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Information Is Power

The truest way to be a strong part of a citizenry is to be informed. But to be informed, you first need access to information. Which is why it’s so important the government allows the public to see the millions of studies, polls, surveys and everything else it cranks out each year. As the Association of Health Care Journalists puts it in a letter beseeching the FDA for openness, “The free flow of information is essential to democracy.”

Which is why I periodically talk about stuff like government openness and FOIA.

With Obama coming into office, the expectation was that the strict, “assume everything is a national security risk” approach was being kicked to the curb for a more open, “assume our citizens have a right to know” one.

And on the one hand, it has: OMB Watch notes that last week, a bunch of federal agencies published new info via Data.gov. The EPA released three datasets, and there is a boatload of other environmental-related data from agencies ranging from the Dept. of Agriculture to the Tennessee Valley Authority.

But not all is as ‘open’ as it might seem. OMB Watch is among watchdogs noting that not all the recently released data is new or of high-value, and the Washington Post has a story saying there were more lawsuits seeking the unsealing of government records in Obama’s first year than in either of Bush’s final two.

Then there’s this story, from nonprofit Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, about a gag order Obama ordered on the Forest Service.

Like with so many other pledges of the Obama administration, it seems the jury is still out on whether it’ll fulfill its goal of being the most open ever. Time will tell.

Very few of us have ever filed a FOIA request (I haven’t) but you don’t have to be a journalist to do so. Any citizen can. So tell us: What one piece of information would you request from the government? Submit answers via the Comments below.

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“Information Is Power”