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Archive for July, 2010

Agency Chief FOIA Officers Respond to the President’s and Attorney General’s Call for Transparency
July 29, 2010 Posted by

This year, for the first time, all agencies subject to FOIA were required to submit Chief FOIA Officer reports. In those reports, agencies were asked to describe the steps they had taken to improve transparency in accordance with the President’s FOIA Memorandum, and the Attorney General’s FOIA Guidelines. The department’s Office of Information Policy (OIP) has analyzed and prepared a summary of the reports. The reports show that more documents have been released, more information has been made available on websites, and backlogs of pending requests have decreased in the past year.

“These 94 agencies have taken significant steps forward in providing the American people with the transparency they want and deserve,” said Attorney General Eric Holder. “Much work needs to be done in the effort to open up the government’s FOIA process and improve its efficiency, but these results indicate we have made important strides in the right direction.”

Among the results:

  • All agencies reported progress in implementing the presumption of openness, with over half having that progress rated as “remarkable.”
  • Almost half of the ninety four agencies reported divulging documents in discretionary releases – i.e., the documents were requested under the FOIA and the agency could legally have withheld information, but chose not to. Over half looked for opportunities to do so.
  • More information is being released to FOIA requesters. In Fiscal Year 2009, the number of responses with released records, either records released in full or in part, increased overall. The number of partial releases increased by approximately 50,000 documents.
  • 89% of agencies reported proactively disclosing material on their websites – i.e., producing material that has not (yet) been requested by the public.
  • 95% of agencies, including all Cabinet agencies, can receive FOIA requests electronically, rather than merely via snail mail or other non-technological methods. 91% track the requests electronically as well.
  • 60% of agencies either had no backlog in processing FOIA requests or reduced that backlog in Fiscal Year 2009. 85% reduced the age of the oldest request or had no backlogged request to close.
President Obama Announces Revised ADA Regulations
July 26, 2010 Posted by

 As part of the administration’s commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), President Barack Obama announced today the publication of two final rules that will amend the Department of Justice’s regulations implementing Title II and Title III of the ADA.  These two rules will be published concurrently in the Federal Register.  Among the changes that will affect both rules are:

Adoption of the Revised Design Standards – New accessible design standards are established for a variety of recreational facilities, including swimming pools, playgrounds, golf courses, amusement rides, recreational boating facilities, exercise machines and equipment, miniature golf courses and fishing piers; as well as for such public facilities as courthouses, jails and prisons.

Element by Element Safe Harbor – The department is mitigating the cost of design changes by adopting a “safe harbor” under which existing building elements that already comply with the 1991 ADA Standards for Accessible Design would not be required to be brought into compliance with the 2010 Standards until the elements were subject to a planned alteration.

Ticketing – The department has added provisions that provide guidance on the sale of tickets for accessible seating, the sale of season tickets, the secondary ticket market, the hold and release of accessible seating to persons other than those who need accessible seating, ticket pricing, prevention of the fraudulent purchase of accessible seating and the ability to purchase multiple tickets when buying accessible seating.

Service Animals – The regulations define “service animal” as a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for benefit of an individual with a disability. 

Wheelchairs and Other Power-Driven Mobility Devices – The amended rules provide a two-tiered approach under which wheelchairs and scooters must be permitted in all areas open to pedestrian use.

Timeshares – The Title III regulation also makes clear that timeshare and condominium properties that operate like hotels are subject to title III, providing guidance about the factors that must be present for a facility that is not an inn, motel, or hotel to qualify as a place of lodging.

 Reservations at places of lodging – The Title III regulation includes provisions for reservations made by places of lodging, including requirements for procedures that will allow individuals with disabilities to make reservations for accessible guest rooms during the same hours and in the same manner as other guests. 

Also published today in the Federal Register were four new ADA proposals addressing the accessibility of websites, the provision of captioning and video description in movies shown in theaters, accessible equipment and furniture, and the ability of 9-1-1 centers to take text and video calls from individuals with disabilities.  The proposals, which were announced by Attorney General Eric Holder on July 23, 2010, are in the form of advance notices of proposed rulemaking, or ANPRMs, which provide information on these ADA issues and ask questions seeking comments and information from the public.

POSTED IN: Civil Rights Division  |  PERMALINK
Important ADA Announcements, Developments & Events
July 26, 2010 Posted by

This month will mark two decades since the landmark passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

On July 26, 1990, the ADA was signed into law signed into law by President George H.W. Bush with the promise of fostering full and equal access to civic, economic and social life for individuals with disabilities.

All month, we’ve highlighted stories showing the law in action. Here are a few other highlights:

On July 22, 2010, the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights issued new technical assistance guidance for medical providers which will help people with mobility disabilities obtain accessible medical care.  Access to Medical Care for Persons with Mobility Disabilities will assist medical care providers in understanding how the ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 apply to them. 

This 19-page document includes an overview of general ADA requirements, commonly asked questions, and illustrated examples of accessible facilities, examination rooms and medical equipment.  More information on the guidance is available at www.ada.gov/medcare_ta.htm.

 Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Thomas E. Perez testified before the House Judiciary Committee at a hearing on the ADA.  Read his opening statement.   Assistant Attorney General Perez also delivered the keynote address at the National Council on Independent Living Annual Conference.  

As part of the department’s Project Civic Access (PCA) initiative, the Civil Rights Division announced several agreements with towns and counties across the nation to improve access to all aspects of civic life for persons with disabilities.  Agreements were signed with the town of Pomfret, Conn.; Pearl River County, Miss.; and Wilson County, N.C.  For more information on PCA, please visit www.ada.gov/civicac.htm

 The department reached settlements with Blockbuster Inc. and the Mount Vernon Ladies Association of the Union (MVLA), which owns and maintains Mount Vernon Estate & Gardens, the home of the nation’s first president, George Washington.  The agreement with Blockbuster will ensure equal access to its stores nationwide for individuals with disabilities who use service animals. 

The department and MVLA reached an amicable agreement under which the association will continue to bring Mount Vernon’s structures and facilities into compliance with the ADA accessible design standards and provide effective communication of the content of its audiovisual presentations, exhibitions, public programs and other offerings for people who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind or have low vision. 

For more information in these and other ADA developments, visit www.ada.gov.

POSTED IN: Civil Rights Division  |  PERMALINK
Open Government Plan 1.1
July 21, 2010 Posted by

The Justice Department’s revised Open Government Plan was ranked among the top 10 government agencies (ranked 8th) by outside groups. Furthermore, the department’s plan, “Version 1.1” was celebrated for “biggest improvement” over the original plan, with our new ranking nearly double the old one. To see the revised plan, released June 25, 2010, click here.

The revised plan includes a number of new initiatives, including a pledge to post legislative histories from the department’s library. The group that oversaw the audits and released the rankings praised the department’s efforts and noted that Justice Department staff had participated in conference calls and meetings with the auditors and “took advantage of this constructive criticism to improve their plan.”

According to OpenTheGovernment.org, the new plan “provides specific details and deadlines for implementing and sustaining their flagship initiative, the FOIA Dashboard.” The updated evaluation praises the department for its intention to review FOIA regulations and initiate a rulemaking process to ensure greater transparency. It also praised the department for detailing its own performance in responding to FOIA requests, including statistics on component backlogs.

The group adds: “Of particular note is that DOJ has agreed to make publicly available a valuable collection of digital legislative histories and to provide access to significant court filings through its website, along with an RSS/XML feed so the public can track the briefs as they are posted. DOJ also committed to attaching relevant court filings to press releases, which will be of great value to the media, researchers and the public.

“The revised plan ties disclosure, public participation and collaboration with stakeholders directly to its mission. The expanded section on the FOIA Dashboard in particular demonstrates the importance of the Department’s leadership as the primary agency responsible for FOIA implementation across the government.”

The department is pleased that its efforts have been recognized and pledges to continue its commitment to help the President attain his goal of being the most open, accountable and participatory administration ever.

To read the entire audit and see how the Justice Department compared to other agencies, click here.

Accessibility in the Digital Age
July 20, 2010 Posted by

The rapid pace of technological advancement in the digital age has dramatically altered the way we live our lives.  For individuals with disabilities, many of our culture’s technological achievements bring the promise of easier access to goods, services and other aspects of life.  Electronic course materials at institutions of higher education are a good example. With the rapidly increasing cost of print text books, colleges and universities nationwide are beginning to offer course materials electronically.  This trend is likely to continue in the near future, with some experts predicting that traditional, print texts will be replaced by electronic or digital texts within three to five years.  But in order for some individuals with disabilities to take full advantage of new technologies, those technologies must be accessible.

That’s why on June 30, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas E. Perez and Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights Russlyn Ali jointly issued a letter to colleges and universities expressing concern over their use of electronic book readers that are not accessible, and soliciting the assistance of university leadership in ensuring that emerging technologies used in education are fully accessible to individuals with disabilities in the future. 

The issuance of the joint letter followed a series of settlement agreements that the Department of Justice entered with colleges and universities using the Kindle DX in the classroom as part of a pilot study with Amazon.com Inc. 

Under the settlement agreements, the universities agreed not to purchase, require, or recommend use of the Kindle DX, or any other dedicated electronic book reader, unless or until the device is fully accessible to individuals who are blind or have low vision, or the universities provide reasonable accommodation or modification so that a student can acquire the same information, engage in the same interactions, and enjoy the same services as sighted students with substantially equivalent ease of use. 

Electronic texts will no doubt make acquiring course materials easier for many students and teachers, and will likely diminish the cost for cash-strapped students to purchase textbooks. But as educational institutions and instructors move toward more frequent use of electronic materials, we must be sure that they do so in a way that is accessible to all students.

Having accessible electronic text readers could dramatically improve the experience of students with visual impairments.  Today, many students with visual impairments must wait for their materials to be converted to an accessible format.  Sometimes the resulting materials are inferior to what others receive and often students who are blind do not receive course materials until well after the semester has begun. 

By contrast, the dedicated electronic text readers offer instantaneous downloading of electronic texts.  As significant, if electronic text reading systems are accessible, students with and without disabilities will be able to use the same devices resulting in an integrated and “mainstreamed” experience.   Integration is both a goal and a mandate of the civil rights laws protecting individuals with disabilities, sections 504 and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which turns 20 years old on July 26.   

The most far-reaching technology in American society, the Internet, has become a gateway to a range of commercial and government activities, goods, and services.  Employment recruiting and hiring systems are often web-based.  Online learning is yet another societal trend which schools offering programs and classroom instruction through the Internet.  It is essential that all of these services are accessible to individuals with disabilities. 

Deputy Assistant Attorney General Samuel R. Bagenstos of the Civil Rights Division recently voiced the department’s commitment to ensuring that technologies are fully accessible to individuals with disabilities when he testified before Congress about the Civil Rights Division’s role in implementing and enforcing the ADA, and sections 504 and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, in the digital age. 

He said:

 “…access to the Internet and emerging technologies is not simply a technical matter, but a fundamental issue of civil rights.  As more and more of our social infrastructure is made available on the Internet – in some cases, exclusively online – access to information and electronic technologies is increasingly becoming the gateway civil rights issue for individuals with disabilities.” 

As we prepare to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Justice Department is fully committed to ensuring that all individuals, including those with disabilities, have equal access to new technologies in the digital age.

POSTED IN: Civil Rights Division  |  PERMALINK
Signing of Memorandum of Understanding between DOJ and DHS
July 20, 2010 Posted by

The following post appears courtesy of INTERPOL Washington Director, Timothy A. Williams.

I am pleased to announce that the Acting Deputy Attorney General Gary G. Grindler, U.S. Department of Justice, and Deputy Secretary Jane Holl Lute, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that outlines the revised roles and responsibilities for the management of INTERPOL Washington.

The new MOU will ensure continued guidance and oversight of INTERPOL Washington, and affirms its commitment to the effective sharing and exchange of international investigative information in cooperation with INTERPOL’s other 187-member countries and the more than 18,000 federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies in the United States.

This groundbreaking collaborative partnership, cemented by the MOU, will combine the strengths and expertise of DOJ, DHS, and the USNCB.  The MOU also provides a framework for the Deputy Attorney General, the Deputy Secretary, and the USNCB Director to determine all policy and personnel decisions for the USNCB, and establishes senior management positions, which rotate between the two departments every three years.

Most importantly, the signing of this MOU will significantly benefit law enforcement agencies across the country by increasing INTERPOL Washington’s support to federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies.  It will continue to improve and nurture national and international law enforcement co-operation and information sharing in order to meet the demands of policing in the 21st century, and will pave the way for INTERPOL Washington to provide the right resources and tools for agents and officers in the field to help them identify criminals and prevent crime. 

For example, one of the tools that I plan to provide is the deployment of INTERPOL’s I-24/7 network across the United States, thus enabling thousands of investigators to access INTERPOL’s databases and police services containing information on wanted persons, terrorists, missing persons, stolen and lost travel documents and stolen vehicles.

The MOU will enable INTERPOL Washington to increase focus on the reduction of transnational organized crime by strengthening global partnerships; leveraging existing technology and pursuing new enterprise solutions; and boosting the international exchange of information in order to bolster efforts aimed at preventing global terrorism.

For more information about The U.S. National Central Bureau of INTERPOL, visit: http://www.justice.gov/usncb/

 
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