Last week I had a public discussion with Gary Marks, a member of the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee about my comments about the CCAC on CoinNews.net. My initial comments were based on an article that Mr. Marks says misrepresents the work of the CCAC. After following up with asking for more information, Mr. Marks produced a quote buried in a document on the CCAC website that was lacking context. It is evident that Mr. Marks does not fully understand the issue.
The Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee is supposed be a conduit for the public to have input to the coin design process. The CCAC is supposed to work with the US Mint to create coin designs that represents the best of the best. It is a committee that is to do what President Theodore Roosevelt did as part of his “pet crime.”
New York Yankees limited partner John McMullen once said, “Nothing is more limited than being a limited partner of [George Steinbrenner].” McMullen has not tried to pry information from the CCAC and the US Mint!
Openness of the federal government was first codified in the Freedom of Information Act signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson on July 4, 1966. At the time, it was referred to as the “Sunshine Laws.” Before the growth of the computer age, the purpose was to make documents that were not sensitive or classified available to the public. Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and now Barack Obama have mandated their administrations to expand the availability of government information as electronic capabilities have improved.
On January 20, 2009, the first day of the Obama Administration, President Obama signed the Memorandum for the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies which said that “agencies should adopt a presumption in favor of disclosure, in order to renew their commitment to the principles embodied in FOIA, and to usher in a new era of open Government.” By August, the White House issued the Transparency and Open Government memo telling agencies that they have 120 days to report to the Office of Management and Budget how they would make the processes more open.
Rather than making the process more open as the President requested, the CCAC and the US Mint appears to be stuck in the mindset of the electronic world before the invention of the World Wide Web.
Although the meetings are open to the public, knowing when the meetings are being held is almost a state secret. Although announcements are made via a press release by the US Mint—of course everyone follows the US Mint’s press releases—the CCAC website has no information as to when meetings are held. Rather, the front page says to call a Washington, DC telephone number to listen to a recorded message about the meeting. Meeting announcements are not posted on the web site. Neither are the agendas in advance of the meeting. Instead of following the President’s executive order to be more open, the CCAC makes meeting announcements are technically legal but violates the spirit of open government.
Even using the 20th century forms of communications, the CCAC is not updating their website. At this time, minutes have not been posted for the last four meetings. Not that it matters because the information is sparse and really does not explain what the CCAC is doing.
There is also nothing worth reading on their Press Room page.
Anyone attending the CCAC meetings are handed a package of papers with an agenda, support letters, and even images of the proposed designs being discussed. These packages contain a phenomenal amount of information that when combined with the sparse minutes provides a better insight into what the CCAC has discussed. But these packages are not available to the public. If you know someone attending the meeting, you can ask them to obtain an extra copy. When I called the US Mint to ask to receive a package, I was told that it could not be done but I could receive copies of the coin images if I signed a copyright release. More than a year ago, I submitted a request for the release. After my application was rejected because I could not provide a company name, I was told I would have to sign a form for each request.
Most of the meetings are held at the US Mint’s Headquarters in Washington, DC. On occasion, meetings have been held during the American Numismatic Association’s Summer Seminar, Worlds Fair of Money, and recently the Florida United Numismatics show. While I would like to attend these events, I have a full time job, not in numismatics, that keeps me close to home. However, if I had access to the meeting package and a way of listening to the conversation, I would be able to make educated judgements on their work without having to rely on a second hand source like a non-numismatic newspaper.
Even if the CCAC continues to use 20th century communications, the Department of the Treasury does have the capability of creating a teleconference bridge that can be outbound only and recorded. This teleconference bridge will allow people who are not local to the meetings to listen to the meeting. In my “Real Life”™ job, I have used this service. It requires the bureau to request the service in advance.
After the meeting, the audio can be posted on the website so that anyone who could not participate during the time of the meeting could download the audio and listen at another time.
If the CCAC and US Mint wants to step into the 21st century, there are Internet-based audio services that can be used with greater capacity than the Treasury’s teleconferencing service.
Would it be too much to ask for the CCAC to have a Really Simple Syndication (RSS) feed? RSS feeds allows for better communication by my RSS reader letting me know when the site has created updates by watching the RSS feed. RSS is really simple. There are a number of programs to help create feeds and services that help publish feeds. As the webmaster for my local coin club, I provide an RSS feed when the website changes. I also use it to remind members of upcoming meetings.
Also, it is possible to integrate Google search into the CCAC website to provide search capabilities to visitors. There is no cost for this service.
If the CCAC participated in the Open Government initiative ordered by the President and made its deliberations more open to the citizens, maybe there would be a better understanding between the committee and the citizens they are supposed to represent.