Today in OpenGov: The revolution will be … digitized?


FOR THE RECORD: The whistleblower behind the Panama Papers made a statement about why he or she provided the data to the International Center for Investigative Journalism (ICIJ), including this observation:

While it’s one thing to extol the virtues of government transparency at summits and in sound bites, it’s quite another to actually implement it. It is an open secret that in the United States, elected representatives spend the majority of their time fundraising. Tax evasion cannot possibly be fixed while elected officials are pleading for money from the very elites who have the strongest incentives to avoid taxes relative to any other segment of the population. These unsavoury political practices have come full circle and they are irreconcilable. Reform of America’s broken campaign finance system cannot wait.

The ICIJ published a searchable database of almost 214,000 offshore entities in 21 jurisdictions today. [Panama Papers]

WAITAMINUTE: Tim Fernolz reports that lawyers and researchers at financial transparency groups see a design flaw in the reforms the Obama administration advanced last Friday to address the shell companies revealed in the Panama Papers. The most glaring issue identified in the report is that the definition of beneficial owner is altered in the draft law:

Under the new rules, anyone who owns less than 25% of the company need not be reported, and the appointed president of a shell company can be listed as the beneficial owner. “That’s kind of the opposite of what the term as has always meant,” Elise Bean, the former chief counsel of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, told reporters last week. “At Mossack Fonseca, they could say, ‘I’m appointing my law firm employee the president of the shell company, and now under US rules, I can name my employee the beneficial owner of that company.’ That just doesn’t make sense.”

Neither the Treasury Department nor White House has published a draft copy of the proposed legislation for the public to read online, so we’ll have to trust their word on this. [Quartz]

MR. HOLZER, WE BARELY KNEW YE. On Friday, Josh Gerstein reported that James Holzer, the director of the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) — which serves as the federal ombudsman for the Freedom of Information Act — is resigning after less than a year in the role. OGIS has not posted Mr. Holzer’s calendar for May yet, nor confirmed his departure. [Politico]



  • The seventh “Health Datapalooza” kicked off today in Washington, D.C., including a keynote from Vice President Joe Biden where he made the case for open data to play a role in the “moonshot” to cure cancer. Publishing some 2,100 health datasets online is “based on the simple proposition that data and technology can have an incredible impact on saving people’s lives,” he said. We should open up more of the data held by federal government to drive progress.” [Healthcare Informatics]
  • Niall Brennan, the chief data officer of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, told Charles Orstein that the public “should expect to see these data releases on a regular basis for some time to come.” [NPR]He also broke down just how much open data has been released, if you haven’t been keeping track:

    One of the reasons for our success is that we actually started with relatively small and modest data releases — things like releasing data at the regional level on differences in Medicare spending among states and counties. And then we gradually built up to releasing more detailed information on discharges at hospitals; how physicians practice medicine in the Medicare program; how they prescribe drugs in the Medicare program; how they prescribe durable medical equipment such as wheelchairs. Most recently, we’ve released a lot of information on skilled nursing facilities and home health agencies, giving people a glimpse for the first time at the types of care that those providers provide. The openness and transparency go significantly beyond this. We’ve released Sunshine Act Open Payments data, which is information on the payments that drug and device manufacturers make to physicians and hospitals.

  • The Vice President also told the assembled health care leaders, developers and researchers that the progress of health care technology is being held back by silos and a lack of interoperability. [Healthcare IT News]
  • If senior officials from past Republic administrations decline to serve under President Trump, it would have impact on both the capacity and experience present in federal agencies. A Trump administration could also have potential ramifications for recruiting and retention of skilled technologists in agencies. [Politico]
  • Panasonic might have created the world’s best model for forecasting weather, a development which is provoking some thinking about what responsibilities the company has to share those forecasts or the data behind them. As Eric Holthaus reports, Panasonic independently collects weather from commercial aircraft, some of which it sells to NOAA. NOAA already buys some of the aircraft data from Panasonic to help improve government forecast models. “In past emergency scenarios going back 10 years or so (defined as days when NOAA issues a call to its offices to ramp up the frequency of weather balloon launches), Panasonic has provided all of its raw data to the government at no cost,” he reports. “Panasonic hasn’t yet shared its forecast output with the government, though.” [Slate]

State and Local


  • Jessica McKenzie interviewed the founders of OpenOakland about the challenges of making civic technology sustainable. “There isn’t anyone that’s figured this out yet,” Steven Spiker said. “Like, this particular type of organization—that we can tell—doesn’t exist anywhere in the U.S. that’s been funded effectively and has any staff, anywhere. There are organizations that are starting to get small grants here and there, or small projects, but by and large they’re tiny and there’s no one that’s actually figured out what the model is.” [Civicist]
  • Like other cities that want to be “smart,” Kansas City has adopted a number of new technologies, from public wifi to sensors to electronic kiosks. What’s less clear is how open the cities are about what data is being collected or about whom, or who it’s going to be used and by whom. [Huffington Post]
  • New York City published a digital playbook that commendably focuses on delivering responsive, simple, trusted services that reach people where they are. The section on accountability and transparency is weak, however, with nothing about New York’s Freedom of Information Law, only a focus on making the services themselves transparent. (3 of the 5 bullets are about privacy.) Principles for open digital governance might include a presumption of openness in the release and format of public records, transparency in processes and decisions, and proactive publishing of satisfaction and performance data associated with them.
  • The District of Columbia’s Statehood Commission published a draft constitution for a State of New Columbia. The document itself was published as a PDF with an event flyer as a preamble. We’re hoping it ends up on soon.



  • Mark Cridge, the CEO of MySociety, wants the new mayor of London to transform the capitol into a “Civic Tech City.” [New Statesman]
  • “I want this to be the most transparent, honest and accessible administration London has ever seen,” said Sadiq Khan, upon his inauguration this weekend. What his approach to making London a “fair and more equal” city will mean in practice has yet to be seen. Designating major city contracts as “subject to Freedom of Information” is underwhelming.
  • According to a former Facebook worker who edited the “what’s trending” module, Facebook routinely suppressed conservative news stories and chose not to source conservative news outlets. (The team also did not routinely did not add stories about Facebook itself.) The team also reportedly injected hard news stories that were trending on Twitter or on the front pages of major news outlets, which then would become trending. What this report suggests is that Facebook is not neutral in favoring or disfavoring news, which in turn means that the influence of the world’s biggest social network must be reckoned with, yet again, particularly as we consider how much news discovery and sharing has shifted to smartphone-toting folks searching and disseminating information on social networks. [Gizmodo]

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