Agenda for 2019

Better open government laws, including adding coverage of charter schools to public records and open meetings laws

The Coalition has proposed full rewrites of the laws in past years and may do so again. A specific change the Coalition will support is to require charter school boards to follow open meetings law and to require schools to respond to requests for records under the D.C. Freedom of Information Act. Our testimony explaining why this is important is here and here.

Better access to information for Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners

About 300 elected commissioners serve two-year terms to represent their districts (of about 2,000 residents) on 40 Advisory Neighborhood Commissions. The ANCs’ main job is to be their neighborhood’s official voice in advising the District government (and Federal agencies) on things that affect their neighborhoods. Although they are not required to follow the ANCs’ advice, District agencies are required to give the ANCs’ recommendations “great weight.” And District law says that agencies cannot take any action that will significantly affect a neighborhood unless they give the affected ANCs 30 days advance notice. This includes zoning, streets, recreation, education, social services, sanitation, planning, safety, budget, and health services. Several commissioners have asked the Coalition to review their situation and advise how they can get the government information they need to do their job.

Monitoring D.C. Office of Open Government as new director and Ethics oversight board take charge

The law was changed in 2018 to place the formerly independent Office of Open Government and its director under the Board of Ethics and Government Accountability. These changes threaten the ability of the office to enforce the Open Meetings Act and review agencies’ FOIA implementation. The Coalition opposed the changes and will monitor their effect in 2019.

Improving user experience in the online request process for public records (D.C. FOIAXpress)

The online “portal” used by thousands to request public records under D.C. FOIA has demonstrated shortcomings in the years since the District in 2014 selected a vendor’s software for the job. The Coalition has urged in testimony [link] that the Council direct a review of the system and will work with the Office of the Chief Technology Officer to see that user views are fully considered before the contract is renewed.

Evaluating the latest form of proactive government publishing – D.C. “open data”

Under a 2017 order from the mayor, the District has been cataloguing its data to decide which can be made public. The first step, a data inventory and analysis of privacy issues in each data set, was done in 2018. The Coalition will review the work to date and offer advice based on best practices in other cities, states, and the federal OPEN Government Data Act, just enacted and signed by the President in January 2019.