GOOD NEWS: On Dec. 10, 2016, S.2852, the Open, Public, Electronic, and Necessary (OPEN) Government Data Act, passed the Senate with an amendment by unanimous consent. The OPEN Government Data Act has been a core priority of the Sunlight Foundation in Washington in 2016. Amidst unanswered questions about the future of open government in the United States, the Senate has provided a unanimous endorsement of a set of enduring principles that the Sunlight Foundation has advanced and defended for a decade: that data created using the funds of the people should be available to the people in open formats online, without cost or restriction. We hope that the U.S. House will quickly move to re-introduce the bill in the 115th Congress and work across the aisle to enact it within the first week of public business. We expect the members of Congress who stood up for open government data this fall to continue do so in 2017.
MORE DIVERSION, NOT DIVESTMENT: On Friday, Sunlight joined dozens of ethics experts and good government advocates on a second letter addressed to President-elect Donald Trump to address his conflicts of interest by disclosing and divesting from his businesses. Last night, Trump postponed a December 15th press conference on the future of his businesses that he had announced in the end of November on Twitter. A spokesman told the Washington Post the delay was so that Trump could focus on building a cabinet. Later in the evening, Trump sent three tweets, stating that:
“Even though I am not mandated by law to do so, I will be leaving my busineses [sic] before January 20th so that I can focus full time on the Presidency. Two of my children, Don and Eric, plus executives, will manage them. No new deals will be done during my term(s) in office. I will hold a press conference in the near future to discuss the business, Cabinet picks and all other topics of interest. Busy times!”
“Not signing new deals” is neither divesting nor disclosing, as every President of the United States has done for decades has done prior to taking an oath to support and defend the Constitution. Today, Newsweek published a new investigation of Trump’s international business ties. Trump has set no date for that press conference nor disclosure of his tax returns, which would add much-needed sunlight into his foreign entanglements, including his huge debts.
138 days: Trump last held a press conference on July 27. He has held none post-election, which is unprecedented for a President-elect in the modern era. The primary didn’t enforce a norm for tax disclosure. Congress still hasn’t. It’s now up to press and the public to apply pressure to hold Trump accountable.
- The Presidential Transition relaunched GreatAgain.gov on Medium. The new site details how to connect to the Transition using social media and mail and information on the Presidential Transition Act. Along with glossy biographies of nominees, the transition has also published a list of agency landing teams and landing team members, including a funding source for each: volunteer, private, and transition entity. The site has a news section with updates about nominations. While the transition is still falling short on financial disclosures and responsiveness to inquiries about staffing, adherence to or even existence of an ethics pledge, the expanded site does fulfill some of the open government principles we laid out in November.
- The Energy Department has refused the transition request to name staff who worked on climate change policy. [The Hill]
- Scientists and researchers are organizing to preserve government data on climate and environment to mitigate the risk of potential deletions by a Trump administration. [Vice]
- The New York Times published a notable new feature on the information warfare campaign the Russians conducted to disrupt the 2016 U.S. presidential election. [New York Times]
- In a letter, the White House council informed Congress that the Senate report on CIA torture would be preserved as a government record in President Obama’s presidential papers — but would not be declassified for 12 years. Score this one as a victory for history but not for transparency or accountability anytime soon. [LA Times]
- Katherine Hawkins offered thanks that at least one copy of the report will be preserved but is concerned about the future of other copies — and dismayed that the report will not be publicly released. [Just Security]
- A federal judge issued an order for White House Office of Science and Technology Director John Holdren to preserve all email from his private account during a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit regarding the messages goes forward. Josh Gerstein: “The case involving Holdren was brought by the Competitive Enterprise Institute in 2014, after the group learned that he was conducting some official business on his Woods Hole account. Kessler tossed out the case the following year, ruling that his office had no duty to search a non-government email account.However, earlier this year the D.C. Circuit reversed that decision on appeal, holding that the mere fact that records are stored outside of government servers does not automatically put them beyond the reach of FOIA.” [Politico]
- The Senate unanimously approved S.579, the Inspector General Empowerment Act, which the House passed earlier this fall. Under the legislation, which President Obama is expected to sign into law, federal agency inspectors general will gain faster, complete access to records, although it stops short of providing subpoena powers. “Passage of the IG Empowerment Act enhances the IGs’ ability to fight waste, fraud, abuse, and misconduct, protects whistleblowers who share information with IGs, increases government transparency, and bolsters the public’s confidence in the independence of IGs. For these reasons, the Act is an important milestone for good government,” said Justice Department IG Michael Horowitz. “The Inspector General community is grateful to the sponsors and co-sponsors of this Act and all those who stood up for independent oversight.” [Federal News Radio]
STATE AND LOCAL
- Emily Shaw shares some changes for the better in state-level campaign finance disclosures: “…in our review of the past year’s changes to state laws on campaign finance disclosure, we’ve seen legal improvements across the country that should improve the accuracy and timeliness of publicly available campaign finance information. The results are mixed, but overall states made real progress in 2016, with California, Maryland and South Dakota taking positive strides. However, some states, like Arizona and Wisconsin, took steps backward in terms of allowing more money and less disclosure into their local elections.” [READ MORE]
- Sunlight’s Steven Larrick and Greg Jordan-Dettamore launched OpenDataPolicies.org, a website that collects open data policies from around the USA. [StateScoop]
- The Constitution Project’s Committee on Policing Reforms released a new report recommending guidelines for the use of body-worn cameras by law enforcement officials, including important transparency and accountability elements. [Constitution Project]
- Daniel Dietrich writes in to share a new report and scoping studies on 15 countries that evaluated the ability of governments and civil society organizations to publish and use open contracting data. He explains: “The scoping studies, conducted under supervision of the Open Contracting Partnership, point out opportunities and challenges regarding making public contracting more efficient and transparent, and identify needs and capacities of civil society to help translate available contracting data into actionable information. The countries covered are Bangladesh, Ghana, Guatemala, Honduras, Indonesia, Kenya, Malawi, Myanmar, Nepal, Nigeria, Peru, the Philippines, Senegal, Tanzania, and Uganda.” The report finds that to ensure efficient and transparent public spending through its contracts, governments need to make strong commitments to open contracting, draft legislation that guarantees public access to information on public contracts, disclose contracting data and documents using the Open Contracting Data Standard and provide feedback channels to foster strong engagement of citizens, civil society organizations and the private sector.
- Documents obtained by BuzzFeed Brasil implicate Brazilian President Michel Temer in a money laundering scheme. Severino Motta and Alexandre Aragão: “A former VP at one of Brazil’s largest construction companies told prosecutors the firm gave the president $3.3 million in “undeclared” funds.” [BuzzFeed News]
- State security agents have been spying on journalists at South Africa’s public broadcaster. [Quartz]
- A coalition of French civil liberties and open government advocates has called out the Government of France for openwashing. [Republique Citoyenne]
- What events will YOU be attending over the next six months? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org.