Washington eBulletin – November 2019

A Look Ahead

Congress Debates Bills To Improve Access to Government Data and Information

With just a few weeks until the end of the first session of the 116th Congress, lawmakers and their staffs are working quickly on must-pass legislation–including funding proposals to keep the federal government open past Thanksgiving. Beyond the must-pass items, the House and Senate are also busy considering legislation on improving access to grant data and expanding freedom of information.

On October 21, the Senate voted unanimously in favor of the Grant Reporting Efficiency and Agreements Transparency (GREAT) Act (H.R. 150). The GREAT Act would modernize federal grant reporting and increase transparency by establishing searchable and machine-readable data standards for the information grantees must report to agencies. The bill would ease research on federal grant reporting by transforming disconnected documents into open data, as well as support greater oversight and accountability of the grant-making process. The GREAT Act passed the House of Representatives 422-0 in January. The bill will now return to the House for a vote on the changes made in the Senate.

AALL is urging Senators to support the Open and Responsive Government Act (S. 2220), which strengthens the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by ensuring continued access to information that has regularly been disclosed through FOIA but is now at risk of being hidden from public view. AALL’s new one-pager explains how the bill protects against efforts to weaken FOIA following a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Food Marketing Institute v. Argus Leader Media that expanded the scope of what is considered “confidential” information. The bill will prevent agencies from unnecessarily redacting information and reinforces FOIA’s presumption of openness and transparency.

Changes Coming to the Washington eBulletin 

Starting in January 2020, the Washington eBulletin will shift to a biannual publication schedule, with more regular government relations updates moving to the AALL eNewsletter and Weekly eNews. Chapter and SIS news, including news related to advocacy, may be submitted for publication in the AALL eNewsletter’s Community Corner. Submissions should be sent to Heather Haemker at hhaemker@aall.org.

Roundup and Review

  • AALL sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee in support of the Electronic Court Records Reform Act (S. 2064) to modernize and provide free access to the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) system. The letter urges Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) to support bringing the bill to the Senate floor as soon as possible.
  • The White House nominated Hugh Nathanial Halpern to be director of the Government Publishing Office. Mr. Halpern previously served as the director of floor operations in the Office of the Speaker of the House of Representatives before retiring in January 2019. AALL looks forward to learning more about the nominee.