Apparently, the Federal Aviation Administration doesn’t think very highly of the public.
That’s the impression I get after seeing this story in USA Today about the FAA wanting to stop the release of data on bird strikes and aircraft.
From the FAA’s justification, published in the Federal Register:
The complexity of the information warrants care with its interpretation; releasing this information without benefit of proper analysis would not only produce an inaccurate perception of the individual airports and airlines but also inaccurate and inappropriate comparisons between airports/airlines. Requests for data within the FAA National Wildlife Strike Database have typically been for specific data fields, individual airports or detailed portions of the database. Responses from the FAA have addressed each request individually and adequately. Airports voluntarily report bird strike data to understand their wildlife hazards better and to streamline allocating wildlife mitigation funding. Inaccurate portrayals of airports and airlines could have a negative impact on their participation in reporting bird strikes. It is the willingness of airports to participate, to better understand, and to better address their unique set of wildlife hazards that highlights why voluntary reporting works.
[Translation: "This is complex stuff, and the general public is too stupid to figure it out. Also, we're afraid aviation professionals will be less likely to report wildlife strikes if they know the information will be released."]
As the former head of the National Transportation Safety Board, James Hall, told the Associated Press:
To have the government actually chill public access to safety information is a step backward. Public awareness is an essential part of any strong safety program.
The FAA proposal comes on the heels of the crash-landing of US Airways Flight 1549, which landed in New York’s Hudson River in January after striking a flock of geese. The plane’s captain, Chesley Sullenberger, was lauded as a hero worldwide for his quick action in the accident, which resulted in no injuries or deaths.
Here in Oklahoma, we used the data, the National Wildlife Strike Database, to report on a deadly small plane crash last year in Oklahoma City. Witnesses reported that the plane hit some birds as it was flying near Lake Overholser.
What’s interesting about the FAA’s proposal is that it appears to fly in the face of President Obama’s declaration of openness in the federal government. Maybe the FAA’s administrators haven’t received the memo yet?
Also, the FAA’s justification seems a little suspect, especially since other countries require this type of information to be collected. Also, the U.S. airline industry appears to be fine with mandatory collection of this information. From a recent safety newsletter:
Sandy Wright of the USDA reported that birdstrikes in the US continue to increase due to bird population increases, bird adaptation to urban living, quieter aircraft engines and other causes. There is currently no FAA metric for ascertaining if risk is being mitigated. It was felt that mandatory reporting of strikes would increase the usefulness of the database. During discussion Mont Smith of the Air Transport Association (ATA) stated that the ATA would no longer oppose mandatory reporting of birdstrikes. Later, in a separate conversation, Smith said that, regarding the implementation of mandatory reporting of birdstrikes, the ATA would be “…taking it to Washington and getting the job done”.
It’s not too late to comment on the FAA proposal, either. You have until April 20 to have your say.
Following on from President Obama’s declaration of openness in his first day of office, the nation’s attorney general, Eric Holder, today issued new Freedom of Information Act guidelines for federal agencies.
From the Department of Justice’s press release:
“By restoring the presumption of disclosure that is at the heart of the Freedom of Information Act, we are making a critical change that will restore the public’s ability to access information in a timely manner,” said Attorney General Holder. “The American people have the right to information about their government’s activities, and these new guidelines will ensure they are able to obtain that information under principles of openness and transparency.”
I would like to emphasize that responsibility for effective FOIA administration belongs to all of us–it is not merely a task assigned to an agency’s FOIA staff. We all must do our part to ensure open government.
He also says that agencies should post information in advance of a request:
Open government requires agencies to work proactively and respond to requests promptly. The President’s memorandum instructs agencies to “use modern technology to inform citizens what is known and done by their Government.” Accordingly, agencies should readily and systematically post information online in advance of any public request. Providing more information online reduces the need for individualized requests and may help reduce existing backlogs.
I was among the presenters on Saturday at FOI Oklahoma’s Sunshine Conference here in Oklahoma City.
The final panel of the morning was about government transparency on the Web. On the panel with me were Mark Mitchell, general manager of OK.gov; state Rep. Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie; and Joey Senat, associate professor of journalism at Oklahoma State University.
Senat talked about FOI Oklahoma’s survey results of state and local government Web sites. (You can read a wrap-up of the results here.) Rep. Murphey talked about his efforts to put more government information online, including a pending bill (HB 1032) to modernize the state’s procurement practices. It also would put online transactions made with state credit cards.
Mitchell, who is in charge of the state’s Web portal for e-government contractor NIC Inc., discussed the technical and practical limitations of putting government data and information online. He also announced that OK.gov is about to get a makeover, with a whole host of new tools to make finding and searching for state data a little easier.
Here’s my short presentation, which was geared mostly toward journalists and others seeking data from government agencies:
Here’s a few more links to some other background material for my presentation:
Over the weekend, FOI Oklahoma Inc. selected the Oklahoma A&M Board of Regents and administration of Oklahoma State University for the organization’s annual Black Hole award, given to entities that “thwarted the public’s right to know.” Regents fired back Sunday in a news release.
Here’s more background about the award from an e-mail sent today to the FOI Oklahoma listserv by Joey Senat, associate professor of journalism at OSU:
FOI Oklahoma Inc.’s 2009 Black Hole Award is given to the Oklahoma A&M Board of Regents and Oklahoma State University administration for routinely conducting the public’s business outside of the public’s view.
The Daily O’Collegian reported in April that the nine regents, who govern five colleges and universities including OSU, secretly discuss proposals among themselves and with school officials prior to the public meetings. The student-run newspaper also told of the stance by OSU administrators that the public’s business conducted on officials’ privately owned smart phones could be kept secret.
The newspaper revealed that when regents object to proposals by the schools they oversee, university leaders withdraw them from consideration before the agenda is made public 24 hours in advance of the meeting.
The result was almost no discussion in front of the public and only unanimous votes since at least January 2006, the newspaper found.
Regents defended making decisions regarding their $1 billion annual operation this way because most of their matters are “routine in nature” and it saves time at the formal meetings.
“Otherwise, we’d be there for three or four days,” board Chairwoman Lou Watkins told the newspaper.
But open government advocates said the regents’ decision-making practices hide key discussions from the public and seem to violate the intended spirit, if not the letter, of Oklahoma’s Open Meeting Act.
Oklahoma legal authorities have articulated the importance of discussing the public’s business in public.
“An open deliberative process reveals rejected alternatives about which the public might not know,” according to an Oklahoma attorney general opinion binding upon state agencies. “Public access to a mere ‘rubber stamp’ vote is all but useless.”
And more than 30 years ago, the Oklahoma Supreme Court said, “If an informed citizenry is to meaningfully participate in government or at least understand why government acts affecting their daily lives are taken, the process of decision making as well as the end results must be conducted in full view of the governed.”
The Daily O’Collegian also reported that OSU President Burns Hargis and several hundred other university employees conduct the public’s business on their smart phones or cell phones.
OSU administrators claimed the related text-messages, e-mails and numbers dialed are secret. They contended that the ownership of the cellular device, not the substance of its related records, should decide whether those records are public.
But under that philosophy, open government advocates noted, any university-related documents created by officials on their personal computers would be secret, too.
Courts and attorneys general in other states have rejected the reasoning used by OSU officials, holding that it is the nature of the record created that determines if it is open to the public.
The Daily O’Collegian’s stories can be found at:
In response to the regents’ news release, Senat also notes that while regents do post meeting agenda online, the agenda of special meetings or committees is nowhere to be found.
(Full disclosure: I am a member of FOI Oklahoma Inc.)
Early registration has come and gone, but it’s still not too late to register for Oklahoma Sunshine ’09: Because It’s Your Right to Know. The conference begins at 9 a.m. Saturday, March 14 at The Oklahoman, 9000 North Broadway in Oklahoma City. The event will help kick off Sunshine Week, which is March 15-21.
The conference costs $35, which includes lunch and a one-year membership with FOI Oklahoma Inc. For college and high school students, admission is $20. It’s free for current FOI Oklahoma members.
Sessions will cover freedom of information and transparency bills before the Legislature; requesting public records; and government transparency on the Web.
Winners of FOI Oklahoma Inc.’s Freedom of Information awards will be announced over lunch.
I managed to spend a couple of hours this morning checking out the exhibits at the 15th Annual GIS Day at the Capitol. I would have liked to have spent a little longer, but what I did see while I was there impressed me.
Both Carter County GIS and the Chickasaw Nation had the latest maps and before and after aerial pictures of the deadly Feb. 10 tornado that hit Lone Grove. And the Oklahoma County Assessor had the damage assesments from the other tornado that day that sliced through Oklahoma City and Edmond.
I also learned that the good folks at Tinker Air Force Base are using GIS and GPS to track not only military operations, but the movements of the Texas Horned Lizard. It turns out a small population of the lizards are on base, said Natural Resources biologist Ray Moody.
Oklahoma is the latest state to have a dedicated Web site for federal stimulus oversight and transparency. The site went live on Friday with very little fanfare from state officials.
In all, the Oklahoma is expected to get about $2.6 billion from the massive $787 billion federal stimulus bill signed into law last month. Here’s a quick breakdown of the money from the state’s Web site:
With the launch, Oklahoma joins more than 20 other states with official stimulus/recovery Web sites.
From the site’s introduction:
In February of 2009, President Obama and the U.S. Congress approved the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to help kick-start the nation’s economy. The landmark measure includes targeted tax relief and significant investments in such vital areas as education, transportation, healthcare, science and technology and energy-efficiency.
In an effort to ensure full transparency and accountability, Gov. Brad Henry ordered the creation of a state Web site to help track the use of Oklahoma stimulus funds. This site will provide the citizens of Oklahoma access to clear and concise information about the federal stimulus initiative.
The Web site fulfills the transparency side of the equation. Henry last week appointed state Auditor and Inspector Steve Burrage to oversee stimulus spending in the state.
As part of that oversight, Burrage will make sure agencies are following the stimulus’ rules for responsible spending. From the FAQs:
* Strict time limits for obligating funds;
* Public access to contract and grant information;
* Requirements for competitive contracting;
* Certifications by the Governor or local officials that infrastructure expenditures have been reviewed and are an appropriate use of tax dollars; and
* Reports on how the state distributes funds it receives, the estimated number of new or saved jobs, tax increases averted and other information.
You can also sign up for alerts when new information on stimulus funds is released by state agencies.
I confess: I’m a map geek.
At home, I’ve got several historic maps of my native Scotland hanging on the wall, and I seek out old maps whenever I’m on vacation.
Those old maps give me a sense of place and history, but there’s nothing outdated about the maps that will be on display Wednesday, March 11, at the Capitol in Oklahoma City. The 15th Annual GIS Day will be from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the First and Fourth Floor rotunda.
Almost 50 different exhibitors will be showing how they use maps and Geographic Information Systems technology to make decisions and deploy resources. The show is organized by the Oklahoma Geographic Information Council.
Shellie Willoughby, one of the organizers, said increased participation from public and private agencies led to the show being expanded to two floors this year. (Here’s some pictures from last year.)
“The goal is to educate state officials and the public to let them know how people are using GIS,” Willoughby said. “We’ve got everyone from county assessors to the Tax Commission and weather agencies using GIS daily.”
The exhibitors will have hands-on GIS demonstrations, presentations and plenty of maps. Making a return appearance will be students from the McClain County 4-H, who have set up a group called “GeoClovers” to use their mapping and GIS knowledge in the community.
Willoughby said popcorn and roasted almonds will also be available for visitors. Here’s a list of exhibitors this year:
Mineral and Energy Data Systems
Gov. Brad Henry has appointed state Auditor and Inspector Steve Burrage as the cop who will keep track of federal stimulus money in Oklahoma.
“In light of the size and scope of the stimulus package, complete transparency is essential to ensure public confidence,” said the governor. “Oklahoma taxpayers need and deserve to know how every dollar will be spent in our state. By posting all information on the web and having the auditor oversee the process, we can bolster public trust and ensure an informed citizenry.”
Apparently, the state will use its existing Open Books site to add a section for stimulus transparency.