

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

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

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates AHCJ's social media efforts and edits and manages production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

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

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates AHCJ's social media efforts and edits and manages production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

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.

Sunshine Week: Proposals would affect access

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates AHCJ's social media efforts and edits and manages production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

The Data Mine, a project from the Center for Public Integrity and the Sunlight Foundation that highlights inaccessible or poorly presented information from the federal government, invites readers to participate in Sunshine Week by tipping them to government data, records and reports that should be open to the public. They also want to hear about federal information that is available but accompanied by restrictions that make it cumbersome or impractical to use.

Bill would require agencies to post public documents online: NextGov.com reports on the proposed 2010 Public Online Information Act.

Access to public records in Florida could grow – or shrink – if Legislature passes these bills: One bill would require Florida’s “Department of Health to establish an interactive online budget, stipulating it be updated each year and trace the flow of all funds appropriated to DOH in the past 20 years,” according to the Orlando Sentinel.

Comparing state FOIA laws: The Detroit Free Press looks at sunshine laws in Michigan, Florida, Ohio, Illinios, Indiana and Wisconsin.

See more Sunshine Week headlines from around the country.

AHCJ resources

Sunshine Week: Some of the latest news

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates AHCJ's social media efforts and edits and manages production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

AHCJ resources