Today in OpenGov: Behind closed doors

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In today's edition, we talk about corruption, President Trump's reliance on "acting" appointments may bite him later, New Mexico's transparency portal needs some clarity, better laws are vital in the global fight against corruption, and more. 

washington watch

At a press conference to discuss the results of Transparency International's new survey. Image via FACT Coalition.
  • According to new report, Americans think their government is increasingly corrupt. Yesterday, we joined Transparency International at a press conference that featured Sunlight’s executive director, John Wonderlich, and many of our key allies in transparency, accountability and ethics in government here in Washington, including Danielle Brian at the Project on Government Oversight, Lisa Rosenberg at OpenTheGovernment, and Gary Kalman at the FACT Coalition. We discussed TI's new report and what it means. You can learn more and watch a livestream of the event on the Sunlight Foundation blog
  • The Senate Intelligence Committee's Russia probe may go behind closed doors. "Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr said he doesn’t currently see a need for more public hearings in his panel’s investigation of Russian interference in the U.S. election, but added that he still won’t be able to meet an original goal of wrapping up this year." As Steven T. Dennis reports, dozens of closed-door interviews are still to come. (Bloomberg)
  • Fake comments on proposed regulations aren't just a problem for the Federal Communications Commission. An investigation by James V. Grimaldi and Paul Overberg found thousands of fraudulent comments across a range of agencies and topics. (Wall Street Journal) One major driver of this problem? Automated bots. Chase Gunter reports "The net neutrality debate is pulling back the curtain on an ugly reality of the internet age — it's easy for automated bots to submit comments on federal policy changes, and there's no easy fix to the problem." Sunlight's Alex Howard framed the problem for Gunter, arguing that "fake, fraudulent or flawed public comment proceedings erode the trust of citizens in the agency of their participation." (Federal Computer Week)
  • Americans want former members of Congress to take more time off before they can lobby their former colleagues. "A majority of potential voters — both liberal and conservative — back proposed legislation that would force former congressmen and congressional aides to wait longer before cashing in their government experience as lobbyists, according to a new study by the University of Maryland." (Center for Public Integrity)

trumpland

Behind closed doors. Image credit: Markus Spiske.
  • President Trump, slow to make official appointments, has left "acting heads" stay long past their legal limit. This might cause him legal headaches in the future. Josh Eidelson explains, "President Donald Trump’s slow pace of hiring for key government jobs has left stand-ins occupying positions for so long that it may violate time limits on acting appointments, potentially resulting in decisions being overturned in court. Enforcement actions as well as policy decisions on a variety of topics, such as easing restrictions on methane emissions from oil wells or permitting schools to offer 1 percent milk, could be challenged on the grounds that they were enacted by officials who had been in acting roles too long or were improperly delegated authority." (Bloomberg)
  • Donald Trump Jr. requests investigation into leaks from his closed-door testimony to the House Intelligence Committee. "Donald Trump Jr.’s attorney has sent a letter to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence requesting an inquiry into leaks he says took place during and after Trump Jr.’s interview with the committee on December 6. The letter was sent to Representative Mike Conaway of Texas, who took over the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election from Devin Nunes, after Nunes recused himself earlier this year." (New York Magazine)
  • The F.B.I issued an ethics waiver for Robert Mueller to head up the Russia investigation. They won't release details. "The Justice Department is refusing to reveal details of the process that led up to former FBI Director Robert Mueller being granted an ethics waiver to serve as special counsel investigating the Trump campaign's alleged collusion with Russia during the 2016 presidential election." As Josh Gerstein reports, the F.B.I responded to a POLITICO FOIA request with brief memo confirming the waiver while declining to release additional details "on grounds it would interfere with the deliberative process inside the department." (POLITICO)

states and cities


New Mexico's Sunshine Portal.
  • New Mexico state transparency website lacks clarity. Following criticism from a state lawmaker, "Legislative staff and an independent advocacy group, the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, are…reviewing the Sunshine Portal to see what information is missing or outdated. State law requires the posting of many financial documents, contracts and other data." (Albuquerque Journal) We believe that every state should make it easy for the public to find public information online. New Mexico has taken important strides towards that goal, but we hope Governor Susana Martinez will commit to improving both the design and the data offerings on her state's "Sunshine Portal" in the new year.  
  • Puerto Rico Senate passes open data legislation. "With 21 votes in favor and six against, Senate Bill 236 was approved Monday to create the Open Government Data Act so information handled by government agencies be published online and managed by the Statistics Institute Puerto Rico (PRSI)." (Caribbean Business) We hope that the Puerto Rico House of Representatives will follow suit and make this bill a law.
  • Maine Supreme Court considers limiting access to $15 million, taxpayer funded document portal. The Maine Supreme Court "will consider a recommendation that would give lawyers instant access to court documents under the $15 million system, while other Mainers would still have to trek to a courthouse to see the records. A special task force the court formed to explore how to implement the new system decided that online access to court records should be limited in order to protect individual privacy from those who would misuse personal information. But critics argue that such limits would move Maine in the wrong direction when it comes to transparency in government." (Government Technology)

around the world

French President Emmanuel Macron's official portrait features two smart phones, presumably running Telegram. 
  • French President Macron and his team rely on a controversial messaging app. "Macron and his circle of advisers started using Telegram in 2016, in the early days of his bid for the top office, and they’ve stuck with it for day-to-day exchanges about work planning and practical matters, the people said, asking not to be named discussing private operations…But even when it’s used to discuss seemingly trivial things, there are questions about whether instant-messaging software made for the greater public is the most appropriate for people running a country." (Bloomberg)
  • How can governments prevent fake data on forests from spreading? Following recent controversy surrounding the Indonesian government's approach to spatial data, the World Resources Institute weighed in with three suggestions for governments looking to spread useful and true spatial information. (World Resources Institute)
  • Better laws, not necessarily more honest politicians, represent the path towards less corruption in government. "The good news is that much of the world is fed up with corruption. The bad news is that the way many are fighting corruption is ineffective. Too often, the remedy centers on finding and empowering an honest leader who promises to stamp out the problem. Worldwide, candidates for elected offices are running on highly personalized anti-corruption platforms, offering themselves as the solution. What countries really need, though, are smart laws that reduce the incentives and opportunities for corruption." (The Atlantic)

 

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