Today in OpenGov: Public service, public trust


In today’s edition, we dig into what Walter Shaub’s resignation means for the Office of Government Ethics, explain why official communications need to be preserved, and think about how data can really be leveraged to make a difference. Read on for all that and much more.

public service is a public trust

[Caption: Shaub’s letter of resignation.]

Walter Shaub, director of the Office of Government Ethics and a consistent critic of President Trump’s ethical failings, has resigned from his post. Shaub’s appointment was scheduled to end in January 2018, but but he chose to leave early for a position at the non-partisan, non-profit Campaign Legal Center.

“Shaub’s resignation should be taken as a Bat Signal to Members of Congress who, despite evidence of hundreds of unresolved conflicts of interest around the world, have been far too reticent to oversee ethics in government or threats to transparency under the Trump administration,” wrote Sunlight’s Alex Howard.

Until President Trump holds himself subject to federal ethics laws, disclosing his tax returns and divesting from his foreign and domestic business interests, both real and rumored corruption will continue to put this presidency in shadow. (Read our full take the Sunlight Blog)

When asked whether President Trump’s businesses were benefiting as a result of his term in public service, Shaub responded that he “can’t be sure.”

“I can’t know what their intention is,” he said. “I know that the effect is that there is an appearance that the businesses are profiting from his occupying the presidency, and appearance matters as much as reality.” (CBS News)

  • Other watchdog groups share our concerns about what this will mean for OGE and our skepticism that President Trump will appoint a strong leader for the agency. (The Hill)
  • Elijah Cummings, the top Democratic member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, reacted to the news of Shaub’s resignation by calling on committee chairman Trey Gowdy to schedule a hearing with Shaub on “the need for stronger ethics regulations.” (POLITICO)

blink and it’s gone

Image Credit: Daniel Novta

Increased adoption of encrypted apps poses problems for transparency and accountability. “Secure messaging apps like WhatsApp, Signal and Confide are making inroads among lawmakers, corporate executives and other prominent communicators,” reports Kevin Roose.  (New York Times)

We’re glad this issue is getting more attention. Preserving public records is an essential democratic norm. As we’ve highlighted over the past year, the surge of adoption of encrypted and ephemeral apps can create novel archiving problems by design, which may be a recipe for corruption.

“It’s a serious issue that part of the legal record is being destroyed,” Sunlight’s John Wonderlich told the Times. “Lots of record-keeping requirements don’t work very well at all for the modern world.”

If officials intentionally use messaging systems for public business that can’t be archived, they’re eroding accountability. If White House officials do so, they’re breaking the law.  If public officials can’t archive messages about public business, we recommend not using a given app.

washington watch

  • The Postal Service used data analytics to bust up a multi-million dollar prescription drug scam. “As the office’s data gurus used analytics tools and algorithms to dig into the data, they realized the increased spending was a coordinated effort between several parties attempting to fleece the government for millions of dollars.” The investigative effort led to long-term healthcare savings of over $1 billion for the agency. (Nextgov)
  • CREW files complaint over Kushner’s online real estate investment company. “The complaint from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) alleges that President Trump’s son-in-law did not disclose his interest in the online real estate investment company Cadre, which he cofounded, and has failed to divest from the company, creating conflicts of interest.” (The Hill)
  • Who’s heading Trump’s deregulation teams? We don’t know. “Two months after the deadline set via President Trump’s Executive Order 13777 directing the departments of the federal government to create Regulatory Reform Task Forces (RRTF), many agencies have still not made public the members comprising the new groups.” (MuckRock)
  • Experts detail flaws in “voter fraud” commission’s plan to ID fraudulent registrations. “Vice President Mike Pence’s office has confirmed the White House commission on voter fraud intends to run the state voter rolls it has requested against federal databases to check for potential fraudulent registration. Experts say the plan is certain to produce thousands of false positives that could distort the understanding of the potential for fraud, especially given the limited data states have agreed to turn over.” (ProPublica)

around the world

Problem-focused politically-engaged learning cycles. Via Global Integrity
  • A call for collective action on making a difference with data. “Proponents of open data and the “data revolution” have played a hugely important role in highlighting the importance of data in addressing social challenges and supporting progress towards meeting the Sustainable Development Goals. In recent years however, the conversation has moved on (see for instance, the selection of posts from the 2015 International Open Data Conference), with an increased recognition that making data available and open is only one piece of the puzzle and that if data is to make a difference, we need to think differently about how it might do so, and then act differently as a result.” (Global Integrity)
  • Turkish police detain human rights activists. “Ten people, including the local director of Amnesty International, are being detained across various police stations in Istanbul after Turkish police forcibly removed them from a human rights workshop on Wednesday morning.” Eight of those arrested are well known human rights activists, while the others were conducting the training. (The Atlantic)
  • The World Bank’s revamped Health, Nutrition, and Population data. “Today we’re releasing a revamped Health, Nutrition & Population (HNP) Data portal which offers a quick look at over 250 indicators covering topics such as health financing and the health workforce; immunization and the incidence of HIV and AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, non-communicable diseases and the causes of death; nutrition, clean water and sanitation, and reproductive health; as well as population estimates and population projections.” (The World Bank Data Blog)

save the dates

  • July 10th through 24th: e-Forum Discussion on the Agriculture Open Data Package, virtual. “The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in partnership with the Global Open Data on Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN) are inviting interested individuals to participate in this forum discussion on ‘Agriculture Open Data Package to be held on the e-Agriculture Platform. The initial target audience for this forum are policy-makers, researchers, open data experts, and/or agricultural experts – however, any one interested is invited to attend.” Learn more about the forum and how to participate here.
  • July 19th, 5:30 PM EST. Book Discussion: When Your Job Wants You To Lie in Washington, DC. “Join us for a discussion that will help us deal with the kinds of situations we all encounter. Presented by the American Society for Public Administration, National Capital Area Chapter (ASPA NCAC). Refreshments start 5:30, and the discussion starts 6:00. Space is limited, so you must RSVP in advance.” Learn more and RSVP here.
  • July 27th, 10 am: Chief FOIA Officers Council Meeting in Washington, DC. “OGIS and the Department of Information Policy (OIP) at the Department of Justice are happy to announce that the next meeting of the Chief FOIA Officers Council will be held on Thursday, July 27th from 10 am to noon. You can register to join the audience in the William G. McGowan Theater beginning on July 26. You can also plan on watching the livestream via the National Archives’ YouTube Channel.”
  • 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.
  • September 13th: Civic and Gov Tech Showcase in San Jose, California. “Innovate Your State, in partnership with Microsoft and the City of San Jose, is bringing the 3nd Annual Civic & Gov Tech Showcase to the Capitol of Silicon Valley. The Civic & Gov Tech Showcase is an opportunity to connect with civic minded entrepreneurs, potential investors, and government leaders to showcase the great work that is being done to improve government and governance. The goal of the event is to encourage collaboration and the support of new technologies to improve government and public participation.” Learn more and get your tickets here.
  • September 14th – 16th: Digital Humanities and Data Journalism Symposium, in Miami, Florida. “Digital humanists and data journalists face common challenges, opportunities, and goals, such as how to communicate effectively with the public. They use similar software tools, programming languages, and techniques, and they can learn from each other. Join us for lectures and tutorials about shared data types, visualization methods, and data communication — including text visualization, network diagrams, maps, databases and data wrangling. In addition to the scheduled content, there will be opportunities for casual conversation and networking.” Learn more and register here.
  • September 28th: Powering Sustainable Development with Access to Information, Paris, France. “The ‘IPDCtalks’ will be held to highlight and elaborate on the importance of Access to Information for all sustainable development efforts around the world. It will consist of a series of attractive and dynamic talks from global public leaders, top journalists, young intellectuals and community leaders. While some of the speakers will elaborate on the key role of Access to Information for the achievement of a particular Sustainable Development Goal, others will reflect on the essential role of Access to Information for our society and future.” You can learnmore and request an invitation on the event website. If you’re interested, but can’t attend the event will be broadcast live on the web.


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