Today in OpenGov: Explaining foreign influence in America, the Pentagon’s ridiculous FOIA ask, NSTIC pilots and more

President Obama uses virtual reality goggles in the White House
[President Obama uses virtual reality goggles in the White House to look at Yellowstone National Park. Feel free to send us your caption ideas! Photo Credit: Pete Souza]

SECRET AGENTS, MAN. Melissa Yeager digs into how the federal government oversees the influence of foreign government in the United States:Given the renewed attention to the role influence from foreign governments has allegedly had on this year’s presidential election cycle, you may have heard pundits talk about FARA, or the Foreign Agents Registration Act. There’s likely to be more debate in the coming weeks about who should have and who did register with FARA. So, what the heck is FARA?! Glad you asked.” [READ MORE]

NO WAY. The Sunlight Foundation has opposed attempts to use the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) as a vehicle for weakening the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) before, but we’re now calling attention to one of the most ridiculous proposals we’ve seen in recent history: an exemption from FOIA for an entire federal agency. The version of the NDAA (S.2943), the mammoth spending bill that funds the Department of Defense that the Senate passed on June 14, included a section which provided for an “exemption of information on military tactics, techniques, and procedures from release under Freedom of Information Act.” The text of the bill that passed the House on July 7 did not have Section 1054.

In June, Sunlight joined a broad coalition denouncing the FOIA carve-out in the NDAA then and urged Senate leadership to strike the toxic amendment from the bill. As the House and Senate prepare to reconvene in September and dig in to reconcile the differences between the bills this fall, we join dozens of other good government advocates calling on Congress to protect FOIA. [READ MORE]


  • Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Chairman of the House Oversight Committee, called on Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump to release his tax returns and medical records. [CNN]
  • Politifact examined an assertion that Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton “abided by the ethics agreement” and memorandum of understanding between the Obama administration and the Clinton Foundation while she was at the State Department and rated it mostly false.

    “Experts told us emails between Clinton aides and a foundation aide may not have been prohibited by the specific terms of the ethics pledges. But they demonstrate a blurring of the lines between official government business and Clinton’s personal connections — breaking the firewall Clinton agreed to preserve. The statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression.” ….Granholm is right that neither agreement prohibits aides facilitating meetings or taking job recommendations, but that’s only technically accurate because terms of the agreement were pretty specific to begin with, said John Wonderlich, the director of the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation.

    “The letter of the memorandum of understanding is not the standard by which they’re being judged,” Wonderlich said. “By trying to use that as a defense, that just highlights the deficiencies of the memorandum of understanding.”[Politifact]

  • Amid renewed questions surrounding the Clinton Foundation, the Wall Street Journal reports that while the Foundation plans to seize corporate and foreign funding, the Clinton Health Access Initiative may continue to accept such donations. [WSJ]
  • As we all work to make sense of this election year, it’s worth noting that conspiracies about a presidential candidate and a presidential candidate amplifying conspiracies aren’t the same thing. Check your sources before you share that story! [AP]


  • Federated identity…lives? “The National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace (NSTIC) announced six new multi-year pilots granting organizations ore than $15.5 million to conquer different issues with digital identities. The focus of this year’s NSTIC winners is on secure online access to state and local services with another partnering with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for trusted identities in health care. The NSTIC pilots includes 24 projects and more than 150 total partners across 26 states and D.C.” [SecureID News]

State and local

  • The New York Police Department (NYPD) has stopped disclosing records of disciplinary actions with the public. As New York City’s public advocate, Bill de Blasio released a report that gave the NYPD failing grades for how it disclosed information to the public. As Mayor of New York, he needs to act to ensure that the NYPD is accountable to the public it serves. [NY Daily News]
  • Austin, Texas now publishes datasets for traffic stops, arrests, resistance to arrests and officer-involved shootings. [Austin, Texas]
  • The Securities and Exchange Commission censured 71 governments in 45 states for failing to disclose certain financial info on bonds. [Governing]


  • New research suggests that open government reforms that reduce corruption must also focus on service delivery. [DemocracySpot]
  • Speaking of which, national open government action plans would all benefit from focusing on beneficial ownership, contracting transparency and commitments to collect and release more environmental data. [National Resources Governance Institute]


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