Today in OpenGov: Sunshine challenges at home and abroad

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SUNLIGHT ABROAD: Stephen Larrick just returned from Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he participated in the Open Government Partnership’s subnational meeting. We are all looking to mayors to protect and serve their diverse urban populations with open government, evidence-based policies, programs and simple, beautiful digital services.

SUNSHINE CHALLENGES AT HOME: The Center for Investigative Reporting published a major feature and interactive on state secrets looking at open government across the state and local level in the United States. The piece’s conclusions show how far we have to go on open government – and the real risks of regression.

There are no definitive national studies of the scope of state and local secrecy, but the studies, surveys and anecdotal evidence that do exist strongly suggest state and local government secrecy has increased in the past 10 years. While there are many reasons for this, it has coincided with a decline in local news coverage, technological advances that governments haven’t been able to afford and an increase in outsourcing of government functions to private entities.

Whatever the causes, lack of transparency by state and local governments can discourage civic discourse and grass-roots engagement with government, as a frustrated public often simply gives up after struggling but failing to find out what is going on close to home. [READ THE WHOLE THING]

TRACKING THE TRANSITION

  • The Wall Street Journal reported that everyone brought onto the presidential transition by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is being let go, as Indiana Mike Pence taking over, formally signing the legal documents that set the process in motion. [Wall Street Journal]
  • The New York Times also reported that the presidential transition is being hindered by firings and internal discord. [New York Times]
  • While the President-elect disputed the Times reporting in a series of tweets, the Washington Post found that “in every case where we could link Trump’s tweets back to his complaints, the Times reporting has held up.” [Washington Post]
  • In the meantime, a new report found that the transition, as of Monday, was full of lobbyists and industry insiders. [Public Citizen]
  • Good news on that count: the transition put internal ethics rules in place for staff. Bad news: it appears over half a dozen staff broke it. A senior Pence aide quoted by Politico added to a key detail in the Wall Street Journal’s story, reporting that the VP-Elect has issued a new decree to purge all lobbyists from the transition. We’ll see. [Politico]
  • On that count, ethics lawyers from the past two administrations, along with our allies at the Project on Government Oversight, have offered the transition proposed language for an executive order on ethics and lobbying. [Washington Post]
  • Darren Samuelson: “Unlike past presidents who took office with considerable wealth, from George H.W. Bush to John F. Kennedy, the setup Trump is creating for his financial assets — leaving his three oldest adult children and a “team of highly skilled executives” in charge while he’s in the Oval Office — appears likely to expose large numbers of people the president hires to an unprecedented set of conflicts spanning his entire federal government.” [Politico]
  • “Trump may completely ignore his business interests in office. But without transparency…, you can’t be sure.” [Washington Post]
  • After yet another break in the tradition, President-Elect Donald Trump went out to dinner without telling journalists after they’d been told he was staying in for the evening. At this point,  Alexandra Jaffe and Ali Vitale wrote that “the Trump Administration is shaping up to be the least accessible to the public and the press in modern history.” They’re not wrong. Trump has yet to give a press conference post-election. [NBC News]
  • In response, the nation’s journalism and press freedom organizations called on the President-Elect to immediately commit to a protective press pool.

    “We respectfully ask you to instill a spirit of openness and transparency in your administration in many ways but first and foremost via the press pool. We also call for access to you via regular press conferences and pool sprays and to your key decision-makers. You have an opportunity as incoming president to set the tone for your staff speaking on the record for the sake of transparency. We also hope your administration will improve response rates to FOIA requests as a way to show the American people, and the world, that the republic belongs to the people. A great America depends on having sunlight on its leaders.”[National Press Club]

NATIONAL

  • As a tweet by Center for Public Integrity reporter Jie Jenny Zou highlighted, the FOIAOnline platform has some problems. We hope that the EPA will fix the problem — and that the White House Office of Management and Budget will build a better FOIA.gov.

  • The director of the National Security Agency said that a nation state intervened in the election of the incoming president of the United States, under whom he will serve. [WSJ]
  • The federal Freedom of Information Act ombudsman reported that the Federal Emergency Management Agency is improving its FOIA compliance. [OGIS]
  • An email to the Department of the Interior about its missing 2016 Open Government Plan bounced. An email to the U.S. Treasury, however, was returned: they plan to publish a plan next week. Much better late than never!

STATE AND LOCAL

  • Naperville, Ill., approved a new open data policy. [Naperville]
  • Cape Coral, Fla., has experience opening data with a small budget will be helpful to other small cities around the USA. Michelle Hoffmann, the IT Director for the City of Cape Coral, shared their experience on our blog. [READ MORE]
  • South Bend, Ind., and Lincoln, Neb., recently joined What Works Citie aiming for similar positive outcomes. [Journal Star]
  • Here’s four steps to get government leaders on a “data diet” from Sunlight’s partner at What Works, the Center for Government Excellence. [GovTech]
  • In a suit regarding the Notre Dame campus police, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled that “a private university police department is not a ‘public agency’ for the purposes of APRA,” and affirmed they were exempt from public records laws. [@DataEditor]
  • More egregiously, a Mississippi state legislative committee voted for new policy that would make all contracts that approves confidential. Sen. Terry Burton, R-Newton, told a reporter that only travel records were public records. “Emails, contracts, text messages and all that, those are not public records,” Burton said. We couldn’t disagree more. [Mississippi Today]

EVENTS.

  • Transparency and Freedom of Information in the digital age at Berkman-Klein in Cambridge, MA, on Nov. 17. [RSVP]
  • There will be a workshop on Data and Algorithmic Transparency at Columbia University on Nov. 19. [RSVP]
  • There will be a look at the Open Government Partnership after 5 years a the OpenGovHub in DC on Nov. 21. [RSVP]
  • The Open Government Partnership’s Global Summit will be Dec. 7-9 in Paris, France.
  • The Public Interest Declassification Board will hold a public meeting to “discuss recommendations for improved transparency and open government for the new Presidential Administration” in DC on Dec. 8. [RSVP].
  • What events will YOU be attending over the next six months? Write to ahoward@sunlightfoundation.com.

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We want to find and share the most important stories about open government around the world from the past 24 hours here. To do that, we’ll need YOUR help. Please send your tips and feedback at ahoward@sunlightfoundation.com. If you would like to suggest an event, email us by 7 a.m. on the Monday prior to the event.