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Open Government: How Important Is It to You?

May 26th, 2007 by Halli

Have you ever had the “pleasure” of making a request for information from a government entity? If so, chances are you’ve been put off, delayed, belittled and/or even lied to.

Why is government so reluctant to let you, a citizen, see what is actually happening in those offices, sometimes behind closed doors? The answers are pretty straight forward: bureaucrats will tell you they are so busy that there’s no time to look up information you are requesting. Sometimes they will try to discourage you by quoting an inflated fee for retrieving the information. And sometimes you are requesting information that will embarrass folks whose salary you pay with your tax dollars.

It is incredibly important to remain firm in your determination and not become dissuaded from your quest. Remember that access to information is your right by law. The federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and state and local FOIA’s specify what information you must be given if you request it. And generally it must be provided in a reasonable length of time and for a reasonable fee (if any).

Do your homework before you make a request so there will be no surprises when you show up in front of a government worker, who quite possibly would like to quash your efforts. If you’ve researched applicable FOIA laws, you will know when you are being deflected or put off and can insist that government employees follow the law. If you still can’t make headway, follow the chain of command up the line until you get satisfaction. If you have to go to the state attorney general, so be it. Never give up.

One of the newer and more exciting organizations working for open government is the Sam Adams Alliance. Be sure to read or listen to a recent post by Paul Jacobs entitled Not Sexy, Just Important. And check out the Sam Adams Alliance “Tool Kit” for tried and true tips for effective grass roots activism.

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