Today in OpenGov: Irregular order


In today's edition, we're running out of new ways to describe what's happening in the Senate or what the President of the United States is saying on Twitter. Read on to hear about that, plus the annual Whistleblower Summit coming up on Thursday and Friday, various ways that foreign governments can legally influence elections,  our concerns over attempts to defund the Congressional Budget Office, and much more.


As a noon vote to proceed on debate on the future of the American health care system nears, we still don't know what bills the Senate will be voting on or what's in them — and neither do a lot of Senators. Unprecedented secrecy in the Senate was bad for democracy in June. It still is today.

Meanwhile, as another day began in Washington, President Donald J. Trump criticized U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, encouraged him to prosecute his political opponent, and  falsely accused the acting head of the FBI of taking money from said opponent, among other things.

His tweets followed another series of statements last night, when the president confirmed the Post's report that he ended a covert CIA program to arm anti-Assad rebels in Syria. On the one hand, a president using his powers to declassify covert operations that he viewed as wasteful spending and inform the public is embracing transparency. On the other, it's not at all clear that was this president's intent in  criticizing the Washington Post— which is owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, not Amazon — suggesting that the newspaper was lobbying Congress to prevent politicians from investigating anti-trust concerns. We'll keep tracking. You keeep letting us know what we're missing.

IT's complicated

Today, Danny Vanik reports on some good news, citing our work — or at least the absence of bad news: six months into the Trump presidency, the “War on Data” that many researchers and scientists feared hasn't materialized. Only one agency has had a major takedown — USDA's animal welfare datasets. (Politico)

“I was concerned about Trump undermining things like the unemployment numbers, or his claim there were 3 million fraudulent votes,” said John Wonderlich, executive director of the Sunlight Foundation, told Politico. “So far, we have to put that in the category of presidential rhetoric. We are so far not facing a crisis of trust in American statistical data.”

Don't get comfortable. The biggest threats to open data remain political. Defunding government statistical agencies risks economies & public knowledge. It could happen in the USA, just as it did in Canada and other nations.

(Image Credit: Politico)


  • Judge denies demand for privacy assessment on Trump voter data requests. "U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly denied a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction the Electronic Privacy Information Center [EPIC] sought against the panel formally known as the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity." EPIC argued that the commission should conduct privacy impact assessments before collecting the information they seek. (POLITICO) You can read the entire 35 page decision here and, if you're confused or afraid, read former Sunlighter Rachel Shorey's excellent explainer on voter data and privacy in the New York Times.
  • Kushner denies collusion with Russia. Yesterday, Presidential adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner met behind closed doors with Senate Intelligence Committee staff for more than 3 hours. Following the meeting, Kushner issued a rare public statement, saying “I did not collude with Russia, nor do I know of anyone else in the campaign who did so.” (Roll Call) Kushner's 11 page opening statement to the Intelligence Committee expressed the same message. (POLITICO)
  • DOJ FOIA requests spike in 2017. Daily Beast reporter Betsy Woodruff shared DC Court documents that indicate the Department of Justice has received as many FOIA requests in the first half of 2017 as it did throughout 2016. We expected FOIA requests to increase under President Trump. What's we don't know yet is how response times and exemptions are being used.
  • How to influence an election without really breaking the law. In light of the ongoing controversy over Russian interference in the 2016 election, Uri Friedman looked at "the various completely legal and questionably legal ways that foreign governments and foreign nationals can seek to influence the course of American politics." (The Atlantic)

washington watch

Via MuckRock
  • FOIA often can't touch private prisons. "Through the Freedom of Information Act and equivalent state laws, the operations and artifacts of the government’s activities are made available to citizens and businesses. This level of openness, though, severely flawed as it is in practice, often doesn’t extend to the private businesses, contractors, non-profits, and other entities with whom government agents share their work." (MuckRock)
  • Freedom Caucus targets Congressional Budget Office. Mike DeBonis reports on "an amendment filed Monday…that would eliminate the agencies Budget Analysis Division" and 89 jobs. (Washington Post) We believe that Congress should be investing in the Congressional Budget Office and other nonpartisan institutions, not considering gutting the CBO. If you agree, we urge you to contact your member of Congress and support rigorous analysis of the impact of bills on American communities.  
  • FOIA Advisory Committee looking towards the future. The committee, which held its quarterly meeting earlier this month, "seeks to streamline the process for requesting documents under FOIA and bridge the gap between requesters and government agencies — many of which have unique requirements for FOIA requests." (Federal Computer WeekWe're glad to see continued evolutionary progress on the Freedom of Information Act, which requires cultural shifts to improve open government, from more collaboration across agencies, archivists and civil society. In the future, we hope to see revolutionary changes result from the proactive disclosure of open government data online, better open records software, and new policies that connect demand with release.
  • As open data expands, cloud infrastructure becomes key. Jed Sundwall discusses the power of cloud infrastructure for open data, "Once the data is made available in the cloud, anyone who wants to use it no longer needs to buy the hard drive capacity and spend months downloading the data. Interested users can instead use on-demand computing resources in the cloud to query as much, or as little, of the data as they need. When their analysis is done, they can save the results, turn off the virtual servers and not have to worry about paying for an individual copy of the original data." (Federal Computer Week)

around the world

  • The attack on Polish judiciary is likely not over after President's veto. "Poland’s prime minister vowed to redouble efforts to clamp down on “unaccountable” judges after the president vetoed judicial overhauls that touched off debate in the European Union over how to confront members who flout democratic values." (Bloomberg)
  • A newly disclosed leak of confidential information back in 2015 could bring down ministers in Sweden's government. Imagine that: data breaches that lead to holding those responsible accontable. (Financial Times

whistleblower summit

On Thursday, the Government Accountability Project and the Make it Safe Coalition are hosting the annual Whistleblower Summit. The Summit will "celebrate truth-tellers who risk their livelihoods to disclose fraud, wrongdoing, and abuse of authority on behalf of the public interest. Prominent whistleblowers, government officials, and members of the nonprofit community will gather for a series of panels to discuss progress made toward adequate whistleblower protection legislation and outline how future campaigns can address the issues." The day includes:

  • A panel on "Whistleblower Legislative Campaigns" on Thursday, July 27 from 2:30 – 3:30 PM in room 2247 of the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, DC. 
  • An advanced screening of the new whistleblower film "Frank Serpico" on Thursday, July 27 from 6:00 – 10:00 PM at Busboys and Poets Brookland, 625 Monroe Street NE, Washington, DC
  • A panel on "The Office of Special Counsel and Merit Systems Protection Board: Past, Present, and Future Analysis" on Friday, July 28 from 2:00 – 3:00 PM at the Stewart E. Mott House, 122 Maryland Ave NE, Washington, DC.   

You can learn more and REGISTER for the event here.

save the dates

  • 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."
  • July 27th, 6:00 to 9:00 PM: New FOIA tactics and FOIA Karaoke with Michael Ravinsky, in Washington, DC. Join MuckRock and the DC chapter of the Society for Professional Journalists "for a fun, informative talk given by FOIA expert Michael Ravnitzky, followed by a few rounds of FOIA Karaoke…Ravnitzky will be sharing a bunch of new FOIA tactics and research tools – including new ways of thinking about FOIA and strategies for learning about the current administration – that have never before been shared publicly." Learn more and RSVP!
  • August 1st: DKAN Summit in Washington, DC. Part of Drupal GovCon 2017, the DKAN Open Data Summit will feature open data leaders discussing how DKAN can be used to facilitate government open data efforts. Learn more and register here
  • September 11th and 12th: Civic Tech Fest and 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. The agenda is up now and you have until July 21st to sign up for early bird tickets!
  • 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 learn more 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.
  • October 13th – 14th: 2017 FOI Summit, Nashville, Tennessee. "Music City USA becomes home for NFOIC, state FOI coalitions and open government advocates for the 2017 FOI Summit on Friday and Saturday, October 13-14, 2017.The National Freedom of Information Coalition (NFOIC) and our host, the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government will convene the annual summit at the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University." You can learn more and register here


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