Today in OpenGov: Capitol confusion on press access, LLCs could conceal Trump conflicts, and more…


Yesterday, journalists, Senators, and First Amendment advocates reacted swiftly to unilateral action by the Chairman of the Senate Rules Committee to restrict press activity in the Senate. Hours after the restrictions were first reported, the Committee had reverted to its previous rules. [Sunlight Blog]
Read on for more on this, as well as a fresh batch of transparency and accountability news from DC, across the United States, and around the world.

states and cities

  • Cities across the country are seeking public input on their open data policies. We're helping cities like Tempe and Glendale, Arizona, Durham, North Carolina, and Nashville Tennessee use technology to foster public input on their open data policies. The goal is to get cities to embrace new platforms for citizen input across policies, not just on open data efforts. As Sunlight's Alyssa Doom explained, "The hope is to start here and eventually cities will become more comfortable with drafting all policies in public space for public comment." (Government Technology)  
  • New York City planning department embracing 18F style innovation. "The New York City Department of City Planning is now hosting a new tech services unit called the NYC Planning Labs, which is aimed at taking small projects from concept to use within a four- to six-week window for any of the municipality's internal divisions." The group even leveraged 18F's open source website to get their project up and running at almost no cost. (Government Technology)
  • Multiple states are working to restrict public access to police body camera videos. "But as more police departments spent millions of dollars on body cameras and video storage, police unions, district attorney associations, and other law enforcement lobbying groups began to push for statewide laws restricting transparency. North Carolina, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Kansas, among others, have now instituted counter-transparency body camera laws. " (The Verge)

washington watch

  • Unilateral action on Senate press activity by Rules Committee Chairman raises serious concerns. Yesterday, journalists and Senators complained that "the Rules Committee [had] restricted press freedom in the Senate, barring reporters from filing interviews in the halls." Senator Richard Shelby, the chair of the Rules Committee, has since clarified the situation, blaming the restriction on a miscommunication and saying that "the Rules Committee is simply examining what the rules are…[and] reporters should continue to operate as they were operating yesterday." If the committee continues to review press access rules, we hope that Senator Shelby convenes an open hearing, and offers the public more insight about why this shift was made without notice to the public and press, or consultation with the entire Committee. Read our full statement on the Sunlight Blog.
  • Gowdy officially takes reins at House Oversight Committee. "Rep. Trey Gowdy officially took hold of the gavel on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Tuesday. The South Carolina Republican replaced previous Chairman Jason Chaffetz, who announced in April he would end his congressional term on June 30 after deciding not to run for re-election." (Roll Call)
  • Financial reform bill puts vital whistleblower program at risk. "Legislation is moving through Congress that would put the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) invaluable whistleblower program in jeopardy by jettisoning important reforms created by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act." (Project on Government Oversight)
  • Public lacks access to data on financial advisers with spotty histories. The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority or "FINRA – the industry-financed overseer of brokerages – knows which firms tend to employ advisers with histories of misconduct sanctions, legal disputes and financial distress. But it keeps that data secret and says it can’t prevent longstanding hiring practices it acknowledges are a threat to investors." (Reuters) Our take? The FINRA should disclose open data on financial advisers to protect consumers and enhance market transparency.
  • DoD takes third bite at FOIA exemption apple. "Wary of any move to expand DoD's authority to withhold information, however, many advocates of open government opposed the measure. Truly sensitive military information could be classified, they argued, and an existing FOIA exemption 'more than adequately protects such information.' In any event, despite repeated requests, the DoD proposal was not approved by Congress.(Secrecy NewsOur take? Just like last year, it's still a bad idea. Given how FOIA has been used to document waste, fraud and misconduct at the Pentagon over the decades, passing such an exemption would be a huge mistake for congressional oversight and public knowledge in general.



  • Most Trump real estate being sold to LLCs, making it harder to track true buyers. "Since President Trump won the Republican nomination, the majority of his companies’ real estate sales are to secretive shell companies that obscure the buyers’ identities, a USA TODAY investigation has found." Trump's companies have sold $33 million worth of real estate since the election. (USA Today)
  • 196 Congressional Democrats to sue Trump over foreign emoluments. "Nearly 200 Democratic members of Congress agreed to file a lawsuit Wednesday against President Trump alleging that by retaining interests in a global business empire he has violated constitutional restrictions on taking gifts and benefits from foreign leaders." (Washington Post) Learn more about the lawsuit and the Foreign Emoluments Clause of the Constitution at the Constitutional Accountability Center.
  • Takeaways from Attorney General Jeff Sessions' Senate testimony. "Jeff Sessions came to Capitol Hill in self-defense mode, refuting allegations that have dogged his short tenure as attorney general about his role in the Russia imbroglio plaguing the Trump administration." (POLITICO)
  • Russian election cyber attacks breached at least 39 states, according to new report. "Russia’s cyberattack on the U.S. electoral system before Donald Trump’s election was far more widespread than has been publicly revealed, including incursions into voter databases and software systems in almost twice as many states as previously reported." (Bloomberg) Our take? Given these breaches, the US should move quickly to secure the integrity of our voting system against compromise.
  • Trump's personal lawyer bragged about getting Preet Bharara fired. "Marc Kasowitz, President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer in the Russia investigation, has boasted to friends and colleagues that he played a central role in the firing of Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, according to four people familiar with the conversations." (ProPublica)

around the world

  • Open source technologies provide significant return on investment. "The report found that GFDRR has, conservatively, achieved at least a 200% return on investment in its open source software efforts. While meeting project goals, the GeoNode software also became a popular tool among dozens of organizations around the world from the public sector, private sector, academia and civil society. " (World Bank Data Blog)
  • US ranks 4th on Open Data Barometer, but comparison's aren't always apples to apples. "In a survey of open data efforts, the World Wide Web Foundation has ranked the U.S. fourth worldwide, just behind the United Kingdom in first, Canada in second, and France in third." (StateScoop) Our take? We deeply appreciate and value the important work that the World Wide Web Foundation does around the world connecting people to information and ideas. The foundation's Open Data Barometer, however, does not include comparisons of data that the United States of America releases in huge volumes, because some other nations in the index don't have institutions like NASA or the NIH or National Weather Service, or regulatory and health agencies. In other words, while this is a valuable index of apples to apples comparisons, take this ranking with a grain of salt.
  • Businesses push for government action on beneficial ownership transparency. "The companies, including multinational firms like Siemens, Deloitte and Unilever, recommended governments continue to lead on beneficial ownership transparency (BOT) by implementing their ownership transparency action plans, and exploring ways to raise global data quality standards, connect ownership information and monitor progress on implementation." (Open Government Partnership) Anonymous companies are a vector for corruption, increased risk, eroded trust, and diminished accountability. 
  • Embracing open government in Tunisia. "In 2016, Tunisia adopted one of the world’s strongest laws regarding access to information. Although members of the public did not put all of the resources to use immediately, the country moved much closer to having the data needed to improve access to services, enhance government performance, and support the evidence-based deliberation on which a healthy democracy depended." (Princeton University)

save the dates

  • June 14th, 11am EST: Using EITI to Disclose Social and Environmental Information Related to Extractive Activities, Webinar. The OGP Openness in Natural Resources Working Group is hosting this webinar aimed "at stakeholders, including representatives from government, civil society, and the private sector, who work on, or are interested in, transparency around socio-environmental information related to the oil, gas and mining sector. It will include a discussion on current trends, opportunities, and challenges regarding socio-environmental transparency and whether/how EITI can be a tool to disclose such information." RSVP here.
  • June 27th: Legislative Data and Transparency Conference in Washington, DC. "The Legislative Data and Transparency Conference 2017 (#LDTC17), hosted by the Committee on House Administration, will take place on Tuesday, June 27, 2017in the Capitol Visitor Center Congressional Auditorium. The #LDTC17 brings individuals from Legislative Branch agencies together with data users and transparency advocates to foster a conversation about the use of legislative data – addressing how agencies use technology well and how they can use it better in the future." Learn more here.
  • June 28th, 10am EST: How Can Demand Driven & Bottom Up Social Accountability Tools Improve Health Services? The Experience of Rural Mozambique, Webinar. "This webinar explores how Concern Universal has managed to find the intersections in incentives and goals between government and rural communities while helping overcome some crucial gaps in health service delivery. It focuses on lessons learned through application of collaborative government/citizen’s approach. More information here:"
  • June 29th: DATA Act Summit 2017 in Washington, DC. "The fourth annual DATA Act Summit, hosted by the Data Coalition and Booz Allen Hamilton, will bring together supporters of the open data transformation from across government and the private sector." Learn more and get your tickets here.
  • July 5, 10am EST: ICT-mediated Citizen Engagement: Voice or Chatter? Webinar. "In this webinar, IT for Change will present the results of eight empirical case studies of citizen engagement through ICTs they undertook. This research, funded by Making All Voices Count, explored in each case how new forms of participation were shaped by IT, how IT affected power relations between government and citizens, and how the interactions between different actors continuously shape governance. More information here:"
  • September 11th and 12th: TicTec@Taipei in Taipei. "TICTeC@Taipei is the first ever conference about the influence of civic tech to be held in Asia. We’ve invited members of academia, business, politics, NGOs, education to participate, and discuss their research. We hope through this event, we can build a global network of civic tech enthusiasts." The event is being held during #CivicTechFest 2017. Learn more, submit a session proposal, and register to attend here.

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