Sunshine Week is in the week of March 16 to coincide with the National Freedom of Information Day, which occurs on the same day. This year, it takes place from March 12 to 18. Did you know that when the United States signed the Freedom of Information Act into law in 1966, it was the third country in the world to do that? Sunshine Week raises awareness of the importance of open government and promotes dialogue on the impact of excessive official secrecy. Public discussions on open government with participants, including nonprofits, schools, civic groups, and media organizations.
History of Sunshine Week
The Freedom of Information Act is a legal instrument that offers citizens and journalists access to information and documents controlled by the United States government, furthering government transparency. The idea of such an act dates back to 1952, when John Moss of Sacramento, California, was elected to Congress. It was during the Cold War when the government was secretive. Moss began campaigning for openness in governance when he was denied access to information he needed to investigate employees’ sacking cases. The government claimed they dismissed the individuals for being communists.
In 1955, Moss became the chairman of a congressional subcommittee on government information. Using his new post, Moss held hearings on government transparency and investigated cases of government withholding information. He tried to bring the Freedom of Information Act to Congress but had no support from anyone in his party, the Republicans. However, he had a massive support base among editors, journalists, educators, and scientists. A decade later, Moss finally found a co-sponsor in the person of Donald Rumsfeld, a young representative from Chicago, Illinois. That was during President Lyndon B. Johnson’s regime, who was also in direct opposition to the bill. In 1966, the FOIA successfully passed in the Senate and the House.
On July 4, 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the FOIA into law without a public event. Still, he released a signing statement that did say, “I sign this measure with a deep sense of pride that the United States is an open society.”
Sunshine Week timeline
The people of Sacramento, California, elect John Moss to Congress as their representative.
Moss tries to bring the FOIA to Congress, but he doesn’t get enough support.
The Senate and the House vote for the Freedom of Information Act to pass.
President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the FOIA into law at a private event.
Sunshine Week FAQs
What is sunshine journalism?
Sunshine journalism is a brand of journalism that focuses on tackling the issue of reduced access to federal, state, and local government.
What does an open government mean?
Open government is an idea that governments and institutions are more effective for citizens when they allow public oversight and access to documents and proceedings.
How can you use the Freedom of Information Act?
There’s no official form you can use to make a FOIA request to a government agency. What you need to do is write a letter to the FOIA office of the agency — the one you want to request information from — detailing the records you seek. This letter can be sent via mail or electronically.
How to Observe Sunshine Week
Participate in Sunshine Week events
During Sunshine Week, various relevant organizations organize events to discuss improved government transparency. Use this Sunshine Week to participate in one of these events. Check your local library or online for the one happening in your area. Don’t forget to share your thoughts on government transparency!
Spread the word on government transparency
Government transparency offers many benefits for the government and citizens, including helping to curb public fund waste and increasing government efficiency and effectiveness. You can spread the word on government transparency this Sunshine Week to lend a voice to the open government movement. That can be done through social media or by having your article featured in your local newspaper.
Organize Sunshine Week activities
If you are part of an organization working on government transparency issues, you can organize your Sunshine Week event. It doesn’t have to happen all through the week; you need to pick a day. You can organize a local forum inviting speakers and members of the local community, a debate on government transparency, and even a writing contest.
5 Interesting Facts About FOIA
Sweden first enacted it
Sweden was the first country to sign the Freedom of Information Act in 1766.
People used FOIA to request unusual information
People have used it for complaints at the CIA’s cafe and the F.B.I.’s dictionary of Twitter slang.
You don’t have to be a citizen
Anyone regardless of citizenship can request information from the U.S. Federal government.
You can request information about yourself
The Privacy Act allows you to access all the information that the federal government has on you.
The most FOIA requests
The Department of Homeland Security is the federal agency that receives the most requests.
Why Sunshine Week is Important
Sunshine Week promotes government accountability
Sunshine Week is based on the idea of open government and public oversight. Activities occurring in the week are geared towards engaging governments, journalists, editors, and other relevant stakeholders on the essentiality of government transparency.
Government transparency builds public trust
When governments are transparent about their actions and allow access to information, it builds public trust and acceptance of the government. Also, people are less likely to band together and undermine the effectiveness of the government.
Government transparency increases efficiency and effectiveness
By allowing information to flow freely in both directions, governments can receive feedback on policies and constructive criticism on failures, improving their effectiveness. Also, government transparency allows for equitable distribution of public resources and reduces the cost of governance.
Sunshine Week dates