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In Search of Sunshine in Government

Sunshineweeklogo It is Sunshine Week, a national initiative focused on the importance of open government and freedom of information. Sunshine Week is led by the American Society of Newspaper Editors and its participants include the news media, civic groups, libraries, schools and individuals interested in promoting the public's right to know.

To mark the event, the Scripps Howard News Service and Ohio University conducted a survey of public opinion about government secrecy, as they have done for the last few years. Notably, for the first time in four years, the public's perception of government secrecy has leveled off. Since 2006, the percentage of adults who believe the federal government to be somewhat or very secretive has been on the rise -- from 62 percent in 2006 to 74 percent in 2008. In this year's survey, the percentage drops slightly to 73.

So, while more than seven in 10 adults still see government as secret, the survey suggests that a new administration in Washington could change that perception. It found that some 80 percent of adults are encouraged by President Obama's FOI directive calling for a presumption of openness within government. Other interesting findings of the survey include:

  • 67 percent say they've heard of the federal Freedom of Information Act and even more, when reminded of it, think it's a good law. But only six percent have ever used it.
  • 43 percent of adults say their local government is somewhat or very secretive and 57 percent say it is somewhat or very open.

Notably, the number of adults who believe the federal government is somewhat secretive has declined, from 40 percent in 2006 to 33 percent this year, while the number who say it is very secretive has gone up, from 22 percent in 2006 to 40 percent this year. Only 5 percent describe the federal government as very open.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on March 17, 2009 at 11:54 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

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