Sunshine Week, the annual initiative to bolster open government and freedom of information, is in full swing. It's led by the American Society of News Editors with help from many print, broadcast, and online news outlets, plus libraries, schools, advocacy groups and other interested organizations.
Sunshine Week is an opportunity to evaluate how well government bodies comply with public requests for government documents as stipulated by the federal Freedom of Information Act and (in California) the Public Records Act. The Associated Press, for example, reviewed FOIA reports by 17 U.S. agencies to compare their performance in fiscal 2008 and 2009. AP found the departments providing the entirety of information sought in 162,205 FOIA requests in 2009, as compared to 196,776 requests in 2008. These same agencies denied FOIA requests in their entirety 20,005 times in 2009, compared to 21,057 times the prior year.
Sunshine Week activists also examined the online availability of essential state public records such as death certificates, financial disclosures, physician disciplinary information, bridge inspections, school performance data, consumer complaints against businesses, etc. They concluded that although more government information is accessible on the Internet, some of the most important information is still offline. Only one state, Texas, provided all 20 categories of information considered in the survey. California provided only 11.
Speaking of California, The Bee reported on the current status of state and local government compliance with the public records law and found that, increasingly, officials blame budget cuts and furloughs for delays in and denials of PRA requests for information.