Today in OpenGov: The ATF’s public-private slush fund


"Company lawyers descended on the warehouse, seizing everything. A tobacco company had just raided the A.T.F." – Matt Appuzo, New York Times

Read on for the full story behind that hard-to-believe quote, plus the rest of the weekend's top open government stories from Washington, around the United States, and across the globe. 


A map of global participation and progress on Open Government Partnership commitments. 
  • The Trump administration will participate in the Open Government Partnership. What does that mean? Alex Howard and John Wonderlich reflected on the Open Government Partnership and the Trump administration's move towards participation in the global, voluntary multi-stakeholder initiative. They asked, "can an administration’s participation in a voluntary, public consultation-driven reform process lead to valuable results, when the President’s commitments on related accountability issues have so clearly been offered in bad faith?" (The Sunlight Foundation)
  • GAO to investigate Interior Secretary's alleged threats against Alaskan Senators. "The Government Accountability Office (GAO) will launch an investigation into Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's alleged threat against Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Ak.) to withhold Interior support for Alaska if the she did not support the GOP ObamaCare repeal and replace bill." (The Hill)
  • Federal Election Commission barely hanging on to a quorum. "President Donald Trump on Thursday nominated Republican Matthew Petersen to a federal judgeship, meaning the FEC is poised to putter on with the minimum number of commissioners — four — required to take official action on most anything of consequence," reports Dave Levinthal. The FEC could easily find itself without the quorum necessary to take significant action as several remaining commissioners have publicly discussed their plans to leave sooner rather than later.  President Trump has shown no urgency to nominate new commissioners. (Center for Public Integrity)
  • Despite pledge, Trump Organization working with construction company owned by Chinese government. President Trump promised not to work with foreign entities, but the Trump Organization just did exactly that, continuing the conflicts of interest that shadow this ethically challenged administration. (McClatchy DC)

washington watch

  • ATF's secret, public-private slush fund. "For seven years, agents at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives followed an unwritten policy: If you needed to buy something for one of your cases, do not bother asking Washington. Talk to agents in Bristol, Va., who controlled a multimillion-dollar account unrestricted by Congress or the bureaucracy." Matt Apuzzo digs deeply into "thousands of pages of newly unsealed records" which reveal this story, which was first reported by the New York Times in February, goes much deeper than initially understood. (New York Times)
  • Progress on nationwide public health data network is slow, according to new GAO report. "A new Government Accountability Office report found, once again, that the Department of Health and Human Services hasn’t made the desired progress toward its promise to establish a nationwide electronic network for sharing public health data." (FedScoop)
  • Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking publishes inaugural report. "The Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking, spawned from a bill co-written by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., was tasked with recommending ways federal agencies can gather and use more data. This week, the commission published its inaugural report outlining first steps, including creating a National Secure Data Service to promote using data while preserving citizens’ privacy." (NextGov) We're glad to see this report and hope that Congress and the White House work to apply its recommendations. 
  • Should we embrace low tech solutions to ensure election security? "Some experts say that given uneven IT security requirements for voting systems, the best protection against election hacking may be less technology." (Federal Computer Week)


$16 million worth of Brazilian currency. Image Credit: Brazilian Federal Police. 
  • Brazilian authorities make arrest after finding $16 million in cash at an empty apartment. "Geddel Vieira Lima, who served as minister under presidents Michel Temer and Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, was taken into custody on Friday after police identified his fingerprints in an apartment where several suitcases and cardboard boxes overflowing with money were found, federal prosecutors said in a statement." (Bloomberg)
  • How NYU is partnering with the Big Apple to help solve urban issues with data. This post, the first in a new series at Government Technology to "recognize impactful tech, data and innovation projects between cities and universities", spotlights "projects from NYU's Center for Urban Science and Progress (CUSP). In particular, the Urban Science Intensive Capstones, a program led by Professor Constantine Kontokosta, has become a mechanism to connect student teams to local government needs." (Government Technology)

save the dates

  • 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 can still get tickets 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 19th, 1:00 pm EST: Tactical Data Engagement Kickoff Discussion, Webinar. Join the Sunlight Foundation for the official launch of Tactical Data Engagement, a guide to help cities facilitate the impactful use of open data by collaborating with communities. As part of the launch we’ll be hosting a kickoff conversation about the guide and the tactical engagement process. Join us on September 19 at 1 PM EDT for a free webinar. Hear from Sunlight's Open Cities experts, who have worked with dozens of cities on the ideas outlined in the guide. Participants are welcome and encouraged to bring questions about the ways open data could be used to help solve their own city's challenges. Register for the Webinar here
  • September 26th: Data Transparency 2017, in Washington, DC. Hosted by the Data Foundation, "Data Transparency 2017 is Washington's largest open data event, bringing together government leaders, transparency advocates, and the technology industry to explore how technology can transform government, compliance, and the private sector." Learn more and get your tickets 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 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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