Today in OpenGov: Considering open government in the age of populism
WHITHER OPEN GOV? Thousands of people are gathering in Paris for the annual Open Government Partnership Summit this week. The Brexit referendum in the United Kingdom and the electoral success of President-elect Donald Trump in the United States have created a novel historic moment for the 2016 summit than past years. People are understandably wondering what Trump will mean for open government not only in the USA, but the world. In that vein, OGP’s Independent Research Mechanism director Joseph Foti reflected on our need to ask harder questions about open government and OGP president Sanjay Pradhan called for governments to go beyond transparency to focus on participation with inclusion, responsiveness to feedback, and tackle elite capture and grand corruption.
Your correspondent will be looking for new examples of how transparency, accountability, collaboration, participation, access to information, civic engagement and press freedom have had an impact upon people’s lives and relationships with government entities. Trust in both government and media is at historic lows in many places, with institutions disrupted, disintermediated and derided by populist and authoritarian movements. In that context, we want to know what you’re seeing, hearing and working on: please share your stories firstname.lastname@example.org.
DISCLOSURE: President-elect Trump’s conflicts of interests matter. That’s why we’re tracking them until the President-elect divests and discloses. As John noted last Friday in his warning of the potential for corporate power to be used as an opaque tool for political ends, “without Trump’s tax returns, integrity will be an article of faith.” If Trump does decide to divest, the tax bill could be a nightmare — unless he can get a certificate of forfeiture from the Office of Government Ethics. Keep an eye on that decision, as well as the continuing involvement of the Trump children in the administration and Trump businesses and the scholarship and legal opinions on the Consitution’s emolument clause.
REAL NEWS: Journalists, by and large, accept and embrace the premise that media can help improve accountability. That needs interrogation. “The media scandal of 2016 isn’t what we failed to report,” said Politico editor Susan Glasser. “It’s what we did and that it didn’t matter.” [CJR]
Stories that would have killed any other politician—truly worrisome revelations about everything from the federal taxes Trump dodged to the charitable donations he lied about, the women he insulted and allegedly assaulted, and the mob ties that have long dogged him—did not stop Trump from thriving in this election year. Even fact-checking perhaps the most untruthful candidate of our lifetime didn’t work; the more news outlets did it, the less the facts resonated. Tellingly, a few days after the election, the Oxford Dictionaries announced that “post-truth” had been chosen as the 2016 word of the year, defining it as a condition “in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”
Glasser spends a lot of time talking about DC, media and how both have changed over time, but the quote to chew on is this: “We’ve achieved a lot more transparency in today’s Washington—without the accountability that was supposed to come with it.”
TRACKING THE TRANSITION
- One aspect of the President-elect’s Twitter use that hasn’t gotten much attention until recently is his block list. As Mashable reported, however, people are sharing screenshots of them being blocked from following the account. In theory, blocking someone from interacting with an official federal government account could pose a First Amendment violation. A personal account is a gray area. Government officials and elected politicians blocking people from following them on social media has been a reality for years, but a President-elect doing so after winning election is not a good sign for his administration. [Mashable]
- 130 DAYS: Since Election Day, Trump has tweeted about the New York Times seven times, the popular vote three times, and critiqued both Saturday Night Live and Hamilton two times each. Trump’s last press conference was on July 27, 2016. Both President Bush and Obama held a press conference within three days of accepting the results of the election. As we said before the election, regular press conferences are an essential part of the accountability we can and should expect of the President of the United States – and a President-elect.
- Trump has also tweeted out policy and appointment news, including proposals for new taxes on American companies that move manufacturing or jobs outside of the USA and tariffs on Chinese goods. As the Washington Post noted, however, the President-elect was incorrect when he tweeted that the US doesn’t tax them. “The United States does impose a tax on Chinese goods – 2.9 percent for non-farm goods and 2.5 percent for agricultural products.”
- As of last Friday, transition officials told the Washington Post that 65,800 men and women have applied to serve in the Trump administration through GreatAgain.gov. At 10 AM ET this morning, the “Plum Book” of appointee openings will be available from the Government Publishing Office and (for those of you not in DC) at GovInfo.gov. [Washington Post]
- As of this morning, Trump has made over a dozen appointments to key administration roles. Politico has the rundown of nominees — and the positions yet to be filled. [Politico]
- As of this morning, election 2016 is still in the mix: a federal judge ordered a recount in Michigan. [Politico]
- There was a U.S. House Oversight Committee hearing that examined the “use of fines, fees, penalties, and settlements to fund agency priorities outside of the appropriations process” last week. The Committee asserted that “agencies routinely use funds collected through fines, fees, penalties, and settlements, to fund agency operations and unappropriated programs.” The hearing considered a new bill that would direct agencies to send all monies they take in to the Treasury Department. “One of the huge takeaways from this hearing is that Congress does not really know which agencies are charging fees, how those fees are set (rarely are the fee levels written into law), and how much freedom agencies have to spend the fees,” wrote Kevin Kosar, who testified at the hearing, afterwards. “What we need is a map that connect agencies fund-collecting to statutory authorities therefore (both authorizations and appropriations). Without that, oversight is catch-as-catch-can.” [R Street]
- The National Archives and Records Administration announced in 2008 that it would not archive .gov websites. To fill the gap, the End of Term Presidential Harvest 2016 began saving valuable webpages in 2008. You can nominate pages for preservation using this tool. [New York Times]
- Rep. Justin Amash’s Readable Legislation Act, H.R. 5759, is a short bill that would significantly improve the ability of the public to understand proposed laws by putting proposed amendments to statutes in context of the legal code they change. It’s a good idea. We hope Congress enacts it and integrates versioning into our laws. [FreedomWorks]
- Separately, the IG Improvement Act would empower agency inspectors general in meaningful ways to hold government accountable. [POGO]
STATE AND LOCAL
- Los Angeles forked and deployed 18F’s website traffic dashboard. [StateScoop]
- FOIA@250: Lauren Harper wrote about the world’s first freedom of information law, enacted in Sweden in 1766, and notes that as of 2016, 113 countries have now enacted freedom of information laws. She ends with some recommendations to improve upon the U.S. version:
“Canada’s Centre for Law and Democracy Right to Information Ranking Project, which grades global FOI laws, currently places the United States firmly in the middle of the pack at 55. There are clear steps the US can take, however, to re-emerge as a global transparency leader like establishing a FOIA tribunal that has the power of the Mandatory Declassification Review’s (MDR) Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP) to overrule agencies (ISCAP overrules agency classification decisions in MDR appeals nearly 75% of the time), and adding a public interest balancing test to the requirements for all FOIA exemptions agencies invoke. Taking such steps will boost the United States’ global transparency ranking and further advance the founding principles of open government.”
- Italy’s prime minister, Matteo Renzi, said that he would resign after a constitutional referendum was rejected by Italian voters. [New York Times]
- As linked in the Wall Street Journal’s Corruption Currents, “global bribery risk has grown more uncertain [Forbes, Foreign Policy], with a survey finding that bribery is part of everyday life for low-income South Africans. [RNews]
- Over the last decade, a fake U.S. embassy has been operating in Accra, Ghana. It was shut down this summer. [QZ]
- The Open Government Partnership’s Global Summit begins this Wednesday in Paris, France. Your correspondent is already on the ground, exploring the academic days. 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 email@example.com.