Thank you Chairman Mendelson. Today, along with Councilmember Cheh, I am introducing the Strengthening Transparency and Open Access to Government Amendment Act of 2016.
Since joining the Council of the District of Columbia, I have advocated for more openness and transparency in our government. It is my strong belief that an open and transparent government is more likely to be an effective and ethical government—a good government. When we open up the government for our residents to see, it increases confidence in our work, and lets the public highlight areas for improvement. Our Council and the D.C. government have been leaders in this area, with a long-standing and strong Freedom of Information Act and more recently the Open Meetings Act and the Open Government Office Act.
The legislation I am introducing today would strengthen all three of these existing laws. This bill codifies many of the open data practices already in use by our agencies including making datasets and information available proactively, and in accessible formats. This bill establishes in D.C. law the principle that if government information is deemed appropriate to share with one person under a Freedom of Information Act request, it should be shared with everyone and ought to be proactively published. The bill makes the Freedom of Information Act appeals process more objective by shifting that function to the independent Office of Open Government. The bill expands reporting requirements for agencies and the Council, while also allowing agencies more time to respond to requests.
The bill strengthens the Open Meetings Act by requiring that a public meeting is one where the public is permitted to be present, creating a complaint process for alleged violations, and a private right of action for residents when a meeting that should be open is improperly closed. The bill requires the Mayor to publish information about appointees to governmental boards and commissions in a centralized location and to collect demographic data about appointees. And the bill strengthens the Office of Open Government, which I think needs more resources even under its current role, which is why I recently asked the Mayor to include additional money in her FY17 budget for the Office. Having an open and accountable government is something we should constantly strive for in D.C.
Numerous advocates as well as the Office of Open Government helped me write this bill, and I am thankful for their efforts. I am also thankful for Mayor Bowser’s commitment to transparency, including the new initiatives she announced last week, which this legislation complements. I yield the remainder of my time to my co-introducer, Councilmember Cheh, and I welcome any co-sponsors.