Today in OpenGov: This Is Why Doing Your Taxes Is Still So Painful


Top Story: Lobbying is making Tax Day in the United States much more complicated than it has to be. Sunlight writer Libby Watson dug into why “return-free filing” is not a thing yet.


  • As the nation prepares to file its taxes, the public might reasonably wonder if that data is secure. According to a March 2016 report from the General Accountability Office, that answer is likely “no.”  [CNN]
  • The Email Privacy Act [H.R.699] unanimously passed the U.S. House Judiciary Committee today. [Daily Dot] If the bill becomes a law, Uncle Sam will have to get a warrant to read our email or online data. Imagine that.
  • Dozens of senior citizens demanding campaign finance reform were arrested at the U.S. Capitol yesterday as part of the ongoing “Democracy Spring” protests. [Vice]
  • The protests aren’t getting much attention on cable news [Democracy Now] or in Congress. [HuffPost]
  • Unsealed documents are shedding new light on the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac bailouts that undercut the federal government’s case for taking their profits. “The unsealing of the documents casts a spotlight on a legal proceeding that has been shrouded in secrecy from the start. The court granted the government’s request for confidential treatment of thousands of pages of materials produced in the case; Justice Department lawyers have asserted presidential privilege in 45 documents.” [New York Times]
  • Time to retire e-Government, along with the Information Superhighway and cyberspace? [Federal News Radio]. The OPEN Government Data Act (more on that tomorrow) would replace any mention of the White House Office of E-Government and IT and replace it with Federal CIO.
  • While e-government feels like it’s from another information age, anyone working in the field of “civic technology” should care about its use. Why? As former Sunlighter Emily Shaw explains at Civicist, there’s decades of research into e-government that should be informing the choices of people today. If civic tech is viewed as a shiny new discipline with no historical antecedents, people trying to improve how government works are far too likely to repeat the mistakes of the past.

    “To the extent that civic tech implementation requires at least an open mind—and better, an enthusiastic partnership—on the side of our government partners, it is best if we know where they’ve been coming from,” she suggests. Amen.

STATE and local

  • The U.S. Public Interest Group Education Fund released its sixth annual report on how well the 50 states rate in providing online access to government spending data. “As tax day approaches, millions of Americans will write checks to their state governments. Citizens deserve to be able to follow their tax dollars, from the most minor state expenditures to the most major development subsidies,” said Michelle Surka, program associate with U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund. “This year, it’s clear that several states made a commitment to meeting the high national standards for spending transparency. Other states continue to lag behind, unable to overcome some of the barriers that prevent comprehensive spending disclosures.”

    Lots of room remains for improvement: “Only 11 states provide checkbook-level information that includes the recipients of each of the state’s most important subsidy programs.” [PIRG Education Fund]

  • There’s a new peer network for chief data officers in city governments. [Route Fifty]
  • Should a prison record be the first impression for a potential employer? There’s Room for Debate on this count. [New York Times]
  • A team led by LinkedIn data scientist Lutz Finger analyzed data in the NYPD’s “stop-and-frisk” program and found racial injustice in New York City. [Forbes]
  • The City of New Orleans is appealing the ruling of a judge to release public records of its spending database to The Lens. [The Lens]
  • The use of lethal force by police remains shrouded in secrecy. An investigation by the Guardian found police officers involved 1 in 6 deaths recorded in the first quarter of 2015 were cleared of wrongdoing and returned to work with no announcement by public officials or local media reporting. [Guardian]
  • JOB! The state of California is hiring a chief data officer [Govfresh]


  • The European Union is calling on big companies to disclose more tax data, but there’s a long road ahead before the proposals become law. Here’s the current notion: “Rather than establishing a central registry, the proposal would leave it to the bloc’s member states to enforce rules requiring companies to publish tax information on their corporate websites. The information, which would be broken down by country, would include the number of employees; net revenue, including money exchanged between third parties and between business units of a group; profit before tax; and income tax due and paid each year.” [New York Times]
  • The Open State Foundation scraped and compiled information about who’s who in the EU institutions and published it online as open data. Bravo! [Transparency Camp EU]
  • Police raided the offices of Mossack Fonseca, the financial firm at the heart of the Panama Papers. [Guardian]
  • In a Q&A posted at the Ford Foundation’s website, ICIJ Director Gerard Ryle said that it would not have been possible to do the investigation 5 or 10 years ago. [Ford]
  • The lesson of the Panama Papers is that “more should be done to make offshore tax havens less murky.” [The Economist]
  • Related: The Economist’s data team took a look at the “secretive and morally dubious world of shell companies.”
  • Former Argentina president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner remains defiant as a fraud investigation moves forward. [Guardian]
  • The Open Government Partnership announced the commencement of its subnational pilot program in 15 countries. [OGP blog]
  • GovTech puts the story in the context of state and local government, but what Facebook’s Live Video feature means for governments is a really a global question. [GovTech]
  • Similarly, while Nieman Lab director Josh Benton broke down Facebook’s announcements at its developer conference yesterday in the context of what’s important to publishers, every one of these new developments has ramifications for governments using Facebook to share information and engage people. For instance, consider how the new bot platform for Messenger might be used to answer questions about laws, regulations, elections or emergencies — or whether government communications professionals should be thinking about formatting their publications to work in Facebook’s Instant Articles or Google’ AMP format. [Nieman Lab]


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