Tag Archives: sunshine week

Sunshine Week poll: U.S. government is secretive

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.

Americans think the U.S. government is “secretive” or “very secretive,” according to a poll released in conjunction with National Sunshine Week.sunshine-week

The poll, part of a five-year series of studies into public attitudes toward government openness commissioned by the American Society of News Editors, “found that 70 percent believe that the federal government is either ‘very secretive’ or ‘somewhat secretive.’ The largest portion of respondents, 44 percent, said it is ‘very secretive.'”

Attitudes on the openness of the federal government have changed in recent years. In the first poll conducted for National Sunshine Week in 2006, 22 percent of respondents said they believed the federal government was “very secretive.” It rose to 37 percent in 2007, 44 percent in 2008 and then dropped slightly to 40 percent in 2009 at the beginning of the Obama administration.

State and local governments fared better in the public mind: “Only 36 percent believe their local governments are very or somewhat secretive. Forty-eight percent said the same of their state governments.”

The survey was conducted from Feb. 3 to March 9 at the Scripps Survey Research Center at Ohio University under a grant from the Scripps Howard Foundation. The poll has a margin of error of about 4 percentage points.

AHCJ resources

Sunshine Week may drop employee, fundraising

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.

Clint Hendler reports in the Columbia Journalism Review that Sunshine Week’s only full-time coordinator will likely lose her job soon.

sunshine

Photo by **Mary** via Flickr

The media-sponsored weeklong push for open government will be put together on a part-time basis by an employee at the American Society of News Editors. Sponsors hope the event has gained enough momentum to keep going with less intensive planning and organization and more reliance upon volunteer efforts.

The Knight Foundation grants that kept the event going since its 2005 inception have run their course, and a major fundraising push raised only $471,600 of a planned $2.5 million towards a permanent endowment. The Knight Foundation will match any funds raised. According to Hendler, the disappointing totals have led ASNE to pull resources out of fundraising efforts and instead devote them to keeping Sunshine Week going.

New FOIA guidelines encourage transparency

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.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder issued a memorandum (PDF) that directs all executive branch departments and agencies to apply a presumption of openness when administering the Freedom of Information Act.

The guidelines state that “an agency should not withhold information simply because it may do so legally” and that  when “an agency determines that it cannot make full disclosure of a requested record, it must consider whether it can make partial disclosure.” Holder emphasizes that everyone in the federal government is responsible for effective FOIA administration, not just an agency’s FOIA staff.

The memo addresses online records and data as well: “Accordingly, agencies should readily and systematically post information online in advance of any public request. Providing more information online reduces the need for individualized requests and may help reduce existing backlogs.”

The memo specifically “rescinds the guidelines issued on Oct. 12, 2001, by former Attorney General John Ashcroft.”

Related

Barriers in 5 Midwest states chill public access

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.

A study from the the Citizen Advocacy Center finds that open government laws in Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota have systemic barriers that chill public participation and access to government.

The Center analyzed each state’s Freedom of Information and Open Meetings Acts and found striking similarities between all states, including:

  • Open government laws are sporadically enforced, which means public bodies are more likely to be unresponsive to records requests and employ exemptions to keep meetings closed.
  • No state surveyed has a government office with statutory authority specifically created to oversee and enforce sunshine laws.
  • State employees are not adequately trained to carry out open government policies and may be unintentionally violating the laws.
  • Citizens may be able to attend meetings, but there are very few opportunities to participate.

The Midwest Open Goverment Project is a comprehensive study of the Freedom of Information and Open Meetings Acts in those five states, under the auspices of the Citizen Advocacy Center.

Sunshine Week: Some hospital quality measures online

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.

Felice Freyer, a medical writer at The Providence (R.I.) Journal and a member of AHCJ’s Right to Know Committee, writes in an article for AHCJ that “In recent years, state and federal agencies have begun yanking data out of filing cabinets and opening their folders to the daylight of cyberspace.”

As Freyer points out, “The Internet offers vast new opportunities to answer every patient’s most pressing question: Am I entrusting my health to people who will take good care of me?”

Web sites that offer hospital quality data not only inform consumers, they prod everyone in health care to do a better job. Much more can and should be done to give the public better access to what the regulators know.

Read more of Freyers article.

Additional Sunshine Week coverage: Online health data varies by state

Sunshine Week: Online health data varies by state

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 Sunshine Week 2009 Survey of State Government Information Online found that while more and more government records are being posted online, some of the most important information is being left offline. And in some cases governments are charging taxpayers to access records that they already paid for, such as death certificates.

Sunshine Week

Sunshine Week 2009:
March 15-21

Sunshine Week is a national initiative to open a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. Participants include print, broadcast and online news media, civic groups, libraries, nonprofits, schools and others interested in the public’s right to know.

Teams of surveyors scanned government Web sites in every U.S. state to look for 20 different kinds of public records.

The survey (PDF) included nursing home inspection reports, hospital inspection reports and death certificates. It found that nursing home inspection reports are available online in 29 states, hospital inspection reports are available online in 17 states and death certificates are available online in five states.

The report says that “Death certificates are apparently a revenue source for many states, as they charge relatives and “legitimately” interested parties for copies of the records, or farm out the work to a third-party service such as VitalChek. Some states provide historical access online to older death certificates, mostly prior to 1960, although there generally is a fee for hard copies.”

Other health-related highlights in the report:

In Oklahoma, hospital inspection reports are said to be “confidential by statute” and would not be disclosed publicly unless there was a case involving a licensing question or revocation/suspension of a license.

Louisiana: “We have a problem with the legality of it,” a Louisiana Department of Transportation official told the survey reporter who called the office after failing to find bridge inspection reports online. Calls to other Louisiana agencies after finding neither hospital or nursing home inspections, nor environmental citations online yielded otherwise unlinked URLs for information.

Maryland: Nursing home information got high marks for facilitating online search and for allowing users to “compare data in a variety of ways.”

Minnesota: The state’s Department of Human Services says it expects corrections orders and licensing sanctions, not currently posted, to be online “in the near future.”

California: Because the state of California is so large, surveyors looked at whether individual departments and agencies posted their audits and personal financial disclosure forms, including audits from the Department of Health Care Services. They found that the data is not clearly linked from the department’s home page, though it is free to view and download. The most recent audit reports online where from 2007.

Department of Health and Human Services

University of Missouri graduate students reviewed the Web site of the Department of Health and Human Services and reported on what documents are available in electronic reading rooms. The students noted that the HHS Web site is difficult to navigate because it is comprised of so many divisions that “vary in content, organization and utility.”

They found multiple problems with many of the HHS administrative manuals and other documents, including documents that were locked because someone else was viewing them and documents that were not clear about when they were created or modified.