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Sunshine Week (And not just with the weather)

March 19th, 2010 by Vishal Doshi - Government Performance Analyst, National Broadband Task Force

[By Vishal Doshi and Kevin Bennett]
 
It’s Sunshine Week and we’re not just talking about the beautiful weather in Washington, DC (70 degrees and sunny).
 
Sunshine Week, which is wrapping up, is an initiative spearheaded by the American Society of News Editors to educate the public about the importance of open government. We should point out that not only did we release the National Broadband Plan during Sunshine Week, we released it a day ahead of schedule, on James Madison’s Birthday, which is also National Freedom of Information Day. Coincidence? I think not.
 
In that spirit, we’d like to highlight a few of the National Broadband Plan’s recommendations that promote the creation of a more open and transparent government. These recommendations all come from the Civic Engagement Chapter (Chapter 15). I hope that they feel as good as the 70 degree weather, also brought to you by the broadband team at the FCC.
 
The primary legal documents of the federal government should be free and accessible to the public on digital platforms.  For Executive Branch agencies, this means publishing all executive orders and other public documents on the Internet and in easily accessible, machine-readable format. The Executive Branch has taken important steps towards this goal with Data.gov. State and local governments are already taking steps to implement their own versions of Data.gov. But more can be done. Even Data.gov contains only a small amount of the government’s data. For the Legislative Branch, this means that Congress should publish all votes, as well as proposed and enacted legislation, in a timely manner, online and in a machine-readable and otherwise accessible format. Finally, all federal judicial decisions should be accessible for free and made publicly available to the people of the United States.
 
The federal government should create and fund Video.gov to publish its digital video archival materials and facilitate the creation of a federated national digital archive to house public interest digital content. The federal government, as well as public and commercial media, sits on a treasure in the form of hours of video content from government video footage to decades of nightly news broadcasts. The federal government can play a critical role in unlocking this tremendous content for the American people. Video.gov would be a great start. By releasing much of its video content into a national digital archive, the government can create an important tool for students, teachers, parents and all citizens. C-SPAN just announced that it would be putting its video library, covering more than 23 years of history and American life, providing more than 160,000 hours of footage online for free. (See it here.) We applaud this important step and hope that this is the first of many important steps towards providing public interest video content online for the American people.
 
All responses to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests by Executive Branch and independent agencies should be made available online at www.[agency].gov/foiaFOIA is one of the single most important government transparency tools that exists, and it can be expanded to increase transparency even more over the Web.
 
The Executive Branch should establish MyPersonalData.gov as a mechanism that allows citizens to request their personal data held by government agencies. The federal government holds data related to many citizens and the Privacy Act contains provisions for giving these individuals access to their personal data. The federal government should enable citizens to access to this data online thought MyPersonalData.gov.
 
For more about the sunshine recommendations, check out Chapter 15 of the National Broadband Plan. Thank you, and enjoy the sunshine.

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