Today in OpenGov: Recovering trust


In today's edition, major changes may be coming for foreign lobbying rules, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross sells one of his controversial shipping investments, New York voters choose to strip pension benefits from corrupt officials, a new report from the OGP lays out ways to recover trust in government, and much more. 

washington watch

Image credit: Isaac Bowen.
  • Secretary of State Rex Tillerson wants to reduce State Department FOIA backlog, but employees question motives. "Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s assignment of as many as several hundred State Department officials to quickly clear a huge backlog of public records requests is being met with deep skepticism by rank-and-file employees. Tillerson says his goal is transparency. But many State workers fear the real reason is political: expediting the public release of thousands of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s official emails." According to this report by Nahal Toosi, the White House is casting the State Department push as part of a larger effort by the Trump Administration to be more transparent. (POLITICO) Our take? The State Department's FOIA backlog is a long standing issue and efforts to reduce it are welcome, but we can't help but be skeptical of Tillerson's motives and the White House's claims that this is part of a broader transparency push, given past performance. 
  • Congressional Republicans eye major updates to foreign lobbying laws. A bill, introduced in the Senate by Chuck Grassley (R-IA), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and the House by Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA), "would require anyone in the United States representing foreign corporations — not just foreign governments and political parties — to register under FARA. This change would affect lobbyists as well as lawyers and public relations advisers." (Roll Call)
  • Lawmakers push back on proposed cuts to DHS tech office. "Despite the Trump administration’s advocating for more innovation and technology advances in government, proposed budget cuts to the Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate have the potential to hamstring those efforts, stakeholders say. Members of the House Homeland Security Committee are none too happy about it, lambasting the administration’s proposed cuts to biodefense, R&D, acquisition and university research programs in a subcommittee hearing Tuesday." (FedScoop)
  • NIH is going to give out 10,000 Fitbit's as part of precision medicine effort. "The National Institutes of Health's precision medicine initiative—an effort to tailor medical treatments to a patient's individual genetics—is shifting direction. Announced in 2015, the recently renamed All of Us program aims to collect years of health data from 1 million Americans to study how different lifestyles impact various health conditions." They plan to give out 10,000 Fitbit's as part of the effort. (NextGov)
  • A new approach to building a useful federal program inventory. The GAO WatchBlog highlights a recent GAO review on developing a useful inventory of federal programs. The report "found that the principles and practices of information architecture—a discipline focused on how information is organized, structured, and presented—could be used to develop a transparent and accessible inventory of federal programs. Using a systematic approach would create an inventory that was consistent across agencies and programs, addressing some of the limitations we found in the initial effort. (GAO WatchBlog)


  • New report outlines the challenges to American democracy in the wake of Russian election interference. Common Cause takes a broad look at the state of democracy, concluding that a "year after Trump’s upset victory, as a special counsel’s investigation of Russia’s activity yields its first indictment and conviction, it’s clear that democracy in America still has vulnerabilities. This report examines some of those vulnerabilities, along with the challenges of and the progress made toward addressing them." (Common Cause)
  • The EPA and Director Scott Pruitt may face lawsuits over advisory board changes. "Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt may face legal challenges over his decision to block grant recipients from serving on advisory committees…Legal experts say the dispute is certain to end up in federal court, where the EPA could face an uphill battle to prove that blocking certain scientists from its boards serves legitimate government interests." (The Hill)
  • Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross drops one of his controversial shipping investments. "Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has divested his interest in Diamond S Shipping Group Inc., one of the world’s largest owners and operators of medium-range tanker vessels and the subject of a Center for Public Integrity investigation." Ross has faced scrutiny this week following reports that Navigator Holdings — another shipping company that he holds a stake in — has significant ties to powerful Russian interests. (Center for Public Integrity)

states and cities

Screenshot from the NCDataPalooza website. 
  • DataPalooza in North Carolina aims to unlock the power of state and local government data. "Unlocking data for the greater good is the goal of North Carolina’s DataPalooza. Designed as an open competition, the organizers of the annual event challenge creators, designers, and developers to use publicly available data to develop solutions that have social and economic value." The seven-week competition will leverage data from more than 800 state and local government sources. (The Herald-Sun)
  • Baton Rouge, Louisiana seeks feedback on its open data policy. "Mayor Sharon Weston Broome is seeking feedback on a draft copy of the city-parish’s first open data policy, which aims to make government more transparent and efficient at delivering services to Baton Rouge residents." You have until November 24th to submit comments on the draft, which can be found on the Madison platform.  (Greater Baton Rouge Business Report)
  • New York votes to strip pension benefits from public servants convicted of corruption. "Starting next year, long-time lawmakers convicted of corruption in New York can no longer count on their pension. On Tuesday, voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure that gives judges the right to trim or revoke the pensions of any public servant convicted of a job-related crime." (Governing)

around the world

Mauritius is a tropical paradise as well as a major venue for offshore tax shelters. 
  • Corrosive secrecy outweighs privacy in the case of offshore finance. In an op-ed for the New York Times Jake Bernstein, a senior reporter for the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, argues that "in the world of offshore finance, privacy long ago became a corrosive secrecy." He explains, from the perspective of the journalists working to report on the Paradise Papers, "With the offshore world so expansive and so in need of transparency, it often falls to journalists and those with access to leaked data to shine light on these secret dealings. Privacy is not an absolute right when the public interest is at stake. And so, journalists must face a difficult question before seeking to publish information that comes from hackers or other unauthorized leaks: Does this information directly affect the well-being of society?" (New York Times)
  • A framework for recovering trust in government. The Open Government Partnership is out with a new report, Trust: The Fight To Win It Back, that taps "some of the world’s leading doers and thinkers to provide insights to people negotiating these challenges around the world. In these pages, politicians, civic activists, business leaders and journalists help us to understand why trust in institutions has been declining, and how to get it back." (Open Government Partnership)
  • The need for new international standards to protect the open Internet. Sarah Moulton writes on the need for "a coordinated multi-stakeholder approach to redefine norms for a free and open internet. Ultimately, civil society activists, media representatives, business leaders, governments, internet governance bodies and more will need to advocate for new international standards that recognize the critical role the open internet plays in democratic societies. Toward this end, NDI has been collaborating with the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) and the Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA) to develop A Democratic Framework to Interpret Open Internet Principles. (NDI DemocracyWorks Blog)


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