Today in OpenGov: Kid pro quo
Good morning from Washington, where we're seeing the familiar news cycle of morning tweets from President Donald J. Trump about today's headlines.
In a statement on Twitter, presumably responding to a story in The Hill reporting that former FBI Director's memoranda describing his meetings with Trump contained classified information, the president said "James Comey leaked CLASSIFIED INFORMATION to the media. That is so illegal!"
We expect to learn more about what was "so illegal" – or not – in the first months of the Trump administration in the months ahead. Read on for news from over the weekend, including our take on that story, more reporting conflicts, the Congressional war on expertise, an NYPD attempt to block a surveillance transparency law, and much more.
the conflicts continue
Back in November, Sunlight began maintaining a list of reported conflicts of interest where Trump business had mixed with public business, calling on the president to divest and disclose.
He didn't. On May 9th, we relaunched our list (621 items and counting) as a spreadsheet, expanded from dozens of confirmed conflicts into hundreds. Last week, we pushed a big update to our list and the surrounding page, incorporating President Trump’s financial disclosure on June 14th and media reports from around the world.
We’ll continue to update our list of Trump’s conflicts of interest as more relevant news stories, court filings and legislation enter the public record, including noting when or if a given conflict has been resolved.
Read on for open government news from over the weekend including, a couple of new Trump conflicts, the Congressional war on expertise, an NYPD attempt to block a surveillance transparency law, and much more.
- During campaign, Donald Trump Jr. met with Russian lawyer who promised damaging information on Clinton. "President Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., was promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton before agreeing to meet with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer during the 2016 campaign, according to three advisers to the White House briefed on the meeting and two others with knowledge of it." The meeting was also attended by Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort, who was Donald Trump's campaign chairman at the time. (New York Times) A hat tip to the New York Daily News for today's headline. Another reminder that this author is merely an amateur in the game of puns.
- In unique arrangement, Trump collects golf club fees for himself. "Reporting by McClatchy, including nearly 20 interviews and hundreds of pages of documents — some from litigation involving Trump and his businesses — shows that the president put in place unusual policies that allowed him to keep the high one-time fees charged to new members and put language in his club rules that allowed him to spend the money on anything he wanted." John Wonderlich weighed in on the unique arrangement and Trump's overall business interests as president, saying "I don’t think we have anything to compare this to in presidential history…he is refusing to acknowledge that the office is bigger than his business." (McClatchy)
- #CitizenSleuth is a new effort to crowdsource Trump administration mysteries. "Since Donald Trump became president in January, he and more than 400 of his appointees have together filed thousands of pages worth of information concerning their assets, income, business ties — and potential conflicts of interest…Scour [this]…searchable, sortable and public database of Trump administration financial disclosures to probe the mysterious companies contained within." (The Center for Public Integrity and The Center for Investigative Reporting)
- Many of Comey's private memos about Trump contain classified material. "More than half of the memos former FBI chief James Comey wrote as personal recollections of his conversations with President Trump about the Russia investigation have been determined to contain classified information, according to interviews with officials familiar with the documents." (The Hill) Our take? The U.S. government has an overclassification problem. While there are reasons to be circumspect about the details of the FBI's investigation to the Trump campaign in 2016 or the Trump administration in 2017, the public should be better informed about what is in Comey's memoranda.
- Department of Veterans Affairs is posting new data on disciplinary actions — but that's far short of embracing transparency across the agency. "The Veterans Affairs Department has begun publicly posting all major disciplinary actions taken against its employees, saying the action will send a message about the new culture the Trump administration is imposing at the agency," reports Eric Katz. (Government Executive) This is useful information, but, as we explained last year, we'd like to see the VA aim higher by publishing open data on the performance of veteran-facing services and programs.
- Threats to Congressional Budget Office fit into larger pattern of diminished Congressional capacity. "You most certainly can have a government without a Congressional Budget Office. The legislative branch of that government, however, would be even less equipped to deal with data and complex analyses than it currently is. Which is saying a lot, given that lawmakers have been chipping away at their own institution’s capacity for decades." (The Atlantic)
- Despite progress in Congressional transparency, more remains to be done. "Over the past decade, there's been a significant push to make congressional data more discoverable and accessible to the American public, moving the centuries-old paper-based process online to Congress.gov," reports Chase Gunter. Despite "breathtaking" progress recent years, however, "we have not arrived at the holy grail of public understanding for a given bill, where text can be compared against the changes it makes to the U.S. code, the law that it shifts with a plain-language analysis or summary for what it will mean," suggested Alex Howard. (Federal Computer Week)
- Calls for strengthened ethics agency grow following departure of OGE chief. "Public-interest groups have argued for years that the Office of Government Ethics, which establishes standards of conduct for executive branch officials but lacks enforcement powers, should be strengthened. While those calls have increased over the course of the Trump administration, they reached a crescendo Thursday, when Walter Shaub said he would step down on July 19." (Bloomberg)
states and cities
- Federal appeals court upholds citizens right to record police. "Americans have a constitutional right to film on-duty police officers in public, a federal appeals court in Philadelphia ruled Friday. The three-judge panel’s decision is not the first of its kind, but it marks a significant milestone: Half of U.S. states are now covered by rulings protecting the videotaping of law enforcement." (The Atlantic)
- Bill to bring transparency to police use of surveillance equipment faces NYPD opposition. The bill "would require public disclosure and dialogue on the New York Police Department’s purchase and use of surveillance equipment. The bill is in the weaker vein of similar legislation passed or under consideration by lawmakers in 19 cities across the U.S., where elected officials hope to write use policies and approve or deny the purchase of surveillance gear." (The Intercept)
- 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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