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Sunshine Week: In Celebration of Open Government
March 12, 2013 Posted by

The following post appears courtesy of Melanie Ann Pustay, Director of the Office of Information Policy at the Department of Justice and Lisa Ellman, Chief Counselor for the Open Government Partnership and Senior Advisor to the Chief Technology Officer at the White House. It originally appeared on The White House blog.

As President Barack Obama has stated, “Openness will strengthen our democracy, and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.” This week, we celebrate Sunshine Week — an appropriate time to discuss the importance of open government and freedom of information, and to take stock of how far we have come, and think about what more can be done.   

In the spirit of Sunshine Week, the White House will highlight one initiative a day which demonstrates the Obama Administration’s continued commitment to open and accessible government. Today, we will focus on progress made improving the administration of the FOIA. As Justice Louis Brandeis wrote, “sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” In our democracy, FOIA, which encourages accountability through transparency, is the most prominent expression of a profound national commitment to ensuring an open government. 

As President Obama declared in his landmark Memorandum on the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) issued on his first full day in Office:  “A democracy requires accountability, and accountability requires transparency.”  The FOIA – which provides the public with a statutory right to request and receive information from their government – is a key way in which government transparency is realized. 

Over the past four years agencies have been working hard to improve their administration of the FOIA under guidance issued by Attorney General Holder. That guidance directed agencies to apply a presumption of openness in responding to requests and to make it a priority to respond promptly. Both the President and Attorney General stressed that it is also vital for agencies to make information available proactively, without the need to make a request, so that what is “known and done by their Government” is readily available to all. These directives are taking hold across the agencies and real improvements are being made. 

In Fiscal Year 2012, the government as a whole:

  • Processed more FOIA requests:  Agencies processed 665,924 total requests. This is a 5.5 percent increase over the total number of requests processed last fiscal year. 
  • Decreased the FOIA request backlog: The efforts of agencies to increase the numbers of requests processed has paid off as the government was able to reduce its backlog of pending requests by 14 percent from last year.  The current backlog marks a 45 percent reduction from the backlog that existed four years ago in 2008. 
  • Maintained a release rate above 92 percent for the fourth straight year: Of the 464,985 requests processed by agencies for disclosure, the government released records either in full or in part in response to 93.4 percent of these requests.  For half of those requests all the information was released, with nothing withheld.  This marks the fourth year in a row where the number of responses to FOIA requests providing a release of information either in full or in part exceeded 92 percent of the requests processed for disclosure. 
  • Improved average processing times:  Agencies improved the average processing times for all categories of requests. 
  • Disclosed more information proactively:  Agencies met public demand for information by posting a wide range of material on their websites, allowing the public to easily find information of interest without the need to make a FOIA request. 

All of the detailed data on agency FOIA compliance from Fiscal Year 2012 is compiled and displayed graphically on the Department of Justice’s government FOIA website FOIA.gov, providing a clear picture of government FOIA administration and progress during the last fiscal year.

These are more than just statistics. They represent the efforts of agencies across the government to answer the call to improve transparency. They demonstrate that agencies are responding to requests more quickly and releasing more information when they do. Agencies are reducing backlogs of pending requests and helping eliminate the need to even make requests by proactively providing information online.  The public is the beneficiary of this progress. While there is more work to be done, this past year demonstrates that agencies are answering the President’s and Attorney General’s call for greater transparency.

To learn more about the Office of Information Policy visit The FOIA Post - the blog of OIP. For more information about the Freedom of Information Act, visit FOIA.gov.

Recognizing World AIDS Day
November 30, 2012 Posted by

On World AIDS Day 2012, the Department of Justice is proud to reaffirm its ongoing commitment to protect – and advance – the rights of people living with HIV and AIDS.  And – in accordance with the objectives outlined by President Obama in the landmark National HIV/AIDS Strategy, we are working harder than ever to end discrimination that is still routinely – and tragically – experienced by those with HIV/AIDS. 

In recognizing World AIDS Day 2012, Attorney General Holder stated:

“The Department of Justice is determined to combat stigma and stereotypes by improving awareness and educating more people about their rights and responsibilities under federal law.  Together with our partners under the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, we are committed to using every legal authority to ensure critical protections for individuals living with HIV/AIDS.”  

In pursuit of this goal, the department is taking critical steps to boost technical assistance, improve training, and expand outreach.  Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), we’re making historic strides to educate everyone on federal protections for people with disabilities, including those living with HIV/AIDS.  To that end, the department has published “Questions and Answers: The Americans with Disabilities Act and Persons with HIV/AIDS,” – not only to make sure that people with HIV/AIDS understand their rights – but also to inform employers, businesses, and state and local governments of their responsibilities and legal obligations under the ADA. 

Beyond that, the department is pledging its best efforts – through its rigorous and ever-expanding enforcement work – to promote opportunity and access for persons with HIV/AIDS.  In May, the Justice Department announced two settlements resolving claims that health care providers refused to serve people with HIV in violation of the ADA.  Both settlement agreements mandated that the entities develop and implement a non-discrimination policy, train staff on the requirements of the ADA, and to pay a combined total of $60,000 to the complainants and $35,000 as a civil penalty.

And this past September, the Justice Department – together with the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania – reached a settlement with the Milton Hershey School of Hershey, Pennsylvania to resolve allegations that the school violated the ADA by rejecting an HIV-positive student.  In addition to a $15,000 civil penalty, the school was also required – under the terms of the settlement – to pay $700,000 to the child and his mother, adopt and enforce a policy prohibiting discrimination and requiring equal opportunity for students with disabilities (including those with HIV), and provide training to staff on the requirements established by the ADA. 

On World AIDS Day 2012, the Justice Department will continue to engage a growing circle of allies and use every available resource to develop long-term strategies for success.  To learn more about our work, please visit www.ada.gov/aids.

National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day
September 28, 2012 Posted by

This post appears couresty of Attorney General  Eric Holder.

Got Drugs?

Tomorrow marks the DEA’s fifth Prescription Drug Take-Back Day.   In conjunction with United States Attorneys’ Offices across the country, DEA personnel have set up hundreds of collection sites where citizens can turn in their unneeded prescription medications – at no cost, and with no questions asked.

Already, this program has allowed us to collect over 1.5 million pounds of prescription drugs.

Find a Take-Back site near you. 

In recent years, we’ve seen that prescription drug abuse constitutes one of the greatest public safety and public health epidemics of our time, inflicting devastating, long-term, effects on individuals – and destroying families, neighborhoods, and entire communities – all across the country.  Studies have shown that more than 52 million Americans have abused prescription drugs at least once during their lifetimes; that every day 7,000 people begin misusing prescription drugs for the first time; and that, in 2008 alone, prescription drug abuse claimed over 20,000 lives nationwide. 

As a former judge, United States Attorney, and Deputy Attorney General, I’ve seen the terrible cost of prescription drug abuse.  Today, as Attorney General, I’m committed to ensuring that addressing its causes and consequences is – and will remain – among the Justice Department’s top priorities.  And I’m proud to report that – over the last three and a half years – this commitment had led us to take bold, coordinated action to protect the American people.

In concert with a range of key federal, state, local, and tribal authorities and partner organizations, the department has begun working to implement effective education, treatment, enforcement, and policy solutions.  Through initiatives like our Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs – and thanks to the extraordinary efforts of the DEA’s Tactical Diversion Squads – we’re gaining a better understanding of this problem and we’re moving more swiftly – and more efficiently – than ever before to intervene in the lives of those who are at risk.  

Our efforts have been informed, augmented, and strengthened by the work of leading researchers and law enforcement officials who serve on the front lines of this fight – and who have repeatedly shown that, when it comes to preventing, reducing, and combating prescription drug abuse, we stand to benefit from a variety of perspectives and approaches.

Even more importantly, they’ve demonstrated that every individual has an essential role to play in this work.  Recent surveys indicate that more than half of those who admit to abusing prescription painkillers said that they got drugs “from a friend or relative for free”– not from their own doctor.   This illustrates the critical importance of getting old, unused, or expired drugs out of household medicine cabinets.  And it’s why the DEA has begun the Take-Back campaign.   

During the DEA’s last take-back day in April, more than 4,200 state and local law enforcement partners collected a record-breaking 552,161 pounds of prescription drugs at over 5,600 sites operated in all 50 states and U.S. territories.

With the help of citizens across the country, we are poised to build on these extraordinary results.  By cleaning out their medicine cabinets, the American people can help to clean up their communities.  We can stand together against crime.  And we can ensure that all of our neighbors – especially our young people – have the opportunity to live in drug-free communities and to lead safe, healthy lives.

 Find a Take-Back site near you. 

A Message from the Attorney General on Constitution Day
September 17, 2012 Posted by

The following post appears courtesy of Attorney General Eric Holder.

In the summer of 1787, delegates from every corner of our new country – united by common purpose and an unrelenting resolve – gathered in Philadelphia to draft a legal document that would establish the framework for a revolutionary system of government.  After four short months of wide-ranging discussion, fierce debate, and hard-fought compromise – 225 years ago today – they signed the United States Constitution, setting the great American experiment in motion and codifying our nation’s most enduring ideals: of security, opportunity, liberty, and justice.

Since that moment, these fundamental values have remained our country’s greatest assets.  They have inspired generations of Americans to aim higher, to dream bigger, and to advance the ongoing work of building a more perfect Union.  They have established our nation as a shining example of strength – and a beacon of justice and hope – for all the world.  And even – or perhaps especially – today, in the face of global challenges and evolving threats that would have been inconceivable to those who drafted our Constitution, this extraordinary document continues to serve not only as a touchstone for our history, but a guidepost for our future progress.

As President Obama reminded us in 2009 – in a speech at the National Archives, just steps from the Constitution itself – our founding document “has endured through secession and civil rights, through World War and Cold War, because it provides a foundation of principles that can be applied pragmatically – it provides a compass that can help us find our way.”

Over the years, this steadfast compass has driven us to amend and improve upon our Constitution in an effort to expand the meaning of liberty and to guarantee America’s promise of limitless possibility for every citizen – regardless of race, gender, or creed.  It has driven more than two centuries of remarkable, once-unimaginable progress in the long and ongoing struggle for equal rights, equal opportunity, and equal justice for all.  And today, as we continue – with fidelity to both the letter and spirit of this extraordinary document – to realize the full promise of our great nation in the life of every citizen, it’s clear that – despite the strides that have been made over the last 225 years – we have more to do, and further to travel.

As Attorney General, and as a lifelong public servant, advancing this work remains my top priority and solemn obligation.  I’m proud to report that the Justice Department’s commitment to affirming and defending our Constitution – and to aggressively and fairly enforcing our laws – has never been stronger.  And our approach in protecting the American people from national security threats, reducing and preventing violent crime, eradicating financial and health care fraud, overcoming persistent disparities, enforcing essential civil rights protections, and safeguarding the most vulnerable among us has, quite simply, never been more effective.

In particular, through the Department’s Access to Justice Initiative, we are helping to fulfill the promise of equal justice under law by working to ensure that our justice system can efficiently deliver outcomes that are fair and accessible to all, irrespective of wealth or status.  Today, in the interest of building on this important work – and in honor of Constitution Day – the Justice Department will be hosting a lecture for employees, presented by Dean Phoebe Haddon from the University of Maryland School of Law, that will focus on equal access to justice in the 21st century, and explore new methods for eliminating barriers that prevent people from exercising their fundamental rights.

As we take new ownership of this work – and as we pause, on this annual observance, to reflect upon the sacred, uniquely American values that inspired the document we ratified exactly 225 years ago – let us also recommit ourselves to their faithful implementation.  Let us rededicate ourselves to the work of advancing America’s ongoing pursuit of a more perfect Union.  And let us seize this opportunity to reaffirm our determination to build a future rooted in freedom, opportunity, and justice for all.

Attorney General Holder at the Arab Forum on Asset Recovery
September 13, 2012 Posted by

This week, Attorney General Eric Holder joined international counterparts in Doha to launch the Arab Forum on Asset Recovery and participate in its inaugural meeting. The following statement was released from the Attorney General and other Forum Co-Chairs.

Participants reaffirmed their commitment to the Asset Recovery Action Plan developed under the Deauville Partnership with Arab Countries in Transition. From the inception of the Partnership, asset recovery was recognized as an important goal to support democratic transition and economic development, and pursuit of the proceeds of corruption stowed abroad has since become a significant area for cooperation among the Deauville Partnership countries and other stakeholders. 

We agreed that, in the wake of the Arab Spring, asset recovery has become a more urgent area of focus in the region and in the international community, building on the framework of the UN Convention against Corruption. Robust cooperation, including case assistance, capacity building and technical assistance, are necessary to advance asset recovery efforts.

In this context, the participants noted the value of the Arab Forum in providing a platform for:

  • policy dialogue to raise awareness of and introduce the measures to facilitate effective asset recovery;
  • regional training, and identification of needs for country-specific capacity building; 
  • developing a repository of information about asset recovery procedures, and good practices including mutual legal assistance and similar requirements of partner countries, translated in Arabic; and,
  • developing a regional network of expertise. 

We recognized the value of transparency in the facilitating effective cooperation and appreciated the efforts of many members of the G8 and additional countries in publishing a comprehensive guide describing the specific steps required for assistance and cooperation in matters related to tracing, freezing, confiscation, and return of proceeds of corruption. We noted the importance of providing materials in Arabic when possible and appreciated the efforts of the StAR initiative in developing a comprehensive website for all of these asset recovery guides, Forum documents, and other resources on asset recovery to serve as a central reference point on an ongoing basis. We encouraged a wider range of countries to make such guides available as an invaluable support to effective cooperation.

We agreed on the importance of having designated points of contact to facilitate inquiries related to asset recovery or mutual legal assistance requests and to identify them to relevant networks of practitioners.

We also noted the importance of the intention of each transition country seeking the recovery of assets to create an Asset Recovery Task Force to serve as the focal point for the country in coordination and cooperation requests on asset recovery with the G8 and other countries.

We reaffirmed the usefulness of reviewing our legislation and practices to consider reforms, including in line with the elements set out in the Asset Recovery Action Plan that would streamline and facilitate cooperation.

We pledged to ensure that technical assistance is on-going and continues to be available from G8 and regional countries and international organizations to assist the transition countries in efforts to re-coup stolen assets. Participants reaffirmed that key topics for technical assistance should include financial investigations, financial document analysis, asset tracing, asset freezing and confiscation, requesting international assistance, asset recovery and asset management tools, and other topics identified by the requesting countries.

We agree that successful asset recovery faces a range of challenges, and that the complexities of building cases and pursuing international legal cooperation are not amenable to a quick fix, no matter how high the political will on each side. To facilitate these efforts, we recognized the value of legal and institutional reform to promote successful asset recovery efforts, as well as regular contact between practitioners to build trust, improve mutual understanding, and facilitate and accelerate the actual provision of assistance. 

We reaffirmed our intent to continue collaboration to pursue follow-up on the Partnership Asset Recovery Action Plan, to conduct individual and joint action to show progress on its elements during 2013, with the support of our peers in the Partnership. We welcome the work of StAR, and other partners, to conduct activities in the coming months to support follow-up of the Action Plan, such as regional training and mentorship, and intend to provide our support and participation in such activities.

We expressed our deep appreciation to the State of Qatar for hosting this inaugural meeting of the Arab Forum on Asset Recovery. We look forward to continuing this critical work as a sign of the enduring partnership between our countries and our support for the transitions in the region and agreed to meet again in the coming year. 

The meeting was hosted by the State of Qatar, in cooperation with the United States as G-8 chair, with the invaluable partnership of the Stolen Asset Recovery initiative (StAR) of the World Bank and UN Office on Drugs and Crime. 

Participating in the meeting were the governments of Bahrain, Belgium, Canada, Egypt, France, Germany, Guernsey, Italy, Japan, Jersey, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Liechtenstein, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, Tunisia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the United States and Yemen, along with the European Union. Representatives of the United Nations, Arab League, Gulf Cooperation Council, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the Egmont Group, and Interpol also participated.

 For more information, read the Attorney General’s remarks at the Arab Forum on Asset Recovery.

A Day of Remembrance
September 11, 2012 Posted by

Today the nation remembers the lives lost on September 11, 2001. It is a solemn day, but it is also a day of service. By taking time to serve others today we demonstrate our resolve and resilience as we continue to embrace democratic values and fundamental liberties, not fear and oppression.

This morning, at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C., Attorney General Holder paid tribute to the 72 law enforcement officers who rushed to the scene and made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty:

In the face of hatred and destruction on a nearly unprecedented scale, these heroic men and women answered the highest calling of their profession – placing the safety of others above their own.  As images of smoldering wreckage and crumbling buildings played out on television screens and in their own backyards – from New York City; to Arlington, Virginia; to Shanksville, Pennsylvania – these officers heard the call go out.  They saw the rising smoke, and heard the cries of those in need.  And – without hesitation, without delay, and with the knowledge that this critical mission could well be their last – every one of them rushed toward the dangers from which all others had fled.

Put simply, their selfless actions saved countless lives.  Their valor reminds us of the quiet power of compassion, patriotism, and selflessness.  And – especially this morning – as we lift up their stories, we also affirm that this annual observance has always been about much more than the pain that was inflicted – and the buildings that were destroyed – eleven years ago today.

It’s about the extraordinary life that binds us together.  It’s about the enduring values that have always been the hallmark of America’s law enforcement community.  And, above all, it’s about honoring the friends, neighbors, and loved ones who were taken from us – far too suddenly, and far too soon – on that terrible day.

Each of their names has been forever etched, alongside more than 19,000 others, in this place of remembrance.  Each of their legacies lives on in the efforts of those who wear the uniform, who safeguard their countrymen and –women from crime, and who protect our nation’s security. And each of their sacrifices is honored in the work of all who strive to promote – not only safety and security, but peace and justice; in the actions of organizations like this one, and our nation’s Department of Justice, as we stand together to support the officers and their families who give so much to keep us safe; and in the commitment of Americans across the country who gather on this day to ensure that – in our own time, in the lives of our children, and in the work of future generations – the stories, the memories, and the rich legacies of those we lost on September 11th will never be forgotten.

The Justice Department and the entire nation honor the memory of those who lost their lives in the 9/11 attacks. At the department, we remain fully committed to the fight against those who target Americans and our way of life.  We know the best way to honor the legacies of the victims of 9/11 is to prevent further terrorist attacks on this country, which remains the highest priority and most urgent work of the department.

For more information about the department’s efforts to protect Americans and the American way of life, visit justice.gov/911

 
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