Category Archives: Open Government

July 16, 2014

Fiscal TimesWhite House Petition Site Generates More Grievances Than It Redresses
The Fiscal Times cites J.H. Snider’s comments on the White House’s We The People petition website.

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June 13, 2014

‘Dark money’ drives R.I. constitutional convention votes
ThProvidenceJournalFrontPageMasthead--BlueProvidence Journal publishes J.H. Snider and Beverly Clay’s critique of Rhode Island’s state constitutional convention campaign finance disclosure laws.

January 28, 2014

White House goes mum on ‘We the People’ petition site
WashingtonTimesLogoThe Washington Times cites J.H. Snider’s critique of the White House’s We The People petition website.

November 6, 2013

The State Of MarylandJ.H. Snider’s written testimony regarding reforming Maryland’s Public Information Act submitted to the Maryland General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Transparency and Open Government .

September 25, 2013

The State Of MarylandJ.H. Snider’s public testimony before the Maryland General Assembly’s  Joint Committee on Transparency and Open Government concerning material omissions in Maryland’s StateStat, a collection of data to make Maryland government “more accountable and more efficient” (see Snider’s video testimony from 1:02:25 to 1:11:26 for opening remarks,  and 1:11:26 to 1:24:08 for Q & A) .

September 20, 2013

Updating Americans’ First Amendment Right to Petition Their Government
HarvardLawSchoolLogo--JPEGJ.H. Snider’s luncheon presentation sponsored by theHarvard Journal of Law & Technology, Harvard Law School, Cambridge, Massachusetts.  The presentation includes a Powerpoint and webcast (compatible with Apple’s Quicktime).

August 20, 2013

Is Online Transparency Just a Feel-Good Sham?
NationalJournalLogoNational Journal cites J.H. Snider on the intermixing of real and fake participatory democracy as illustrated by the White House’s We The People petition website and the House Majority Leader’s Citizen Cosponsor Project.

May 6, 2013

3rdWorldConferenceOnResearchIntegrity

Alleviating Think Tank Plagiarism
J.H. Snider’s presentation at the 3rd World Conference on Research Integrity, Montreal, Canada.

February 7, 2013

The State Of MarylandJ.H. Snider’s testimony on two bills before the Maryland House’ of Delegate’s Committee on Health and Government Operations.  Both bills concern needed reforms to Maryland’s Open Meetings Act.  The first, HB 139, concerns online training; the second, HB 140,  penalties for noncompliance.

January 21, 2013

The Huffington PostThe Presidential Inaugural Ticket Sweepstakes
The Huffington Post publishes J.H. Snider’s commentary critiquing the misleading and undemocratic way Congress has been allocating tickets to the presidential inaugural swearing-in.

January 15, 2013

TheHillLogoPresidential Inaugural Pork
The Hill publishes J.H. Snider’s op-ed critiquing the way the President and Congress have been allocating inaugural tickets to their supporters at public expense.

January 14, 2013

When We the People Talk It’s Not Always Pretty
NextgovNextgov, a publication of the National Journal Group, Inc., cites J.H. Snider on the merits of the White House’s We The People petition website.

January 11, 2013

Obama online petition site: Direct democracy or empty gesture?
WashingtonTimesLogoThe Washington Times cites J.H. Snider’s critique of the White House’s We The People petition website.

January 4, 2013

Education WeekIn the Dark About Early School Buses
Education Week publishes J.H. Snider’s commentary on school bus scheduling secrecy in K12 public schools.

January 3, 2013

White House’s ‘We The People’ Petitions Find Mixed Success
NPR LogoNPR’s All Things Considered interviews J.H. Snider about the strengths and weaknesses of the White House’s We The People petition website.  For J.H. Snider’s most recent Huffington Post commentary on the We The People website, see The White House’s We The People Petition Website: First Year Report Card.

December 18, 2012

Legislature launches new website
MarylandReporter.com cites J.H. Snider on the deficiencies of Maryland’s updated legislative information website.

December 4, 2012

The State Of MarylandJ.H. Snider’s written Testimony concerning needed reforms to Maryland’s Public Information Act submitted to the Maryland General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Transparency and Open Government.

November 2, 2012

Casinos to ‘frankenfood’: Big-money referendums
The Wall Street Journal‘s Marketwatch cites iSolon.org’s data on Maryland’s statewide referenda.

October 18, 2012

The PatchSpending on ballot questions highest in Maryland’s history
Local Patches publish J.H. Snider’s article on the extraordinary spending on Maryland’s statewide ballot questions.

October 17, 2012

Snider’s prepared Testimony concerning needed reforms to Maryland’s Open Meetings Act before the Maryland General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Transparency and Open Government.

Covered in the MarylandReporter.org‘s Committee asks for recommended changes in Open Meetings Act, October 18, 2012.

October 8, 2012

VotersEdge.org/Maryland
iSolon.org and Maplight.org launch a new website to track referenda on Maryland’s November 6, 2012 statewide ballot.  The website provides voters with one-stop access

September 23, 2012

The Huffington PostThe White House’s We The People Petition Website: First Year Report Card
The Huffington Post publishes J.H. Snider’s 1st year report card on the White House’s We the People petition website.

August 31, 2012

AACPS Creates Online Video Archive of BOE meetings
The Severna Park Patch publishes J.H. Snider’s commentary on the accessibility of the local public school system’s public meetings.

August 5, 2012

General Assembly committee discusses open government
Maryland’s Kent County News cites J.H. Snider’s testimony before Maryland’s Joint Committee on Transparency and Open Government.

July 19, 2012

Maryland General Assembly Releases Beta Legislative Website 2.0
Patches in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, publish J.H. Snider’s coverage of the most recent meeting of the Maryland General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Transparency and Open Government.

July 18, 2012

J.H. Snider’s prepared Testimony concerning the future of the General Assembly’s legislative information website before the Maryland General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Transparency and Open Government.  A video of the testimony, including Q&A with the legislators, can be found here, starting at 1:06:20.

May 30, 2012

Paul Kirby, ‘NTIA Sets Framework for Industry-Agency Review of 1755-1850 MHz Band,” TRDaily, May 30, 2012.

National Telecommunications and Information Administration officials today outlined for the Commerce Spectrum Management Advisory Committee (CSMAC) a framework to enable the wireless industry and federal agencies to discuss ways to free up the 1755-1850 megahertz and 1695-1710 MHz bands for use by wireless carriers. The plan calls for five working groups to study the spectrum, with one completing its work by September and the other four by January 2013.

At the meeting at NTIA’s headquarters, several CSMAC members said there is a need for the working groups to use common parameters for the operations of wireless networks. Otherwise, the members said, the groups could arrive at different conclusions.

In March, NTIA released a report that concluded it is possible to repurpose the 1755-1850 MHz band for commercial broadband services, but it proposed that NTIA and the FCC sponsor discussions between federal agencies and industry entities to address a number of challenges, including relocation costs that could reach $18 billion and sensitive government operations that may have to stay in the spectrum indefinitely (TRDaily, March 27). The report emphasized the need for spectrum sharing.

During today’s meeting, Karl Nebbia, NTIA’s associate administrator-Office of Spectrum Management, stressed the importance of collaboration between representatives of federal agencies and wireless entities if they are to make progress in finding ways to relocate federal systems to other spectrum or enable sharing of federal bands. He also acknowledged the difficult work ahead but said NTIA wants the working groups to reach a consensus on their recommendations, which will then be forwarded to the CSMAC, which will decide which recommendations to give to NTIA.

“We’re looking for a cooperative environment, and outcomes that meet both the commercial needs and the government needs,” Mr. Nebbia said. “We are looking for output that represent a consensus outcome. So, as people are working together, we need to continue to keep ourselves in the same room until we work through whatever hurdles and difficulties we find.” Earlier, he said, “We have to set aside kind of our canned bullet points and sound bites.”

Mr. Nebbia said that NTIA is hoping to have the memberships of the working groups completed soon, saying the agency plans to invite agency and industry representatives to serve on the working groups over the next week or so, while firming up CSMAC liaisons to the groups and co-chairs of the groups. Each group will have an industry and agency co-chair. NTIA and the FCC will also each have participants in each group.

The working groups will tackle the following spectrum matters: (1) WG1: the 1695-1710 MHz meteorological-satellite band, which was identified for fast-track reallocation by NTIA in 2010 (TRDaily, Nov. 15, 2010), (2) WG2: law enforcement surveillance, explosive ordnance disposal, and other short-distance links in the 1755-1850 MHz band, (3) WG3: satellite control and electronic warfare in the 1755-1850 MHz band, (4) WG4: tactical radio relay and fixed microwave in the 1755-1850 MHz band, and (5) WG5: airborne operations, including air combat training systems, unmanned aerial vehicles, precision-guided munitions, and aeronautical telemetry, in the 1755-1850 MHz band.

Working group 1 is to complete its work by September, while the other groups are to complete their tasks by January 2013. Mr. Nebbia said the January 2013 date was chosen to provide time to prepare the 1755-1780 MHz band for possible pairing and auction with the 2155-2180 MHz AWS (advanced wireless services)-3 band. The FCC must auction the 2155-2180 MHz band by February 2015.

Mr. Nebbia said the analysis each working group will have to conduct “will be different depending on the applications” in the band under study.

For example, he said, working group 1 will be tasked with assessing the likely wireless network operations in the band in an effort to reduce the size of exclusion zones around National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration earth stations, which receive information from NOAA weather balloons.

By contrast, working group 2 will try to come up with city by city relocation plans for law enforcement surveillance. “This is really a challenging issue,” Mr. Nebbia said. “We know that they’re not compatible,” he said of law enforcement and commercial systems.

Working group 3 will look to define protection zones around satellite sites, and it will also look at rules to protect electronic warfare systems. Working group 4 will consider ways to narrow protection zones around tactical relay sites while looking at the relocation of fixed microwave links beginning from the 1755-1780 MHz band. Working group 5 will determine what protection is needed for airborne operations.

“The Working Groups will produce written outputs recommending to the CSMAC concerning approaches to sharing, transition and/or relocation of the band that will determine the steps that will have to be taken and any factors that may reduce the projected costs, or limitations or restrictions on spectrum availability,” NTIA said in its framework document. “In the case of the 1755-1850 MHz band, the work should consider the steps that might support earlier auction and entrance of service providers into the 1755-1780 MHz portion, where feasible, while maintaining the goal of the entire 1755-1850 MHz band. A critical decision point for each group is a determination of whether incoming industry can or cannot share with a particular incumbent federal system. Where sharing is feasible, the groups should explain the proposed manner of sharing in a way that could potentially be incorporated into service rules.”

“Success of the discussions will require cooperation,” NTIA also said in its framework document. “Participants will determine what information they can share and how to manage its use in the context of the Working Group’s deliberations. NTIA expects the members of the Working Groups to be prudent in their conduct as participants in the Working Group. Each Working Group would be free to adopt its own ‘ground rules’ to avoid premature release of information, if necessary. Similarly, individual Working Group members should be able to meet or exchange sensitive information ‘offline’ and bring it to the group if they believe it would inform the deliberations. If a group identifies a requirement for discussion of classified or otherwise sensitive information, the government participants will identify any appropriate method and controls to do that.”

Mr. Nebbia said the need for a discussion of classified information during the process can probably be avoided, but he said it’s possible some “sensitive” spectrum issues could arise, such as the bandwidths of spectrum used for law enforcement surveillance, although he said agencies might be less sensitive in some cases after the experience of clearing their systems from the 1710-1755 MHz band.

Several CSMAC members said there is a need to ensure that each of the working groups is using the same assumptions for how the wireless networks will operate. “I really think that we do need to have an agreement on the kinds of parameters that are needed and … how the systems are going to be deployed,” said Charles Rush, a consultant for Qualcomm, Inc., and Aerospace Corp. But other panel members said that wasn’t possible.

“You’re not going to have a completely uniform approach,” said Bryan Tramont, managing partner of Wilkinson Barker Knauer LLP. He noted that all of the working groups will have industry representation and said the groups should communicate with each other.

Kevin Kahn, a technology policy consultant for Intel Corp., suggested that it would be adequate to make sure that any recommendations take into account the expected technical standards for wireless systems.

Janice Obuchowski, a former NTIA administrator and president of Freedom Technologies, Inc., a consulting firm, said she wanted to raise the “somewhat thorny question” about how agencies will have a “guarantee” that the FCC will endorse the same deployment architecture recommended by the CSMAC. She noted the difference between focusing on sharing or attempting to free up spectrum for exclusive use by wireless carriers.

Mr. Nebbia noted that each of the groups will have industry members, and he said NTIA will rely on them to come up with recommendations that reflect carrier parameters. He also said the FCC will have representation on each working group and noted the FCC worked with NTIA and industry in freeing up 5 gigahertz band spectrum years ago.

Regarding the $18 billion cost estimate for moving most federal systems from the 1755-1850 MHz band, which NTIA has not validated, Mr. Nebbia said those figures will be assessed as “part of a formal process” under the Commercial Spectrum Enhancement Act. He said the initial $900 million estimate to relocate agencies from the 1710-1755 MHz band was actually lower than the actual cost of about $1.5 billion. “Coming up with initial estimates is just that,” he said. He said he doesn’t expect the working groups to focus on “changing the numbers.”

In opening remarks at today’s meeting, Tom Power-deputy U.S. chief technology officer-telecommunications, acknowledged that “whether you’re a federal agency or a commercial provider, sharing is probably not the first option you would jump to in a perfect world,” adding that “exclusive access, if nothing else, bring some certainty.”

He also said that “sharing can encompass a lot of approaches,” including the use of databases such as those being used in the TV “white spaces,” cognitive radios, lower power, or small cells.

“We really are going to be looking at a more refined focus on what the needs of the federal agencies are, the costs and opportunities involved in relocating vs. staying put” and sharing,” said Mr. Power, NTIA’s former chief of staff. But he acknowledged that “getting certainty out of this process is certainly going to be hard.” He also stressed the need to both protect the classified nature of some government systems and the proprietary nature of commercial networks.

“There really is a ton of work to get done,” said NTIA Administrator Lawrence E. Strickling.

After the meeting, Mr. Strickling told TRDaily that he was pleased with the general sharing theme of a report approved Friday by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). The report calls for President Obama to issue a new spectrum memorandum calling for the immediate identification of 1,000 MHz of federal government spectrum for sharing with the private sector (TRDaily, May 25). Mr. Strickling said he has not yet seen the report, which has not been released publicly.

“We’re glad that they’re embracing the same high-level concept that we’ve got to do more of this through sharing,” Mr. Strickling said.

The CSMAC agreed that at least two of its subcommittees – ones dealing with spectrum sharing and the search for 500 MHz of spectrum for wireless broadband services – would go on hiatus during the process involving the 1755-1850 MHz and 1695-1710 MHz bands. More may do so as well.

During today’s meeting, J.H. Snider, an open-government advocate who is founder and president of iSolon.org, raised a point about why there was no public comment period scheduled. Brian Fontes, co-chair of the CSMAC, told Mr. Snider that was because today’s session was an “information meeting” that did not include discussion or votes on any reports. He said there is no plan to eliminate the public comment period at future such meetings. Mr. Snider also reiterated complaints about the CSMAC’s subcommittee process not being open to observers.- Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com

TRDaily – May 30, 2012

March 12, 2012

The Federal Agency You’ve Never Heard of
J.H. Snider’s Huffington Post article critiquing the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s management of spectrum, including its culture of secrecy.  For more information, see NTIA Corruption Initiative.

January 18, 2012

Pamela Wood, Senator pushes for elected school board, again, Capital, January 18, 2011.

In his latest attempt to promote an elected school board, state Sen. Bryan Simonaire has not one, not two, but three different bills for lawmakers to consider.

The Pasadena Republican thinks it unlikely his colleagues would reject all three bills. Two of them would make changes to the way school board members are picked and the third asks for a nonbinding referendum in which voters could share their preference.

“It’s wrong that people don’t have a voice in the process,” Simonaire said.

Although he presented his ideas yesterday to the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, his colleagues in the county House and Senate delegation will decide the fate of the bills.

Because the bills would affect only Anne Arundel County, they’re subject to the legislative custom of “local courtesy.” A majority of the county’s senators and delegates must support one or more of the bills to win approval from the rest of the General Assembly.

Simonaire thinks at least one of his bills will have support among delegates; Del. Tony McConkey, R-Severna Park, is sponsoring identical bills in the House of Delegates.

The senators are another matter. Simonaire’s past attempts to promote an elected school board have fallen short among the county’s five senators.

Sen. Ed Reilly, R-Crofton, publicly offered his support on Tuesday.

“I fully agree that things need to change, that it needs to be more responsive to the citizens,” Reilly said.

Simonaire said he’s lobbying to win support from a least one of the three other senators who represent parts of the county: John C. Astle of Annapolis, Ed DeGrange Sr. of Glen Burnie and Jim Rosapepe of College Park.

Anne Arundel’s system for selecting school board members has been in place since 2007.

A School Board Nominating Commission picks potential school board members, whose names are sent to the governor.

Once the governor appoints board members from the list and they’re in office, they are subject to a retention vote during the next election.

If a school board member is knocked out of office during a retention vote, the process starts over again.

Simonaire said the current system doesn’t allow for true public input into who would be best to serve on the school board.

As an example, he pointed to the fact that Democrats dominate the school board, while Republicans have majorities among the County Council and the House of Delegates.

According to county Board of Elections statistics, the voter registration breakdown in Anne Arundel is 43 percent Democrats, 37 percent Republicans, 19 percent unaffiliated and 1 percent belonging to third parties.

“What I’m looking for is a balance and a composition that looks like Anne Arundel County,” he said.

Simonaire has two options for changing the selection process:

Change the process to one similar to the way Circuit Court judges are selected. Board members would still be appointed by the governor from a list submitted by the nominating commission. But when the retention election rolls around, challengers could run against the sitting school board members.

Have seven nonpartisan members elected by voters, plus three members appointed by the governor, the county executive and the County Council, as well as the student member.

Only one person testified during a public hearing. Jim Snider, a parent and education activist from Severna Park, told the committee the bills should include provisions forcing the nominating commission to be more transparent.

Simonaire that said even if he fails to win support in Annapolis, he hopes his cause will gain traction among voters.

“My hope is that it will create a buzz in the community,” he said.

January 17, 2012

Personal Democracy Media, including TechPresidentEvery Bill Coming Before the House Should Soon Be Available Online in Machine-Readable Format
Personal Democracy Media’s TechPresident cites J.H. Snider on the U.S. House of Representatives’ new legislative information website.

December 15, 2011

Transparency committee starts talking
MarylandReporter.com cites J.H. Snider’s testimony at the inaugural meeting of the Maryland General Assembly’s Transparency Committee.


December 8, 2011

Government-wide Information Sharing for Democratic Accountability
The Center for Technology Innovation at the Brookings Institution publishes J.H. Snider’s paper on why the politics of using unique identifiers to track powerful political players across government databases may be less dismal than widely believed.  The Open Government Coalition gives it the lead spot in its weekly newsletter.  It was also covered in the U.K.’s Great Emancipator, the Campaign for a Stronger Democracy’s December Newsletter, and American City & County‘s December Newsletter.


November 19, 2011

Update on the White House’s new petition website 
J.H. Snider’s latest ruminations published on the National Coalition For Dialogue and Deliberation’s community news website.  The Campaign for a Stronger Democracy gives it the lead spot in its November Newsletter.

October 31, 2011

The Case of the Missing White House Petitions 
The Huffington PostJ.H. Snider’s Huffington Post article on the frustrations, including technical glitches, citizens experience using the White House’s new We The People petition website.  Daily Candy featured two quotes from the article, and Techpresident.com cited it when reporting on the White House’s subsequent announcement that it was working to fix the technical glitches.

October 31, 2011

White House responds to marijuana and God petitions
NextgovNextGov quotes from J.H. Snider’s October  20, 2011 article, What Is the Democratic Function of the White House’s We The People Petition Website?

October 20, 2011

What Is the Democratic Function of the White House’s We The People Petition Website?
The Huffington PostJ.H. Snider’s Huffington Post article critiquing the October 18, 2011 front page article in the Wall Street Journal, which is bereft of understanding the democratic purposes of a petition website.  America Speaks reposted it on its blog Campaign for a Stronger Democracy commented on it.

October 17, 2011

Could Federal Government Privacy Policy Kill Online News? 
The Huffington PostJ.H. Snider’s Huffington Post article discussing an underappreciated linkage between privacy policy and media policy.

October 11, 2011

The White House’s New We the People Petition Website
The Huffington PostJ.H. Snider’s Huffington Post article critiquing the White House’s new website facilitating the public’s First Amendment right to petition its government. The Wall Street Journal reposted it on its blog, and a week later ran a similar story on its front page.

September 6, 2011

A proposal to modernize public meeting spaces across Federal agencies 
The National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation publishes J.H. Snider’s letter to senior White House officials regarding the future design of public meeting spaces at Federal agencies.

August 30, 2011

Maryland’s Congressional Redistricting: Let’s Make it Transparent and Accountable
The Severna Park Patch publishes J.H. Snider’s written comments to Maryland’s Congressional redistricting committee regarding the transparencyt of its proceedings.

July 6, 2011

Making Public Community Media Accessible
The Center for Technology Innovation at the Brookings Institution publishes J.H. Snider’s paper on the need to rethink public policy regarding local public media, especially the design and use of public meeting rooms.  The paper is covered in the Deliberative Democracy Consortium’s newsletter and National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation’s monthly update.

June 9, 2011

Information Needs of Communties: The changing media landscape in a broadband age
Federal Communications CommissionIn its report on the future of public media, the FCC cites J.H. Snider in the text and six times in the footnotes–more than at least one think tank that received millions of dollars in foundation funding to help move this debate forward.

May 26, 2011

Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics announces fellows 
J.H. Snider appointed a non-residential Network Fellow at Harvard University’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics for the 2011-2012 academic year.

May 5, 2011

Rosetta Stone for corporate IDs would simplify accountability 
Federal Computer Week cites iSolon.org’s years of work addressing the need for governmentwide organizational identifiers.

April 20, 2011

General Assembly moves forward with more transparency, but there’s still a long way to go 
The Maryland Reporter cites J.H. Snider on the Maryland General Assembly’s transparency agenda and accomplishments during its recently completed 2011 session.

April 4, 2011

Open Government Advocate Blasts NTIA on Transparency 
TRDaily (Telecommunications Reports) cites J.H. Snider’s case study of federal agency compliance with the Obama Administration’s Open Government Initiative at the National Telecommunications and Information Administation (NTIA).

March 23, 2011

Maryland’s Open Meetings Act
Maryland Senate testimony by J.H. Snider on House Bill 48.

March 15, 2011

 

Sunshine WeekMaryland’s Public Information Act
Maryland Senate testimony by J.H. Snider on Senate Bill 740, an amended version of House Bill 37 (see February 1, 2011 below).

March 15, 2011

Joint Committee on Transparency and Open Government Act
Maryland Senate testimony by J.H. Snider on Senate Bill 644.

February 17, 2011

Maryland’s Open Meetings Act
Written comments to Maryland House of Delegates by J.H. Snider on  House Bill 48.

February 1, 2011

Maryland’s Public Information Act
Maryland House of Delegates testimony by J.H. Snider on House Bill 37.

October 22, 2010

Connecting the Dots for Democratic Accountability
The National Press Club
iSolon sponsored event at the National Press Club, 1:00 pm to 2:30 pm.  At the event, J.H. Snider presented his working paper: Connecting the Dots for Democratic Accountability: Semantic Web-Based Information Sharing Policy and the Future of Investigative Reporting.  An updated draft was posted here on Thursday, October 28, 2010.  The Powerpoint presentation of the paper can be found here.

June 24, 2010

Maryland to webcast more hearings, meetings over Internet
The MarylandReporter.com describes J.H. Snider’s critique  of yesterday’s announcement by Maryland’s Governor and other state leaders concerning government transparency.

June 14, 2010

Education WeekIt’s the Public’s Data: Democratizing School Board Records
Education Week publishes J.H. Snider’s article on using new information technology to enhance accees to public school board records.

June 3, 2010

Experts Debate Federal Spectrum Leasing, Transparency Proposals
TRDaily (Telecommunications Reports) cites J. H. Snider on the lack of transparency within the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).

May 30, 2010

The Capital (Annapolis, Maryland)

Troublemaker’ fights secrecy in government
The Capital(Annapolis, Maryland) publishes an article on J.H. Snider’s local open government efforts.

 

 

Eric Hartley, ‘Troublemaker’ fights secrecy in government,” Capital, May 30, 2010, p. C1.

 

Jim Snider has a theory about why it’s often so difficult to get information out of government agencies.

 

It goes like this: “The only people who want information are troublemakers.”

 

This, Snider believes, explains why he was regarded so suspiciously (and charged hundreds of dollars) when he asked for several years’ worth of County Council minutes. What was he up to, anyway?

 

Snider, who lives in Severna Park, is a political scientist by trade. He writes and speaks widely about “e-democracy” and has been a congressional staffer and a fellow at the New America Foundation.

 

Snider, 51, also trains his eye and pen on local politics, particularly the school system and county Board of Education. In his own professorial style, this rumpled academic is a relentless crusader for more information, better organized information and fewer barriers to access.

 

He scoffs at government officials’ excuses and explanations for not making information more accessible. And he exhibits a frank cynicism about their motivations.

 

Snider believes most bureaucrats and elected officials live by a philosophy he paraphrased from German sociologist Max Weber: “The less information you give out, the better off you are, period.”

 

Elected officials and staff deny up and down that they are secretive.

 

Bob Mosier, who as public information officer for county schools is often the target of Snider’s ire, said more things are going on the system’s website, aacps.org, all the time. Just recently, data on achievement, enrollment and out-of-area transfers were added to pages on individual schools in response to parent requests.

 

And Mosier, a former newspaper reporter and editor at The Capital and the Maryland Gazette, said his background as a journalist has led him to push employees to hand over information more readily.

 

What would government officials have to gain by making it difficult? In short, the more information you have, the easier it is to hold government officials accountable.

 

Snider competed for a seat on the school board and one in the House of Delegates, both in 2002. He lost, so he has concentrated on pushing for change as an outsider.

 

He runs a website called iSolon.org, named after the founder of Greek democracy, Solon, a hero of Snider’s. He said he operated his family dinner table as “an academic seminar,” and it showed. Two of his daughters, Pallas and Sage, served as student school board members.

 

Snider is now the vice chairman of the Citizen Advisory Committee, which gives regular reports to the school board.

 

He said he’s frustrated, though not surprised, by the pathetic level of citizen involvement in most civic bodies.

 

The county Board of Education gets to decide how to spend nearly $1 billion a year, yet for the most part only a few regulars show up at meetings. And almost no members of the public show up at the meetings of the School Board Nominating Commission, which picks school board members.

 

Why isn’t there more involvement or more outrage? Mainly because people don’t know what they don’t know.

 

Mosier said his office fields lots of requests for information of all kinds, so Snider is wrong to say only “troublemakers” want information.

 

“We’re getting more and more requests from parents as budgets get tighter and resources get more scarce and parents want to know why my child’s school can’t get funding until 2014,” he said, using a generic example.

 

But aside from reporters and parents with such concerns, the most frequent seekers of information include contractors who want details on construction projects, Mosier said. In other words, it’s mostly people with a vested interest who ask questions.

 

It’s true that a lot of routine information is released. But what about the information Mosier and his colleagues don’t want you to know?

 

Snider said he was once given a quote of $1 million when he requested school employees’ e-mails because he was seeking so many. School officials have said they can only keep most e-mail for 30 days because of technological limitations, and they charge a per-page fee for printouts of requested e-mails rather than providing them electronically.

 

If there was true dedication to openness, none of this would be the case.

 

For example, Google offers a free e-mail service to school systems that archives e-mails essentially forever and allows them to be searched in seconds by key word, date range, sender or recipient. Prince George’s County schools use this service, called Google Apps, in part because it makes it much easier to recover e-mail for investigations or legal discovery.

 

Snider sees some hope. As younger people who live online become parents, they will increasingly see how behind the times their government can be.

 

These issues can seem complicated. But Snider proposed a simple equation: “public = online.”

 

A lot of information is nominally public, but inaccessible in practical terms because of expense or some supposed technological hurdle.

 

If you can’t “Google the school board,” Snider said – and you cannot in any real sense – its work is not truly public.


May 24, 2010

Federal Trade Commission Staff Discussion Draft: Potential Policy Recommendations to Support the Reinvention of Journalism
The Federal Trade CommissionThe FTC discussion draft cites iSolon.org’s conflict-of-interest automation proposal six times (see March 10, 2010 presentation and working paper below).  The draft will be discussed at the FTC’s June 15, 2010 National Press Club event on the Future of Journalism.

May 8, 2010

 

2010 Freedom of Information Summit
The National Freedom Of Information CoalitionJ.H. Snider presents on Transparency in the Digital Age.  WikiFOIA summarized the summit here.

April 18, 2010

Maryland’s Fake Open Government
The Washington Post publishes J.H. Snider’s commentary on what’s wrong with open government in Maryland and how to fix it.  One proposal is to update Maryland’s Constitution.  For information on how that might happen, see MarylandConCon.org

Snider, J.H., Maryland’s Fake Open Government,Washington Post, April 18, 2010, p. C5.

Throughout the world, democracy has more legitimacy than authoritarianism. That’s why so many rulers profess more adherence to democratic norms than they practice. Classic illustrations include Russia, Iran and Venezuela, which political scientists characterize as “facade,” “pseudo” and “fake” democracy. America lacks such blatant democratic fakery, but less obvious forms can still thrive.

Fake transparency occurs when officials seek the democratic legitimacy but not the accountability that comes with open government. Fortunately, new information technology, which allows public records to be posted online the moment they are created, can deter such practices.

Laws requiring transparency are most effective in fostering democratic accountability when they force disclosure of politically controversial decisions. Unfortunately, right-to-know laws in Maryland and elsewhere tend to be weakest on exactly this type of access.

Over the years, I’ve made many requests for such information at all levels of government. Although federal transparency is hardly perfect, my worst experiences with government secrecy have been at the local level. Consider my experiences with the implementation of Maryland’s right-to-know laws in Anne Arundel County, where I live.

To find out how my County Council member voted during her term, I had to identify myself, pay $400 (25 cents a page for four years of written minutes) and endure an inquisition by council staff members who assumed that I had to be running for council.

To find out how much county public employees are paid (including benefits), I had to identify myself and endure harassing phone calls from employees (whom the public information officer alerted to my request), and then I didn’t even receive the information I was entitled to under Maryland law.

In response to my request for a copy of a printed public document, I was told that to save the county money, I had to access it online. But I was not told that the controversial part of the document was omitted from the online version.

When I alerted Maryland’s Open Meetings Law Compliance Board that the chair of a public body had held a special meeting to discuss controversial issues without the legally required public notice, the chair’s mere claim to have sent such notice — backed by no corroborating written evidence or testimony — was deemed adequate to satisfy the law.

While investigating whether members of a public body were violating the spirit of Maryland’s Open Meetings Law by conducting business via e-mail, I discovered that getting an answer to that question was impossible because the county destroys centralized e-mail records after 30 days and Maryland’s Public Information Act allows officials 30 days to respond to a request.

Admittedly, my county government has an award-winning Web site and happily provides tons of noncontroversial information. But in a democracy, the test of right-to-know laws is accessibility to the information that public officials don’t want to give you.

To address the problem of fake transparency, the simple principle that public equals online should be adopted. A bill recently introduced in Congress, the Public Online Information Act of 2010 , attempts to do this for the federal government and points the way for local governments, too.

During the just-concluded session of the Maryland General Assembly, a half-dozen government transparency bills were introduced (and failed to pass), but none was remotely as ambitious or simple in aspiration. The default transparency standard in the state should be that all documents subject to a Public Information Act request should be online and free to the public from the moment of their creation. Indeed, this transparency principle should be incorporated in the state constitution.

A key feature of the federal transparency bill is its separation of public record creation from control. Until now, the only practical option was to give the foxes control of the chicken coop; that is, creators of public records also had control of access to them. But with the advent of the Internet, this argument no longer holds. After a record is created, it can now be transferred to an independent body for immediate archiving and posting online, including automatic redaction of confidential information. In Maryland, the Maryland State Archives could take on such a role. This checks-and-balances principle of separating public record creation from control should also be made part of Maryland’s constitution.

Unfortunately, practical politicians have an incentive to care about the appearance but not the reality of open government. As a result, they have been slow to exploit the potential of new information technologies to reduce fake transparency and strengthen democracy. It is the job of voters to demand that they do so.

–The writer is president of iSolon.org.

April 4, 2010

A hotbed of techie agents of government transparency TheWashington Post cites J.H. Snider on the recent “TransparencyCamp” held in Washington, DC.

March 14, 2010

The Capital (Annapolis, Maryland)Sunshine Week:  Experts say access to online public records must expand
The Capital (Annapolis, Maryland) quotes J.H. Snider on Anne Arundel County’s compliance with not only only the letter but the spirit of Maryland’s right-to-know laws.  The Capital quotes Snider again in Open government for more than just a week, March 18, 2010.

March 10, 2010

How Will Journalism Survive the Internet Age?
The Federal Trade CommissionJ.H. Snider presents his proposal for using semantic web technologies to automate conflict-of-interest reporting at this FTC workshop.  The proposal consisted of apresentation (an audio recording of the presentation starts at 143:20) and accompanying working paper, both with the same title, “Automating Conflict-of-Interest Reporting.”

March 1, 2010

Scholars look to increase research on open government
NextgovNextgov, a publication of the National Journal Group, Inc., cites J.H. Snider on how elected officials’ agendas can set academic and foundation agendas, and the lag time between open government innovation and scholarly assessments of it.

March 1, 2010

The Stennis CenterHow can we strengthen two-way communication with the public and improve governing in the new media environment?
J.H. Snider’s presentation before the 111th Congress Stennis Congressional Staff Fellows Program.

February 19, 2010

International Association of Public ParticipationDeterring Fake Public Participation
The International Journal of Public Participation publishes J.H. Snider’s essay on the growing plague of fake public participation in America.

February 5, 2010

The Iowa IndependentReligious education at statehouse an example of what the public doesn’t know
The Iowa Independent cites J.H. Snider’s work on a rarely disclosed but important legislative perk.

January 22, 2010

Open Government: Defining, Designing, and Sustaining Transparency
Princeton UniversityJ.H. Snider presents his arguments on how the open government public policy debate should be framed at this two-day workshop sponsored by Princeton University’s Center for Information Technology Policy.   The video of Snider’s presentation begins at 38:00.

December 18, 2009

Debate the News:  Summarizing the Comments Submitted to the FTC
Free Press’s SaveTheNews.org includes iSolon.org’s comments in its roundup of comments submitted for the  Federal Trade Commission’s workshop on the future of journalism

July 28, 2009

Public more satisfied with agencies that pursue transparency online, study says
NextgovNextgov, a publication of the National Journal Group, Inc., cites J.H. Snider’s methodological critique of a market research firm’s report on the benefits to Federal agencies of improved transparency.

July 22, 2009

Automating Watchdog Reporting
Harvard Veritas LogoHarvard’s Nieman Watchdog publishes J.H. Snider’s article arguing for the development and implementation of a Bias Modeling Language to automate watchdog journalism.  This article launches iSolon.org’s BML Semantic Web Project.

July 4, 2009

Come On and Take a Free Ride
The Rumpus, an online magazine, discusses J.H. Snider’s Nieman Watchdog article on media free riding.

June 4, 2009

See full size imageShowMeTheSpending.org Coalition News
ShowMeTheSpending.org features J.H. Snider’s work on public school budget transparency.

May 20, 2009

Education WeekDemocratize School Budget Data
Education Week, the leading trade publication in K12 public education, publishes J.H. Snider’s commentary on how to use new information technologies to democratize public access to school budget data.  Cited in Open School Checkbook Registers, Bluegrass Institute, May 21, 2009, and An Argument for School-Level Budget Transparency, Reason Foundation, August 17, 2009.

Democratize School Budget Data

President Barack Obama has repeatedly said to the public that when it comes to education spending, “we need to hold ourselves accountable for every dollar we spend.” Rather than think of the president’s goal as a rhetorical flourish, why not take it seriously? Specifically, why not require all school checkbook expenditures to be made accessible online — and in a structured, downloadable database that would allow citizens to search for and slice and dice the data in whatever way they might want?

Historically, school districts have published and posted on their Web sites budget data in summary views only. Summary views answer questions such as how much a district spent on student transportation in general, but not on a particular bus route; how much it spent on energy in general, not at a particular school; and how much it spent on total employee benefits, not a particular benefit such as sick leave.

There are three primary reasons citizens should support breaking school officials’ monopoly on budget-summary views.

First, officials have a conflict of interest in providing summary views. Rational administrators can be expected to use summary views for purposes of public relations rather than democratic accountability. As a matter of common sense, they will hide controversial information within large, uncontroversial categories. Their summary views will answer questions that they, not citizens, would most like to have asked. The budget presentation will be like a politician’s press conference where the reporters can ask only preapproved questions.

Second, school officials cannot think of every useful budget summary, any more than Google can anticipate how hundreds of millions of Americans will search its data or a library can project how patrons will use its collection.

Third, unless citizens are given access to data down to the checkbook level, they cannot effectively integrate budget figures across different governments (for example, to compare two similar school districts two thousand miles apart) or with nonbudget data (to find out a school contractor’s lobbying expenditures, for instance).

The Obama administration has already made great strides in democratizing budget data. For example, it has plans to put online, at recovery.gov, all the expenditures in the $787 billion stimulus bill, including $97 billion for education. In launching this Web site, President Obama said: This is your money. You have a right to know where it’s going and how it’s being spent.”

The historical forces pushing governments to democratize budget and other data run deep. Congress has its own Web site, usaspending.gov, which lists the money spent on every federal contractor. The state of Missouri also has a database that provides searchable line-item expenditures for all grants, contracts, and pubhe-employee compensation.

Many federal databases also already provide raw data online in a structured, downloadable format, including data from the departments of Commerce (such as U.S. Census numbers) and Labor (a raft of labor statistics) and the Environmental Protection Agency (toxic-waste inventories and the like).

According to a survey conducted by Peyton Wolcott, a Texas-based educational transparency advocate, more than 2 percent of U.S. school districts had started posting their check registers online by February of this year. The first to do so were all in Texas, where an executive order issued in 2005 provided districts with a strong financial incentive to post their checkbooks. If they did so, they could avoid a mandate to spend at least 65 percent of their budgets in the classroom.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration is pushing to create national standards for local and State education data, so that comparisons across districts can easily be made. Although this effort is currently focused on studentassessment data, it should be extended to budget data.

Specifically, federal, state, and local education checkbooks should all be made available online in a single, standardized format using so-called semantic Web technologies, which make it possible to more easily search and use Web content. XBRL, an international data tagging language adopted by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for the financial reporting of public companies, could be the basis for such a standard. RDFa, a semantic Web technology endorsed by the World Wide Web Consortium, would allow decentralized structured data integration, just as Google compiles data from millions of Web sites into a single search engine.

Not all raw data collected by school systems should be, made public. Privacy concerns dictate that health claims, home addresses, and Social Security numbers not be disclosed. But privacy concerns are now being used to withhold far too much school budget data essential for democratic accountability.

At a minimum, no school system should be able to prevent access to computerized budget databases because checkbook records contain a mix of private and public data. Federal guidelines should require that all human-resource, student-attendance, and budget-software pro grams purchased by local school districts be able to automatically redact the private data and post the public online.

The information revolution has created unprecedented opportunities to democratize access to school data. But so far, few of them have been seized. With the. Obama administration committed to both a huge increase in education funding and more accountability for how those funds are spent, now is a good time to focus on democratizing access to budget data.

Such public access would still leave schools in the dark ages when it comes to using new information technology to enhance their democratic accountability. But it would help point them in the right direction, and send a strong signal to the public that enhancing schools’ democratic accountability, not merely their responsiveness to market forces, can and should be a powerful option in the toolkit of those seeking to make our schools more accountable to the public.

J.H. SNIDER is the president of iSolon.org. He is a former school board member and has written widely on education policy.

Source: Snider, J. H., Democratize School Budget Data, Education Week, 02774232, 5/20/2009, Vol. 28, Issue 32

May 12, 2009

Turkeys, Thanksgiving and Roll Call Voting Records
The Thicket At State LegislaturesKarl Kurtz,  the National Conference of State Legislatures’s expert on legislative institutions,  discusses J.H. Snider’s turkey paper in The Thicket at State Legislatures.

May 11, 2009

Journal of Information Technology & Politics

Would You Ask Turkeys to Mandate Thanksgiving? The Dismal Politics of Legislative Transparency
The Journal of Information Technology & Politics publishes the final version of J.H. Snider’s working paper researched during the Spring of 2008 while Snider was a Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government’s Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy.

May 5, 2009

Senate to Expand Transparency of Senate Votes: DeMint thanks Rules Committee for quick response
Following up on his May 1 press release (see below), Senator DeMint thanks the Senate leadership for acting so quickly on his recommendation.  The XML link, tucked inconspicuously and without explanation on the page for Senate floor roll call votes on the Senate, not Thomas website, can be found here.

May 1, 2009

DeMint Leads Bipartisan Effort To Make Senate Votes More Transparent: Democrats and Republicans urge modernizing Senate website with easily searchable XML vote database
In a press release announcing a letter to the U.S. Senate Committee on Rules and Administration seeking to make U.S. Senate roll call votes available to the public using the XML format, U.S. Senator Jim DeMint cites iSolon.org’s work on this issue.

April 27, 2009

Online voting records user unfriendly
PoliticoPolitico‘s Victoria McGrane cites J.H. Snider’s work on public access to legislators’ voting records. For more information, see Would You Ask Turkeys to Mandate Thanksgiving?  The Dismal Politics of Legislative Transparency (SSRN prepublication working paper version).  On May 6 McGrane wrote a follow-up story, Senate picks up the slack on data, mentioning the impact of her earlier story in getting the Senate to post its roll call votes in XML format.

March 18, 2009

Public School Systems Should Post Compensation Data Online
The Washington ExaminerThe Washington Examiner publishes J.H. Snider’s Sunshine Week commentary on the need to proactively disclose public expenditure data.

March 9, 2009

See full size imageShowMeTheSpending.org Coalition Partners
ShowMeTheSpending.org names iSolon.org a coalition partner.

February 18, 2009

Open Government Rhetoric Versus Reality
The Washington ExaminerThe Washington Examiner publishes J.H. Snider’s commentary on the politics of the recently passed digital TV legislation.

February 8, 2009

Need Teachers? Show Them the Money
The Washington Post publishes J.H. Snider’s commentary on the need for better public disclosure of teacher compensation data.  For a related commentary published in Education Week, see America’s Million-Dollar Superintendents.

February 3, 2009

Strengthen Think Tank Accountability
PoliticoPolitico publishes J.H. Snider’s commentary on the need for better public disclosure of think tank ethics and ethical conflicts.

July 14, 2008

Would You Ask Turkeys To Mandate Thanksgiving?  The Dismal Politics of Legislative Transparency
The Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy publishes J.H. Snider’s Working Paper #1.  Published in the Journal of Information Technology & Politics, May 2009.

November 12, 2008

Voting for Glass Houses
In the November/December issue of theColumbia Journalism Review, Michael Schudson and Danielle Haas report on J.H. Snider’s “Would You Ask Turkeys to Mandate Thanksgiving?”  On May 11, 2009, the Columbia Journalism Review followed up with another story on the same topic, Senate Goes XML: A quiet shift is hailed.

October 1, 2008

 

The Capital (Annapolis, Maryland)School board’s TV debut delayed
The Capital quotes J.H. Snider’s critique of excessively costly and undemocratic televised school board coverage.

July 14, 2008

Would You Ask Turkeys To Mandate Thanksgiving?  The Dismal Politics of Legislative Transparency
The Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy publishes J.H. Snider’s Working Paper #1.  Published in the Journal of Information Technology & Politics, May 2009.

February 28, 2008

OpenTheGovernment.org Coalition Partners
OpenTheGovernment.org names iSolon.org a coalition partner.

January 28, 2008

Four Spring Fellows Named
Editor & Publisher reports on the appointment of the four new Harvard Kennedy School of Government Shorenstein Center fellows for Spring Semester 2008, including iSolon.org’s J.H. Snider.

October 5, 2007

School Board Backs TV Idea
Baltimore Sun
 quotes J.H. Snider’s critique of local school system’s use of technology to cover itself.