Today in OpenGov: Clinton’s email, more justice data, 404 at OGE, FOIA reforms and regressions


MORE EMAIL FALLOUT: The release of a critical report on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s email practices by U.S. State Department’s inspector general answered some  questions that have lingered since last March, leaves others to linger, and provided a moment to think about what the whole affair can tell us about open government. [Sunlight Foundation]

The report confirmed what Josh Gerstein reported last March: Clinton’s choice to use a private server exclusively for public business violated State Department rules and practices, but not laws. As Gerstein reported 14 months later, this matches what records experts and good government groups have argued since the beginning: A Cabinet-level secretary maintaining a private email server was a rare arrangement at odds with long-established procedures and policies for retaining and disclosing email records.

The timeline above traces the evolution of the State Department’s records management requirements and practices since 1950 (click the image to enlarge).

While she has apologized for the mistake and disclosed 30,322 email records that the State Department has published online, Clinton has also continued to dispute this conclusion that she’d broken any rules, telling ABC on Thursday, “The report is consistent with what I have been saying, that the use of personal email was a practice by other secretaries of state, and the rules were not clarified until after I had left.” [Wall Street Journal]

IN DATA VERITAS: Sunlight added another 125 new datasets from the Police Data Initiative to our Hall of Justice database, adding them to almost 10,000 other criminal justice data sets from 50 states and the District of Columbia.

“In addition to including Police Data Initiative datasets, we have also updated Hall of Justice with information from other governmental agencies that reached out to us after our launch,” wrote Damian Ortellado. “Users can now find datasets from the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the inventory, among others. We appreciate feedback and encourage you to contact us with comments, questions or submissions to Hall of Justice. Finally, we’ve corrected several of the links that had broken since we completed our criminal justice research earlier this year.”

404 OGE: The arc of openness does not always bend towards increased transparency. In 2012, Sunlight praised the Obama administration for making it easier to access public disclosure forms online. In 2016, the Obama administration has removed conflict of interest reports filed to the Office of Government Ethics by top federal officials from the Internet. Sunlight’s John Wonderlich told former Sunlight staffer-turned-data reporter Luke Rosiak that this was a “big step backward,” saying “the administration should be demonstrating how digital disclosure should strengthen our accountability systems” and that “creating barriers to access is the opposite of progress.” [Daily Caller]





  • Lauren Harper’s digest of news around the Freedom of Information Act continues to be a must-read for transparency advocates and activists. [National Security Archive]
  • At yesterday’s DATA Act Summit, White House and Treasury officials and Members of Congress were all guardedly optimistic about the implementation of the DATA Act, although both of the authors of the landmark federal spending law expressed concerned about the law’s future. [Fedscoop]
  • The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs passed four bills intended to improve accountability and transparency on Wednesday. [Federal News Radio]
  • The National Archives published a recap of the May inter-agency open government working group.


State and Local



  • Open government advocates and press associations are celebrating after the Massachusetts House and Senate voted unanimously to send the first major reform of the state’s public records law in 43 years, sending the bill on to Gov. Charlie Baker’s pen. [Boston Globe] [Mass Live]
  • Journalism organizations and consumer are appealing a recent Indiana Supreme Court ruling regarding the disclosure of lawmaker’s emails, asking the court to reconsider that decision that they warn could gut the state’s public records law. Steve Key, executive director and general counsel for the Hoosier State Press Association, warns that if the judiciary accepts Gov. Mike Pence’s argument about the separation of powers, “it will eviscerate the Access to Public Records Act, hamstringing the public’s ability to hold government officials accountable for their actions.” [South Bend Tribune]
  • Flush with a new investment, NY-based startup Seamless Docs is moving into the state and federal sector. [Govtech]
  • The Arizona Capital Times used the Legislative Influence Detector developed by the University of Chicago’s Data Science for Social Good Fellowship program to analyze bill text in Arizona to find “model legislation” that mirrored (or liberally borrowed ideas from) bills in other states. Sunlight’s Emily Shaw told the Times that one way to inform the public about the origins of influence of model legislation in their state legislatures is through increased transparency. “The effort to identify model legislation reflects a failure to capture this information through lobbying disclosure,” she said. [AZ Times]
  • The Open Media Foundation has been producing Colorado Channel for eight years, broadcasting every day of the state legislative session state-wide and then archiving them online for on-demand viewing. As Tony Shawcross, executive director of the Open Media Foundation, explained on our blog, the Foundation won a Prototype Grant from the Knight Foundation to add meta data to the videos:

    Through the prototype work, we were able to learn about statistical audio analysis and developed a toolset for identifying speakers in video files. Video files have noise and nonspeech segments removed. The toolset then assigns IDs to speakers and allows users to confirm their identity. This drastically reduces the amount of time required to identify when representatives speak in the files. While rudimentary, the toolkit is open source and publicly available. We are excited by the potential of this work both in and out of the civic sector.OMF synthesized our bill timestamps, the 2015 session speaker timestamps and bill and vote data from the Sunlight Foundation’s Open States project to create She Said, He Said (SSHS). SSHS is a prototype app that allows users to search by legislator, bill or address to find related video and voting records. Visitors can see every time their representative spoke on the floor and what they said. [Sunlight]


  • “If you want to crack down on corruption, you’ll need to crack down on offshore tax havens.” It would certainly help. [Washington Post]
  • On that count, while it’s not clear yet whether 2016 will be “the year for open government” – I think we may have hit “peak open” in 2013 — it could be the year that the worm turning on public registries of beneficial ownership. [Open Government Partnership]
  • The World Bank has reportedly “decimated” its capacity to support Freedom of Information initiatives, cutting three veteran staff this spring without replacing them. In doing so, the Bank is sending a worrying message about its commitment to a pillar of good governance and democratic accountability around the world, signaling to governments that enacting or reforms such laws is not a priority for the lending institution.Other “open” initiatives endure: Toby McIntosh writes that “the subjects of open contracting, open data, tax evasion and flows of funds seem to still be staffed, but work on FOI, extractive industry transparency, parliamentary strengthening and citizen engagement may suffer. A Bank spokeswoman told McIntosh that “there is some reorganizing going on to ensure that our global and local work is more integrated. Our commitment to transparency and access to information is unwavering.” [FreedomInfo]





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