Today in OpenGov: White House financial disclosures, plugging public information loopholes and more


In today's edition, we dig into White House financial disclosure documents, shed light on Texas government contracts, look into Tom Price's potential stock improprieties, and more…


The White House made financial disclosure forms available late on Friday, but they didn't post them online. Instead, they required interested parties to fill out a form requesting specific documents, which where then distributed via email. This approach is far from optimal, as ProPublica explained: "the White House required a separate request for each staffer’s disclosure. And they didn’t give the names of the staffers, leaving us to guess who had filed disclosures, a kind of Transparency Bingo."

ProPublica, the New York Times, and the Associated Press are teaming up to post all the files online in a public Google Drive folder. They are also encouraging their readers to dig through the files and share any interesting tidbits they notice.

Among other information, the disclosures reveal that senior adviser Gary Cohn, formerly president of Goldman Sachs, is worth at least $250 million (Bloomberg), a number of staffers profited healthily from the flood of political cash unleashed following the 2010 Citizens United decision (New York Times), and Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump are holding on to real estate worth hundreds of millions of dollars despite their official White House Jobs (USA Today)

  • GSA Inspector General pushed to review Trump hotel lease. "A group comprising 22 nonprofit organizations, liberal advocates, professors and ethical experts have written the inspector general of the General Services Administration — the agency that manages the lease for the Trump International hotel — asking that she review the recent decision by the agency to allow the president’s company to keep the lease while he is in office." (The Washington Post) Sunlight was happy to join other watchdogs and ethics experts in signing the letter, which you can read in full here.
  • The sorry state of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. "There’s still no leader at OSTP, a job that can double as the chief science adviser to the president…The other leadership jobs within OSTP — overseeing issues like energy policy, innovation and more — similarly remain unfilled." In fact, the office currently has only one staffer. (Recode) We hope that the President appoints a U.S. chief technology officer and a WhiteHouse Office of Science and Technology director. Putting scientists and technologists at the table where decisions are made is crucial for 21st century governance.
  • Former Trump campaign staffers seek out foreign clients. "Some of President Donald Trump’s former campaign hands are rushing to sign lucrative deals with foreign clients, shrugging off their own pledges to avoid foreign lobbying and the president’s vow to 'drain the swamp.'" (POLITICO)
  • It is time to review and reform how foreign lobbying is tracked. "Recent revelations have confirmed that former Trump national security advisor Michael Flynn lobbied for foreign interests while he was working on the campaign without registering as a foreign agent with the Department of Justice (DOJ) as required by the Foreign Agents Registration Act. This is only the latest example that shows a formal review of the effectiveness FARA is overdue." (Project on Government Oversight)

Elsewhere in washington

  • Tom Price bought drug company stock while intervening to protect profits. "On the same day the stockbroker for then-Georgia Congressman Tom Price bought him up to $90,000 of stock in six pharmaceutical companies last year, Price arranged to call a top U.S. health official, seeking to scuttle a controversial rule that could have hurt the firms’ profits and driven down their share prices, records obtained by ProPublica show." (ProPublica)
  • Contractors push back against proposed transparency legislation. "In a move intended to make it easier for the public to see what exactly federal contractors do for the taxpayer money they receive, two Senate Democrats have introduced legislation that would require agencies to post the text of major contracts online. But contractors and contracting specialists are pushing back." (Government Executive)
  • Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight Committee's unexpected responsibility. The Atlantic took a deep look at the Utah Republican, with a particular focus on how he is handling the "responsibility of policing his own party’s administration—rooting out conflicts of interest, exposing abuses of power, and generally causing headaches for President Trump. It’s an awkward and unpleasant task, and one that he does not seem to savor."

States and cities

  • Celebrating data and evidence at the 2017 What Works Cities Summit. Sunlight's Alex Howard pulled together some highlights from "the annual conference convened by What Works Cities, an initiative funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies that provides support for American cities to improve how they apply data and evidence with their communities. (Sunlight Foundation)
  • Early data-driven governance programs are floundering in Maryland. Martin O'Malley focused heavily on improving government performance through data and statistics while serving in Maryland, but his "model is in trouble. His successor in Annapolis, Gov. Larry Hogan, has discontinued the program. Baltimore’s CitiStat hasn’t fared much better, languishing from inactivity for months, if not years, at a time. The celebrated innovation that inspired a movement of Stat-like programs from Jackson, Miss., to Washington state is struggling to stay alive on its home turf." (Governing)
  • Texas Senate moves to reduce contract secrecy. "The Texas Senate cleared a pair of bills Tuesday aimed at plugging 'loopholes' in public records law that have left taxpayers in the dark about key details of some government contracts." (Texas Tribune) We hope that the State Senate follows suit quickly. 


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