Open government progress report: July, 2011
It has been just over a year since the Department of Justice published its Open Government Plan 1.1. In the past year the offices, boards, divisions and components of the Department have continued to post new data to their web pages and also to www.data.gov; they have updated and published personnel directories; and testimony by senior Department officials before Congress has been centralized in one easy-to-find location.
Since our Open Government One-Year Assessment in April 2011 , we can report the following progress on multiple fronts grouped under the three prongs of the President’s Open Government Initiative: transparency, collaboration and participation.
The Department of Justice (DOJ or Department) has made several improvements to its new Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) website entitled FOIA.Gov, specifically including improvements made in response to feedback received from users of the site. (In its Open Government Plan, the Department’s flagship initiative was the FOIA Dashboard, which was later greatly expanded into FOIA.Gov.)
First, to make it easier to locate FOIA contact information for any of the 97 agencies subject to the law, the Department added a new “FOIA Contacts” button on the top of the FOIA.Gov home page. This button remains visible on all pages so that at any point during a visit to the site, the user can readily turn to the page where agency FOIA contact information is provided.
Second, a series of changes was made to the “Data” page. The instructions for running reports were improved; a “play” button is now included when there is a video that corresponds to the subject of the report being run, thereby better integrating the videos into the site; and there is now a note and a corresponding icon to alert users that reports can be downloaded into a CSV file.
Third, the “News” page has been redesigned to include the “FOIA Spotlight” stories from the home page, as well as FOIA news from the Office of Information Policy’s FOIA Post articles.
Fourth, the “Feedback” page has been simplified to make it easier to submit feedback.
Lastly, on the “FOIA Contacts” page the Department has added the capacity to print all the contact information from any selected agency. DOJ will continue to add features and make other enhancements to the site over time.
The Office of Information Policy or OIP reorganized the old FOIA “Reading Room” for the Department’s senior management offices into a newly structured, more user-friendly “FOIA Library.” In the FOIA Library documents are divided into two categories, Operational Documents and FOIA-Processed Documents.
Operational documents include policy statements, staff manuals and final opinions and orders. The FOIA-Processed documents are those documents that have been disclosed, in full or in part, in response to a FOIA request; have been frequently requested; or which OIP determines are likely to be of interest to the public. OIP’s FOIA Library also links to the FOIA Libraries (or Reading Rooms) of all the other Department components, making it easy to see what has been posted. The new organization is more user-friendly and highlights more recent documents.
In addition, in July, 2011, OIP completed an assessment of all federal agencies’ FOIA administration from last fiscal year, scoring them on multiple factors connected with implementation of the Attorney General’s FOIA Guidelines. Each agency was assigned a score of green, yellow or red for each factor that was rated. The assessment is public on OIP’s website: http://www.justice.gov/oip/2011-cfo-reports.pdf.
The Department of Justice scored green on every factor but one, having exhibited success in applying the presumption of openness, including increasing its releases in response to FOIA requests, ensuring that its systems for handling requests are efficient, increasing its proactive disclosures, and utilizing technology. Although the Department had a slight increase in its backlog, and so did not score green on that one factor, it did close its ten oldest requests and appeals, and so scored green on that vital aspect of backlog management.
As of June 29, 2011, the Department had published 132 data sets on both www.data.gov, and the Department’s own site on its open page, http://www.justice.gov/open/data.html. DOJ components providing data sets include:
Antitrust Division (ATR) - 7
Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) - 62
Civil Division (CIV) - 3
Civil Rights Division (CRT) - 2
Department of Justice (DOJ) - 3
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) -10
Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) - 1
US Attorney’s Office (USAO) - 1
US Trustee Program (USTP) - 43
Included in the 132 data sets are five that DOJ also contributed to www.law.data.gov.
The three most frequently visited DOJ data sets are:
National Corrections Reporting Program, with 1004 visits and 960 downloads. This program gathers data on prisoners entering and leaving the custody or supervision of state and federal authorities. The dataset comprises three types of data: prisoners who were admitted to prison (Part 1), released from prison (Part 2), or released from parole (Part 3). The National Prison Statistics (NPS) program was established in 1926 by the Bureau of the Census in response to a congressional mandate to compile national information on the populations confined in correctional institutions.
RECA Claims as of [date] by State/Country, with 988 visits and 976 downloads. The report from the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act program reflects the number of claims filed, pending, denied, approved, and compensation awarded, based on the state and in certain cases, the country of the individual claimant.
RECA Claims Summary Report, with 817 visits and 782 downloads. The report includes two tables. The first table is a count of receipts (new claim filing) and reflects the number of receipts since FY 1992. The second table reflects the number of claims awarded and denied, with award amounts for each fiscal year since 1992.
Legal research and historical interest
The Department’s Library Staff, working with the OCIO E-Gov Staff, on July 19, 2011, posted 28 digitized legislative histories on the DOJ website for public use. These histories track the development and passage of laws that were deemed of interest to the Department, or in which the Department took a vital role. Another six digitized legislative histories will be added in the near future. The Legislative Histories can now be accessed via the top navigation ‘Resources’ -- ‘Legislative Histories’ dropdown option on the DOJ Internet home page as well as through the following direct link: http://www.justice.gov/jmd/ls/legislative_histories/legislative-histories.html
The Library Staff is also working closely with the E-Gov Staff to begin posting digitized speeches of the Attorneys General, beginning with Janet Reno and working backwards. Links to each of the Attorneys General digitized speeches will be added to the existing AG biography pages as they are posted. This was done in January 2011 for Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy’s speeches to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his swearing-in: http://www.justice.gov/ag/aghistpage.php?id=63
In its April 2011 report, the Department noted that electronic filing for registration statements and other documents filed under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA, would soon be launched. The FARA eFile system was successfully rolled out on April 15, 2011. The National Security Division, which oversees the FARA, is currently working with Data.gov to make the FARA data accessible on that site. This will enable even more search flexibility than the existing search interface, which is currently available to the public at www.fara.gov. Although the eFile system for FARA was not a part of the Department’s original Open Government Plan, many public commenters had expressed strong interest in such a system during the period when public input was being solicited for the Plan.
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The Department’s collaborative efforts with other federal agencies, state and local law enforcement partners and other interested stakeholders has continued to be critical in fulfilling DOJ’s three core missions: preventing terrorism and promoting national security; preventing crime, enforcing federal laws and representing the rights and interests of the American people; and ensuring the fair and efficient administration of justice.
Some recent examples of collaboration include:
Strategy to Combat Transnational Organized Crime
On July 25, 2011, at the White House, the Attorney General announced a new strategy that seeks to build, balance and integrate the tools of American power to combat transnational organized crime threats to national and international security. The strategy aims to disrupt and dismantle transnational illicit networks and converging threats and will urge international partners to join the effort. Other federal entities involved include: the Department of Homeland Security; the Department of State; The Department of the Treasury; the U.S. Agency for International Development; the Office of National Drug Control Policy; and the Office of the Director for National Intelligence.
Supportive School Discipline InitiativeStrategy to Combat Transnational Organized Crime
On July 21, 2011, along with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, the Attorney General announced this initiative to support good discipline practices that can help stop the “school-to-prison-pipeline.” The initiative will work with federal, state and local education and justice stakeholders to ensure that our educational system is a doorway to opportunity, not a point of entry to the criminal justice system. The two departments will also coordinate with non-profit and philanthropic groups including the Council of State Governments and the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, who have identified inappropriate school discipline methods in an effort to help students succeed.
On June 17, 2011, the Attorney General met in Philadelphia with Secretary for Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius to address the urgent and complex challenge of health care fraud. The U.S. Attorney had convened a working group of health care providers, insurers, prosecutors, fraud investigators and auditors and other federal, state and local law enforcement officials to discuss and develop an innovative, proactive and collaborative approach to this widespread problem. This summit and the working group are part of the continuing efforts of the collaboration begun in May 2009 by the two departments that is known as HEAT, for Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team. Since the effort began, nearly $8 billion in judgments, settlements, fines, restitutions and forfeitures has been recovered.
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As noted in the Department’s Open Government Plan, much of DOJ’s national security, law enforcement and legal counseling functions require it to maintain strict confidentiality regarding critical information. However, the Department’s leaders are committed to helping the public better understand its actions through a more transparent and participatory process whenever possible. Examples of such engagement with the public and different stakeholders follow.
Tribal Justice Listening Session
On July 27-28, 2011, Attorney General Eric Holder, Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli and other senior DOJ leaders, met with tribal leaders in Rapid City, S.D., and on the Pine Ridge Reservation, to hear from advocates in the fields of tribal safety and domestic violence. The sessions were held under the auspices of the Native American Issues Subcommittee, and coincided with the first anniversary of the Tribal Law and Order Act. The administration believes that despite the new law, the current legal structure for prosecuting domestic violence in Indian Country is not well-suited to combating the epidemic of crime and domestic violence. The meeting, also attended by 30 U.S. attorneys from around the country, was viewed as a unique opportunity for the discussion of public safety issues in Indian Country with the nation’s top law enforcement officers.
National Intertribal Youth Summit
Also, just prior to the listening session, the Justice Department, along with the White House and other agencies, hosted the National Intertribal Youth Summit in Santa Fe, N.M., from July 24-28, 2011, for 150 tribal youth from around the country to engage directly with officials regarding issues important to their communities. The Department launched the Youth Summit initiative to hear directly from youth in Indian Country and to promote long-term improvement in public safety in tribal communities. The week-long summit focused on listening to youth regarding such issues as more culturally appropriate prevention, early intervention, treatment, rehabilitation and reentry programs for tribal youth and their families.
On July 20, 2011, officials of the Justice Department and the Environmental Protection Agency participated in a public listening session in Alabama, to discuss the impact of pollution in inner-city neighborhoods, including issues affecting the Black Warrior River basin, recently listed as one of America’s Most Endangered Rivers. The listening session was held in Ensley, a western Birmingham neighborhood that has been plagued by flooding and pollution for decades. Environmental justice is a major priority for both the Department and EPA, and underscores the importance of providing full protection for all Americans, regardless of race, ethnicity or income status, from pollution, hazardous waste and toxic substances.
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Science and Research
The Department is committed to continuing to explore and implement science and evidence-based approaches to criminal justice and public safety. For example:
On June 22, 2011, the Department’s Office of Justice Programs launched a new website, http://www.crimesolutions.gov, to serve as a central and credible resource for practitioners and policymakers about what works in criminal justice, juvenile justice and crime victim services. The new site, CrimeSolutions.gov, was launched as part of the Evidence Integration Initiative first announced by Assistant Attorney General Laurie Robinson in 2009. The site includes information on justice-related programs and assigns evidence ratings to indicate whether the program achieved its goals. This online clearinghouse will allow practitioners to access the best available evidence about the most effective public safety strategies.
The new website provides a searchable, online database that serves as a tool for law enforcement, state agencies, judges, Congressional staff and researchers to investigate programs and learn whether they are worth copying. The various programs are reviewed by experts selected by the Department and are given ratings – effective, promising or no effects – based on solid program evaluation evidence.
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