Transparency News 12/10/13

Tuesday, December 10, 2013
State and Local Stories


An attorney for state Sen. Mark D. Obenshain hinted in court Monday that the Republican would consider using an obscure law to throw the outcome of the attorney general’s race into the hands of the General Assembly. The lawyer made the statement as legal teams for Obenshain and Democrat Mark R. Herring jockeyed for advantage in advance of next week’s statewide recount. Even floating the idea of contesting the race through the legislature is an act of political daring. Until now, Republican leaders, including Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R), have indicated that they thought a challenge would be inappropriate unless evidence of major voting irregularities emerged.
Washington Post

Bob McDonnell pledged during his gubernatorial campaign to a bring results-based budgeting system to Virginia. His campaign said in a September 2009 news release that the state should establish goals for each agency at the start of every budget cycle and evaluate the results at the end before setting determining future appropriations. "Bob McDonnell will improve the budget system by implementing a budget process that rewards effective programs and allocates future spending based upon that effectiveness," his campaign wrote. When we asked for an update on this promise, the governor's office said it was fulfilled early in McDonnell's term through the startup of a computer program created for the Department of Planning and Budget. The tool provides a website where politicians, state employees and the public can scrutinize state agencies' performance measures and budget information. We should note, however, that the contract was awarded in early 2009 by then-Gov. Timothy M. Kaine and the system was in the process of being implemented before McDonnell was inaugurated in January 2010.

Bob McDonnell noted during his 2009 gubernatorial campaign that citizens could go online to watch General Assembly debates in real time and said he wanted to bring the same transparency to the state's executive branch. "Bob McDonnell will have legislation introduced requiring all major executive branch boards and commissions to provide live streaming video on the commonwealth's website," McDonnell's campaign wrote in a news releases that September. "Video files will be archived so that citizens can view them at their convenience." Late last year, we wrote that McDonnell had not delivered on his promise to have the video-streaming bill introduced. But because, as the governor's office noted then, McDonnell still had 2013 General Assembly session to act, we rated his pledge "Stalled" and said we'd revisit it before McDonnell's term ended. The update: McDonnell, who leaves office Jan. 11, has abandoned his pledge to seek the legislation. Taylor Keeney, a McDonnell spokeswoman, emailed us to say there's been plenty of progress in live streaming meetings without any legislation.
News Virginian

For the first time in at least 14 years, the president of Virginia Tech has an employment contract. Timothy Sands, provost of Purdue University, was named the next Tech president on Friday by a unanimous vote of the board of visitors. His employment will run from June 2014 to May 2019, according to Sands’ contract, released by Tech spokesman Larry Hincker on Monday. Sands’ annual compensation will be worth $700,000, including a $500,000 base salary, $180,000 in deferred compensation and a $20,000 vehicle allowance. He and his wife will live at The Grove, the university-owned president’s house. Current President Charles Steger has never had a written contract with the Tech board, Hincker has said. Steger’s annual compensation as of July, was worth $853,433.
Roanoke Times

The prosecutor in the case of a Lovingston man accused of abducting a Nelson County teenager isrequesting a gag order be enacted to prevent potential witnesses, parties and law enforcement from disclosing “sensitive” information that could impact a jury trial. The motion is set to be heard at the Nelson County Circuit Court on Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. Nelson County Commonwealth’s Attorney Anthony Martin said in a news release Monday increased media reports of other missing person cases as part of the basis for the request. Although the release did not name a specific case, it comes a week after Lynchburg police announced that the body of missing teen Jamisha Gilbert was found in a wooded area.
Daily Progress

A retired Navy SEAL pleaded guilty Monday in Charlottesville federal court to loading classified information onto a thumb drive that he took with him from a secure facility in San Diego. Bruce Schliemann, 50, of Austin, Texas, later emailed the materials to the employees of a defense contractor in the Western District of Virginia, and they, in turn, “transmitted the classified information to a number of unauthorized and un-cleared persons in several locations,” according to federal court records. The investigation was triggered by the contractor’s August 2010 filing of an application with the State Department for a license to provide “refresher” training to NATO allies using the classified materials. Schliemann had removed “classified markings” before sending the information to the contractor, court records state.
Daily Progress

National Stories

Eight leading technology companies called on the U.S. government Monday to end bulk data collection of Internet communications and to lead a worldwide effort to implement other reforms to surveillance policies. The groups – AOL, Apple, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter and Yahoo – detailed five proposed reforms on a website and in a letter to President Obama and the U.S. Congress. They want courts that review surveillance policies to use a clear legal framework, have adversarial proceedings and publicize big decisions. They also are asking that governments limit their authority to collect data to specific, known users; allow companies to publish the number and nature of demands for records; respect the free flow of information across borders; and work to avoid conflicts amongst nations in policies that govern data requests.
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

Two reporters for The New York Times have sued the Department of Homeland Security after they were questioned at a New York airport as they headed to overseas assignments. The Freedom of Information Act lawsuit was filed Wednesday in federal court in Manhattan. Writers Mac William Bishop and Christopher Chivers said in the lawsuit that employees of the department responsible for securing U.S. borders subjected them to questioning last May as they prepared to board an international flight.

Of the 100 agencies in the federal government subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), dozens of agencies have not yet updated their FOIA regulations to reflect requirements in the OPEN Government Act of 2007. The OPEN Government Act required federal agencies to better assist people who make requests for public information under FOIA – for instance, by providing individualized tracking numbers in order to check the status of a request. Despite additional direction from President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder to improve FOIA processing, six years later, most agency regulations include few of the best practices described below. FOIA regulations should be easy for both requesters and agency staff to understand and should promote transparency by highlighting existing practices in federal agencies. The Obama administration has committed to developing common FOIA regulations and practices applicable to all agencies. This report is designed to be a practical guide for the administration and agency staff engaged in improving FOIA regulations and practices.
Center for Effective Government