Government in the Sunshine Act

Government in the Sunshine Act in stage 8. Implementation

Project Stages:

1. Gather ideas - Completed
2. Select ideas - Completed
3. Council approval - Completed
4. Picking a researcher - Completed
5. Committee consideration - Completed
6. Back to the council - Completed
7. Consideration by the full conference - Completed
8. Implementation - Current
8. Implementation


Committee Chair
Stinson Morrison Hecker LLP
Staff Counsel and In-House Researcher

The Government in the Sunshine Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552b, generally requires multi-member federal agencies (e.g., FCC, SEC) to hold their meetings in public and to give advance public notice of their meetings.  The goal of the Sunshine Act is to promote public access to information about the decision-making processes of the federal government and to improve those processes by exposing them to public view. A longstanding criticism of the Act has been that, despite its laudable goals, its actual effect is to discourage collaborative deliberations at multi-member agencies, because agency members are reluctant to discuss tentative views in public.  Rather than deliberate in public, agencies resort to escape devices, such as holding discussions among groups of fewer than a quorum of the agency’s membership (which are not covered by the Act), communicating through staff, exchanging written messages, or deciding matters by “notation voting” (i.e., circulating a proposal and having members vote in writing).

This project considers covered agencies' activities under the Sunshine Act and identifies various "best practices" that promote transparency while minimizing compliance burdens.  These include agencies' promulgating documents that describe general meeting policies, creating listservs or other notification mechanisms to apprise interested members of the public of upcoming meetings and other agency business, and providing descriptions of important agency decisions reached outside of open meetings.

Final Recommendation

Recommendation 2014-2, "Government in the Sunshine Act," highlights best practices designed to enhance transparency of decisionmaking at multi-member boards and commissions subject to the Government in the Sunshine Act.  The recommendation urges covered agencies to provide a description of the primary mechanisms for conducting business, describe substantive business disposed of outside of open meetings subject to the Act (with...

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