Volume 49, Number 2
Spring 1997 - Abstracts

Reforming the Sunshine Act
- Randolph May

In this paper, Mr. May introduces and endorses the Administrative Conference of the United States (ACUS) report and recommendation that follows. (ADMINISTRATIVE CONFERENCE OF THE UNITED STATES, REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION BY THE SPECIAL COMMITTEE TO REVIEW THE GOVERNMENT IN THE SUNSHINE ACT (1995)). Mr. May begins by describing the duties of ACUS, and noting that ACUS ceased operations as of October 31, 1995. He then provides a synopsis of the report:

The Government in the Sunshine Act ("Sunshine Act") is not achieving its goal of enhancing public knowledge and understanding of agency decisionmaking. Instead, the Sunshine Act curtails meaningful collective deliberation and substantive exchange of ideas among agency members. "Open meetings" have inhibited rather than fostered the kind of public deliberation envisioned in the Sunshine Act. Rather than actual, collective deliberation in public, agency members often use the open meeting merely to announce and explain their positions.

Following review of the report, Mr. May summarizes ACUS' primary recommendation:

During a pilot program of five-to-seven years, Congress should authorize agencies to allow members to meet in private, without advance notice, so long as the meeting is memorialized in a "detailed summary" to be made public no longer than five days after the meeting. However, before an agency may participate in the pilot program, it must be required to conduct votes and take other official actions on significant substantive matters in open public meetings, rather than using notation voting procedures, and to agree to hold public meetings at regular intervals. It is important to link the disposal of notation voting to the allowance of private meetings with prompt release of a detailed summary.

Finally, Mr. May endorses the recommendations, stating that the "Special Committee's report and recommendations are premised on a belief that it may be possible, through modification of the Sunshine Act, to realize the twin goals of actually enhancing public access to agency decisionmaking, while, at the same time, encouraging more truly collegial decisionmaking."

Abstract by James Parkinson

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