Oversight

Legislators call for better implementation of transparency legislation

Shutterstock image (by adirekjob): magnifying glass resting over a missing puzzle piece.

In terms of openness in government, a key group of lawmakers believes the most important goal for the next Congress is to better enforce and augment current legislation.

"In the 115th Congress, the most important goal is to make sure we're not getting in the habit of saying, 'We're going to do a big bill every 10 years [or] 15 years,'" but rather focus on improving transparency legislation that already exists, said Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) at a Capitol Hill briefing on transparency and government accountability.

Issa and Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), co-chairmen of the Congressional Transparency Caucus, called for greater implementation of the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act, the Freedom of Information Act and the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act.

The Data Act mandates standardized reporting and publishing of federal spending information and puts the Treasury Department and the Office of Management and Budget in charge of oversight.

"Implementation of the Data Act needs a lot of work" to make sure it is on schedule and is a priority for the next administration, Issa said. Despite concerns raised by the Government Accountability Office about agencies' slow adoption of Data Act guidance, Treasury insists it is on schedule.

The FOIA Improvement Act of 2016, which became law in June, mandated an online portal for filing all FOIA requests in hopes of expediting and improving the government's disclosure of information.

The biggest hurdle in FOIA enforcement is tightening the exemptions afford by "overly broad" language that "creates a carve-out," said Patrice McDermott, executive director of OpenTheGovernment.org.

The ultimate goal is to be able to follow a bill's progress at every step along its life cycle, she added.

With the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, Issa said, "We have to find legal ways for people to report anything, including things which have to be kept classified, but report them so they don't end up in the New York Times," a veiled reference to the highly publicized leaks made by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

The law does not include protections for contractors in the intelligence community.

To ensure the success of open-data policies, "we have to make sure immediately the next administration picks up where this one left off," Issa said. "We have to make sure that continues."

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has expressed her plan to "continue and accelerate" President Barack Obama's open-data policies through her technology agenda.

Her Republican counterpart, however, has not yet shared his plans regarding open data. And although he is not required to do so, Donald Trump's refusal to publicly release or summarize his tax returns breaks with decades of presidential-candidate tradition.

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a staff writer covering civilian agencies, workforce issues, health IT, open data and innovation.

Prior to joining FCW, Gunter reported for the C-Ville Weekly in Charlottesville, Va., and served as a college sports beat writer for the South Boston (Va.) News and Record. He started at FCW as an editorial fellow before joining the team full-time as a reporter.

Gunter is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where his emphases were English, history and media studies.

Click here for previous articles by Gunter, or connect with him on Twitter: @WChaseGunter

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