Today in OpenGov: A heavy public records delivery


Today’s look at #OpenGov news, events, & analysis, including a heavy delivery of public records out of Atlanta…

What’s the deal with federal open data?

Earlier this month a host of datasets including “legally mandated White House payroll reports to Congress, budget documents, White House visitor records and public response documents…were removed from the White House Open Data portal.” It is unclear if the new administration intends to replace the missing data. The White House is legally mandated to report some pieces, but others — including the White House visitor logs, which technically belong to the Secret Service — were shared voluntarily by the Obama Administration:

Alex Howard, Sunlight’s Deputy Director, shared his take, noting that”from the perspective of anyone who thinks that the greatest opportunity afforded by modern technology is for the government to inform people directly, not just simply through the lens of the press — that’s something this administration has talked a lot about — that’s leaving a lot of informed public opportunity on the table…” That said, he expressed optimism that the documents would eventually be updated and returned to the web. (NBC News)

  • Meanwhile, data from President Obama’s White House is still available via the National Archives. (The Outline)
  • Several agencies including NOAA and NASA have made it clear that they have not removed any data and do not intend to do so (Wired). So far, the only confirmed data removal since President Trump took office stemmed from a lawsuit involving the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. Some, but not all of the effected data has been replaced. (KJZZ)
  • There is reason to hope that open data more broadly may have a place in the Trump Administration. Open data has traditionally been a bipartisan issue and OMB Director Mick Mulvaney “sounded enthusiastic about open data initiatives…” at his confirmation hearing. Meanwhile, continued support for open data programs appears to exist at numerous agencies. (Federal Computer Week)
  • In The Hill Joshua New made a strong argument for Congress to support the OPEN Data Act to ensure that open data remains a part of federal policy even if it is not a high priority in the Trump Administration. “Rather than wait for the Trump administration to change course, Congress should move quickly to adopt the bipartisan OPEN Data Act and permanently codify an open data policy for the U.S. government.”

State of the States

The Columbia Journalism Review has an interesting story about the City of Atlanta’s recent decision to release 1.47 million pages of documents related to “a federal investigation into more than $1 million in bribes for city contracts.” The catch? The city printed them out.
Our take: That’s not optimal in 2017. When a government agency or city hall doesn’t release a database of documents online & enable the public to search them, the choice does have a direct relationship to the accountability and accessibility of whatever they describe. (Read more on our Facebook page)
  • Government Technology gave an overview of Sunlight’s recent white paper on responsible municipal data management, specifically highlighting our recommendations to encrypt sensitive data and communications, take an inventory, publicly document all policies, and limit individual employees’ discretion on data-sharing. Read the entire white paper with all of our recommendations here.
  • Massachussets has a new public records law that provides benefits to citizens and municipalities. Under the law, municipalities have “up to 25 business days to produce records while state agencies have up to 15 business days. But municipalities and state agencies can also petition the supervisor of records for one extension per request. Municipal agencies can get up to 30 extra business days, and state agencies can get up to 20.” MuckRock has a list and analysis of all the petitions filed so far.
  • Marin County, California and Chapel Hill, North Carolina have new open data portals!

Daily dose of Trump

Eliza Newlin Carney takes aim at President Trump’s “business conflicts and tendency to treat the presidency as a cash machine” in the American Prospect, noting that “Trump is in clear violation of the Constitution’s “emoluments” clause, legal experts, watchdogs, and many Democrats argue. Article 1, Section 9 specifically bars the president from receiving money or anything of value from a foreign government or head of state.” Impeachment is unlikely to come from the Republican controlled House of Represenatatives, but other forms of oversight may be emerging from both sides of the aisle.
  • University of Virginia law Professor George M. Cohen shared a unique idea to ease potential conflicts of interest for President Trump, “a public trust, created by Congress, to manage the [President’s] companies and channel profits to the U.S. treasury…” (Government Executive)
  • We’ve been tracking President Trump’s reported conflicts of interest here.


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