QUOTE OF THE DAY:: “Now, according to the law, see I figured there’s something where you put something in this massive trust and there’s also — nothing is written.” -President-Elect Donald J. Trump
QUOTE OF THE DAY II: “Trump won’t divest. Media will report. We will be shocked daily. Don’t stop being shocked. Time to learn what we’ve taken for granted. Every Trump administration decision may involve self-dealing. Every story uncovering it is newsworthy. It’s landscape we need to prepare for. Unfair personal gain is only the tip of the iceberg in a President who demands to maintain his commercial activity. It’s just the first problem. ‘Trump gets richer and that’s unfair’ is the smallest of potatoes. We’re on a bigger precipice. Consider entrenchment.” -John Wonderlich
FOIA UNDER TRUMP? “While we have no way of knowing what Trump will do for sure, open government and journalists are bracing for an administration that could be more obstructionist. ” -Jason Koebler [Motherboard]
EDITOR’S NOTE – Due to the Thanksgiving holiday, Today in OpenGov will not publish on Thursday or Friday. Look for the next edition here and in your inbox on Monday, November 28. Please keep sending us links to news, research, data and events in the civic technology and open government spheres. We’ll do our best to keep you informed and connected to what’s happening in DC, across the United States and around the world in with open data, press freedom and open technologies, along with what’s next for the Sunlight Foundation. -Alex Howard
TRACKING THE TRANSITION
- INBOX 2017: Like many of you, we’re paying close attention to what’s happening with the 2016 presidential transition of power. We’re reading Politico and the Washington Post’s dedicated transition coverage, following the New York Times interview across platforms, and visiting GreatAgain.gov and following @Transition2017 and @realDonaldTrump on Twitter for confirmation of cabinet appointments. 2016 continues to hold surprises for just about everyone, but we’re doing our best to filter fact from fiction. So are thousands of the world’s journalists.
- TRANSPARENCY THEATER? While the video embedded above, transition website and social media accounts provide information directly to the public, much as the Obama transition’s digital operation did in 2008, they are not a substitute for a press conference, as Sunlight’s Melissa Yeager told CBS Local. “To not have press conferences, and to not have reporters to challenge the ideas going into the administration, you know, this is really disadvantageous to the public. We don’t get an idea of what his policies are, and how they might affect the American public,” Yeager told KCBS. [CBS]
- 119 DAYS: While the New York Times interview was significant, the President-Elect has not gone before the press corps since Election Day. In fact, his last press conference was on July 27, 119 days ago. Both President Bush and Obama held a press conference with 3 days of receiving the election results in 2000 and 2008.
- I’VE GOT 29 CONFLICTS BUT…: According to the Wall Street Journal, “Of the 29 countries whose leaders Mr. Trump has disclosed speaking to since the election, he has real estate-related business deals in eight, including Azerbaijan and Turkey, and has sought deals in the past in several others.” [WSJ]
- ON THE RECORD: When asked about the conflicts of interest he carries into the Oval Office by the New York Times, which Sunlight joined other watchdogs in calling for him to place in a blind trust, the President-Elect acknowledged that they exist:
“They’ll say I have a conflict because we just opened a beautiful hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue, so every time somebody stays at that hotel, if they stay because I’m president, I guess you could say it’s a conflict of interest. It’s a conflict of interest, but again, I’m not going to have anything to do with the hotel, and they may very well. I mean it could be that occupancy at that hotel will be because, psychologically, occupancy at that hotel will be probably a more valuable asset now than it was before, O.K.? The brand is certainly a hotter brand than it was before. I can’t help that, but I don’t care. I said on “60 Minutes”: I don’t care. Because it doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters to me is running our country.”
Mr. Trump also said that the President of the United States “can’t have a conflict of interest,” a claim that the Washington Post found true, in the sense that there is an exemption for the president and vice president in conflict of interest law, given the power of the presidency, as we’ve warned for over a year prior to the election:
“I mean I know that from the standpoint, the law is totally on my side, meaning, the president can’t have a conflict of interest. That’s been reported very widely. Despite that, I don’t want there to be a conflict of interest anyway. And the laws, the president can’t. And I understand why the president can’t have a conflict of interest now because everything a president does in some ways is like a conflict of interest, but I have, I’ve built a very great company and it’s a big company and it’s all over the world.”
When pressed for more detail about a to-date theoretical structure that would to separate the public’s business before the White House from private business interests that sought to influence the presidency through the Trump Organization — so-called “stay to sway” at a hotel or “play to sway” at a golf course — Trump shared some surprise that Congress had not anticipated this issue.
Now, according to the law, see I figured there’s something where you put something in this massive trust and there’s also — nothing is written. In other words, in theory, I can be president of the United States and run my business 100 percent, sign checks on my business, which I am phasing out of very rapidly, you know, I sign checks, I’m the old-fashioned type. I like to sign checks so I know what is going on as opposed to pressing a computer button, boom, and thousands of checks are automatically sent. It keeps, it tells me what’s going on a little bit and it tells contractors that I’m watching. But I am phasing that out now, and handing that to Eric Trump and Don Trump and Ivanka Trump for the most part, and some of my executives, so that’s happening right now.
But in theory I could run my business perfectly, and then run the country perfectly. And there’s never been a case like this where somebody’s had, like, if you look at other people of wealth, they didn’t have this kind of asset and this kind of wealth, frankly. It’s just a different thing.
But there is no — I assumed that you’d have to set up some type of trust or whatever and you know. And I was actually a little bit surprised to see it. So in theory I don’t have to do anything. But I would like to do something. I would like to try and formalize something, because I don’t care about my business.”
- EMOLUMENT CLAUSED OUT? Some legal scholars doubt whether the Emolument Clause can be applied to a President, or who would be able to have standing to enforce it. [Washington Post]
- TO BE DISCLOSED: A Democratic resolution – requiring Trump to divest from his business – looks as likely to pass as a bill requiring him to disclose his tax returns. [Washington Post]
- ABOUT THAT ELECTION INTEGRITY: Gabriel Sherman kicked off concerns about manipulation of voting machines with a report at New York Magazine that computer scientists and election lawyers had suggested to the Hillary Clinton campaign that it request a recount in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania based upon a suspicious pattern in electronic voting machines.
- HOLD ON: Professor J. Alex Halderman, one of the scientists cited, followed up independently on Medium, writing that “I believe the most likely explanation is that the polls were systematically wrong, rather than that the election was hacked.”
- AUDIT TIME? We share his skepticism and that of professor Rich Hasen, and support their call to reform U.S. electronic voting machines to produce a paper receipt. Sunshine would be a good disinfectant to allay public concern about this report. As both note, there is a way forward immediately that should be a baseline for any close elections in the future: “risk-limiting auditing.” Halderman explained:
Much more needs to be done to secure America’s elections, and important new safeguards could be put in place by 2018. States still using paperless voting machines should replace them with optical scan systems, and all states should update their audit and recount procedures. There are fast and inexpensive ways to verify (or correct) computer voting results using a risk-limiting audit, a statistical method that involves manually inspecting randomly selected paper ballots. Officials need to begin preparing soon to make sure all of these improvements are ready before the next big election.
- SWAMPWATCH: Lee Fang reports that the Trump transition has replaced the lobbyists on the team with former lobbyists working in DC’s shadow influence industry. As Fang notes, “the Trump transition-team ethics standards requires officials to deregister as lobbyists and agree to a five-year lobbying ban. But the rules do not preclude officials who have recently worked in the lobbying industry or currently work in the lobbying industry without having explicitly registered as lobbyists.” And no, that doesn’t sound like “draining the swamp” to us, either. [The Intercept]
- DC DRAINO: We prefer sunshine metaphors, but it appears that swamps are going to be a symbol of corruption of DC this season, despite the incoming cold. Here’s four suggestions from ethics experts about how to mitigate lobbying and campaign finance challenges in the Capital. [Washington Post]
- DANGER, WILL ROBINSON: Former U.S. Representative Robert Walker, the senior Trump campaign adviser for space policy, told the Guardian that the incoming administration would eliminate all research conducted on climate change by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Walker, who wrote before Election Day that NASA “should be focused primarily on deep space activities rather than Earth-centric work,” has called the space agency’s observation and collection of the planet “politically correct environmental monitoring.” According to the Guardian, the Trump administration would eliminate the budget of NASA’ Earth science division and allocate it to deep space research and exploration. “Earth-centric science is better placed at other agencies where it is their prime mission,” Walker said.“My guess is that it would be difficult to stop all ongoing NASA programs but future programs should definitely be placed with other agencies. I believe that climate research is necessary but it has been heavily politicized, which has undermined a lot of the work that researchers have been doing. Mr Trump’s decisions will be based upon solid science, not politicized science.” It’s not clear yet what this would mean for specific programs like NASA’s collaboration with the U.S. Geological Survey, a joint program that has created “the longest continuous space-based record of Earth’s land in existence.” LANDSAT data is driving significant societal benefits around the globe. Please keep an eye out for other potential threats to open data and let us know what you see.
- The future of civic technology in the federal government is up for debate in the wake of the election. Sunlight alumni Noah Kunin and Eric Mill have said they’ll stay in public service. Code for America founder — and former U.S. deputy chief technology officer — Jen Pahlka has said that a nonpartisan movement’s idea “that we can remake government in the image of the people, to work for people, and have government we can all feel good about, doesn’t belong to any political party or any administration.” U.S. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer have expressed public support for 18F and the U.S. Digital Service but their future is still in doubt under a Trump administration. To date, the Trump campaign and transition team has had little to say about digital government or open government, much less the organs of government responsible for delivering on policies. This morning, Nancy Scola reported at Politico that behind the public expressions of support on Twitter and Medium, there’s a lot of other people considering leaving.
“…an impassioned debate is raging among the hundreds of software engineers, designers and other technologists who left Democratic-leaning Silicon Valley and other tech enclaves to work for President Barack Obama: Do they want to stay in a Washington run by Donald Trump? They describe having one hand on the keyboard and the other on the doorknob as they decide what’s next, Nancy reports. While some high-ranking tech staffers in the federal ranks have already said they’re not going anywhere, others are concerned that staying could put them in a tough spot, especially if they’re asked to work on a project at odds with their values.”
- This issue came up at last week’s “Upgrading Washington” forum in Washington DC [VIDEO], where your faithful correspondent asked 1) how the next administration would appeal to the technologists who have joined the administration for 21st century public service and 2) the future of open government and technology under a Trump administration. In answering, U.S. chief information officer Tony Scott said:
During this administration we did open source policy, there was a lot of great progress on open data initiatives. I don’t think any of that stuff stops. The business community embraced this and is counting on that to continue. I don’t hear any voices saying stop doing that, or it’s not worth it to keep doing that. The whole government is run by a whole bunch of career people who are here and will be hear by the next administration and the one beyond that, and so on. I think this has become part of the way that government works. I don’t expect some of those things to change much, particularly where there’s broad support in the business community. I think the question really is, what else on top of that gets done, or how does the direction shift at all. I don’t think anybody knows that yet. I think it’s a little premature to sort of make that call. I know that a lot of people are watching, and anxiously awaiting. Me, too.
I do think some of this, the digitization march is inevitable. Really, the only question is how fast is it going to go. Is this next administration going to accelerate, or not put an emphasis on it? I think it’s too early to tell.
- “The only thing that can jeopardize the progress made over the last eight years,” said Seamus Kraft, co-founder of the OpenGov Foundation, “when this community not even grew up, it became a thing, and then grew up, is for the people created that progress to walk away, and then not to have extended hands.”
- As Samantha Ehlinger reported, the panel and U.S. CTO Megan Smith a suggested that the work and legacy the Obama administration passes on in open government and digital services is not a Democratic or progressive movement but a nonpartisan approach to governing in the 21st century that can and should be continued. [FedScoop]
- We’ll see. As we learned from a Pew Internet survey in 2015, while most Americans are optimistic about open data, trust in the federal government itself is at historic lows. The least transparent presidential candidate in modern history will find that sunshine laws require far more disclosure of government business than they do of nominees or businessmen. The 2015 survey showed that what people think about opening government data and the outcomes of disclosing it online are tied both low trust in government and their politics.
As I wrote in April 2015, if a Republican were to be elected President in November 2016, we could expect public views on open data and digital government to shift.
“That’s definitely the historic pattern, tracked over time, dating to 1958,” John Horrigan, a Pew Research analyst, told me, citing a Pew study. [E Pluribus Unum] “If it holds and a Republican wins the White House, you’d expect it to flip. Let’s say that we get a Republican president and he continues some of these initiatives to make government perform better, which I expect to be the case. The Bush administration invested in e-government, and used the tools available to them at the time. The Obama administration picked it up, used the new tools available, and got better. President [X] could say this stuff works.”
- Over the holiday break, please take some time to read and share Sunlight fellow Joy Namanugoga’s powerful piece on how public data would improve policing in Uganda. It’s an important reminder of the fundamental role open government plays in democracies. [READ MORE]
The Uganda National Service Delivery Survey of 2015 found 75 percent of Ugandans identified the police as the most corrupt institution in Uganda. This was because the police force was criticized for bribery, fraud and extortion, but poor access to their methods of information disclosure likely exacerbated these issues. Corruption and good access to police information seem logically connected. A weak complaint feedback mechanism and poor information disclosure methods reduce the possibility to fix all kinds of problems, including bribery, fraud, and extortion. With a weak disclosure system, culprits can freely manipulate the system while damaging the transparency and moral fabric of the force. If the Uganda Police Force makes full and timely information more accessible to the public, there will be a narrower range of opportunities for the mismanagement and corruption within the system. As democracy relies on the traditional value of openness and participation in governance, the right to access information lays the foundation for a truly democratic environment — and the lack of it aids corruption. [READ MORE]
STATE AND LOCAL
- Here’s three strategies for cities can support collaborations with different users of open data. [GovTech]
- Syracuse has joined the What Works Cities initiative. [Daily Orange]
- Mississippi Today: “National open government and public records experts say a policy adopted by the state lawmakers this week keeping all legislative contracts secret from the public makes the state an exception to the rule.
“With regard to general procurement law, this would be an extreme outlier,” Emily Shaw, a senior analyst for the Sunlight Foundation, said when asked how Mississippi’s policy compares to other states’ practices.” [READ MORE]
- The Open Government Partnership’s Global Summit will be Dec. 7-9 in Paris, France. Your correspondent will be attending the conference, as I have from the beginning, when the global partnership launched in New York City in 2011. Sunlight’s Steven Larrick will be presenting on “Remix to Reform,” with Greg Jordan-Dettamore. Please send us news and announcements and tune in to #OGPSummit.
- 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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