Federal FOIA Happenings to Watch

If it’s happening at the federal level, chances are high your state and local governments will experience something similar next. This week in Peer News, we’re keeping an eye on changes affecting federal public records:

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Featured

Biden signs executive order to improve ‘customer’ experience when accessing government services

President Biden on Monday [Dec. 13] signed an executive order seeking to streamline and modernize a vast array of government services that directly affect Americans, such as claiming retirement benefits, renewing passports and filing taxes.

During an Oval Office signing ceremony, Biden said that the order would ensure that the federal government puts “people at the front of the line” and ticked off a few promised benefits, including using better technology to speed security lines at airports and making tax-filing less cumbersome.

In a “fact sheet” released ahead of the signing, the White House detailed numerous other examples of interactions with government “customers” that can be improved through more online access and streamlined application processes.

Read More | Washington Post

Grants Office Webcast Recording: Leveraging ARPA Local Fiscal Recovery Funds to Purchase Public Records Management Software

The Grants Office was joined by guests from GovQA and the National Association of Counties (NACo) on Nov. 18 to help you leverage ARPA Local Fiscal Recovery Funds to purchase public records management software for your organization.

We covered the broad basics of these funds, their eligible expenses, and discussed some of the sample use cases aligned with the Treasury Department guidelines. Additionally, we covered the best practices for putting together your stimulus proposal to support your public records project.

Watch the Grants Office Webinar Recording

LEGISLATION

Representatives from Texas and South Carolina launch effort to bring transparency on COVID FOIA requests

On Thursday, [De. 16] Rep. Chip Roy (TX-21) and Rep. Ralph Norman (SC-05), joined by several of their House colleagues, introduced the Answer COVID FOIAs Now Act to require current outstanding COVID-related FOIA requests to be completed within 100 days. The introduction follows reports that the Public Health and Medical Professionals for Transparency (PHMPT) is suing the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for failure to produce requested documents via FOIA and asking to have until 2097 to do so.

“The FDA’s request to have until 2097 to fully release documents related to the approval of the Pfizer vaccine is absurd. The American people deserve transparent and honest information; that is why I am proud to introduce this bill to bring necessary accountability and transparency for COVID-related FOIA requests. This is a first step among many needed reforms that will address the rank incompetence and dishonesty federal agencies have displayed throughout this pandemic,” Rep. Roy said.

Read More | Chip and Roy Media

COMPLIANCE

The Food and Drug Administration says it now needs 75 years to fully release Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine data

The Food and Drug Administration is asking a judge to give it 75 years to produce data concerning the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine, up 20 years from a previous request.

The FDA told the court it can work faster than its previously proposed 500-pages-per-month rate, but it also said there are more than 59,000 more pages than mentioned in an earlier filing.

That discovery, and a desire to make sure it can work on other Freedom of Information Act requests at the same time, prompted the fresh request to the judge to allow production of roughly 12,000 pages by Jan. 31, 2022, and 500 pages per month thereafter.

That timeline would take it until at least 2096, Aaron Siri, a lawyer working on the case, wrote in a blog post.

Read More | The Epoch Times

Delaware Supreme Court breathes new life into fight over Biden documents

The Delaware Supreme Court gave two conservative watchdog groups another chance at gaining access to a trove of documents detailing President Joseph Biden’s 36-year career in the U.S. Senate, ruling state officials improperly denied a Freedom of Information Act Request.

Judicial Watch and the nonprofit foundation that owns the Daily Caller news site filed FOIA requests with the University of Delaware for the documents in April 2020. Biden donated his Senate papers, including 1,850 boxes of archival records and 415 gigabytes of data, to his alma mater in 2012.

University officials rejected the requests less than a month later, saying the requested documents weren’t subject to FOIA because state law limits the university to turning over the minutes of trustee meetings and documents related to the expenditure of public funds.

Both organizations appealed to the Delaware Attorney General’s office, which also concluded no violation. They then appealed to Superior Court, arguing the university and AG’s office had improperly shifted the burden to them to prove the documents were public. The Superior Court rejected those arguments in January opinion, agreeing the documents weren’t subject to Delaware’s FOIA statute because the university didn’t expend money to keep them and the records didn’t relate to the expenditure of public funds.

Read More | Legal News Online

LITIGATION

Circuit judge must decide whether texts on state phone are private or public, Arkansas Supreme Court rules

The Arkansas Supreme Court on Thursday [Dec. 16] sent an open records case back to circuit court, saying the lower court judge must decide which messages on a state-issued cellphone are public and which are personal.

The Pulaski County Circuit Court ruling on Sept. 14, 2020, making the records public was reversed and remanded by the Supreme Court, where several justices found that what constitutes a “public record” has limits even when it involves a state-issued phone.

The Freedom of Information Act case involves messages between then-Department of Information Systems Director Mark Myers and a vendor’s representative, identified as Jane Doe.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette requested access to the messages under the Freedom of Information Act and Myers and Jane Doe asked the lower court to block the request.

Alec Gaines, the attorney for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, said in an interview on [Dec. 17] the circuit court must now go through more than 3,000 messages to determine what can be released to the public.

Read More | Arkansas Democrat Gazette 

PEER RESOURCE

Transparency and Trust: Choosing & Using Technology to Bridge the Divides

42% of people say that a lack of perceived transparency from police has hurt their opinion of law enforcement over the last five years. 62% say serving as a local police officer has become more difficult. This is according to a national survey conducted by our partners at Veritone.

On December 14th GovQA hosted a panel discussion in which we covered the impact and application of this 3000 person survey and other data sources on those choosing technology to manage requests for law enforcement records.

Watch the Transparency Webinar Feat. Roanoke, TX

Read More | GovQA

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The Peers in Public Records Newsletter (formerly FOIA News) is a bi-monthly e-newsletter brought to you by GovQA. It is a collection of the latest trends in public record requests and government transparency initiatives, shared stories, informative case studies, and actionable knowledge that will help you calm the chaos and keep your organization compliant. Send your comments to peers@govqa.com.

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