Next week is Sunshine Week! What is Sunshine Week? It’s a national initiative to educate the public about the importance of open government and the dangers of excessive and unnecessary secrecy!
Sunshine Week was established in March 2005 by the American Society of News Editors, now known as the News Leaders Association and it occurs each year in mid-March, coinciding with James Madison’s birthday and National Freedom of Information Day on the 16th. This year, it runs from March 12 through March 18. The purpose of the week is to highlight the fact that “government functions best when it operates in the open.” And central to operating in the open is the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which was signed into law in 1966.
BTW, did you know that the US was the third country in the world to enact a law to provide the right of public access to official information? Can you guess the first two countries that did it? The first one did it 200 years earlier than the US! Answer at the bottom of this post.
The US Department of Justice (DOJ) is holding its annual Sunshine Week celebration event in the Great Hall. Established in 2010, this will mark the thirteenth year of the DOJ’s event recognizing the importance of FOIA for government transparency and celebrating the efforts of those professionals dedicated to the success of their agencies’ FOIA administration. The event will include the Department’s annual Sunshine Week FOIA Awards Ceremony to honor and celebrate the work of dedicated FOIA professionals across the government, including these awards:
- Exceptional Service by a FOIA Professional or Team of FOIA Professionals
- Outstanding Contributions by a New Employee
- Exceptional Advancements in IT to Improve the Agency’s FOIA Administration
- Exceptional Advancements in Proactive Disclosure of Information
- Lifetime Service Award
The implementation and management of FOIA is always evolving. Last year, Attorney General Merrick Garland issued new FOIA guidelines to promote disclosure and transparency. Also, every year, the Office of Information Policy (OIP) releases a summary and assessment of agencies’ Chief FOIA Officer (CFO) Reports, which focuses on steps agencies have taken to improve FOIA administration in five key areas, including “Greater Utilization of Technology in FOIA Administration”.
In particular, the 2021 report stated: “While agencies have leveraged standard e-Discovery software for some time now, the use of AI provides an exciting opportunity to modernize FOIA on a whole different level.”
And they need all the technology help they can get. The number of FOIA requests for all Federal government agencies has increased almost every year from 560,978 requests in 2008 to 928,353 requests in 2022. How do I know that? I ran a report at FOIA.gov (you can too, by clicking the link here and either generating a report or downloading a CSV file).
Last year, there was also a US Senate Committee on the Judiciary hearing on FOIA and improving transparency, with transcripts of testimony from Bobak Talebian, Director of Office of Information Policy at the DOJ and Alina Semo, Director of Office of Government Information Services (OGIS).
Many of these resources were provided to me by Nick Wittenberg, Specialist Leader, Deloitte Transactions and Business Analytics LLP, who also provided me this quote:
“The Department of Justice’s Sunshine Week is an excellent way to recognize Government’s FOIA professionals who are constantly seeking ways to improve and expedite the disclosure of information so citizens can be better informed. Through Congressional hearings, court cases, and FOIA requests there is a constant search in seeking the truth and identifying how the democratic experience can be improved. As The Supreme Court of the United States noted that, “[t]he basic purpose of FOIA is to ensure an informed citizenry, vital to the functioning of a democratic society, needed to check against corruption and to hold the governors accountable to the governed.” NLRB v. Robbins Tire & Rubber Co., 437 U.S. 214, 242 (1978).”
Thanks, Nick! So, consider doing your part to promote government transparency and freedom of information! I just did my part. 😉
BTW, the two countries that had a freedom of information act before the US were Finland in 1951 and (before that) Sweden – all the way back in 1766! Det är Underbart!
So, what do you think? Were you familiar with Sunshine Week? If not, you are now! Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.
Disclaimer: The views represented herein are exclusively the views of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views held by my employer, my partners or my clients. eDiscovery Today is made available solely for educational purposes to provide general information about general eDiscovery principles and not to provide specific legal advice applicable to any particular circumstance. eDiscovery Today should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a lawyer you have retained and who has agreed to represent you.