Today in OpenGov: Cease and desist


In today's edition, we explore how the Trump administration has changed online access to public information in its first year, the FCC finalizes its net neutrality repeal, the DC Open Government Coalition calls out some questionable FOIA denials, and more. 


Removal of a corporate income tax report from the Department Of The Treasury’s Office Of Tax Analysis website. An example of changes to online information under the Trump administration identified by Andrew Bergman and Toly Rinberg.
  • How the Trump administration reduced public information online in its first year. Sunlight fellows Andrew Bergman and Toly Rinberg explored how the Trump administration, as part of transforming the federal government in its first year, has already left a distinct mark on federal websites. While they didn't find any evidence of widespread data removal under Trump, they did identify substantial removals and overhauls of webpages, documents, and entire websites, as well as significant shifts in language and messaging across the federal Web domain. These changes were often politically motivated or otherwise unexplained. Read their full report and find out what has changed at the Sunlight Foundation blog
  • President Trump tries to halt publication of controversial book, breaking precedent and threatening First Amendment. "President Trump marshaled both his West Wing and his personal legal team Thursday against a new book that portrays him and his administration as incompetent and erratic — threatening possible libel charges against its author, its publisher and his former chief strategist, whose provocative comments pepper the book." (Washington Post) Our take? It is not only unusual, but also a threat to the First Amendment for a sitting president to to attempt to prevent the publication of a book about his administration through a private lawsuit while he is serving the public in the White House. 
  • Amid growing war with Trump, Steve Bannon loses support of main financial backer. "Steve Bannon faces fresh doubt about whether he can pull off his populist revolution within the Republican Party after his top financial patron cut ties with him on Thursday in the wake of his feud with President Donald Trump." (Bloomberg)
  • DHS to take over responsibility for investigating President Trump's voter fraud allegations. "The work of investigating President Trump's claim that millions of people voted illegally in the last presidential election and cost him the popular vote — an idea he's presented without providing any evidence — now lies in the hands of officials at the Department of Homeland Security, after Trump disbanded the commission originally charged with the investigation." (The Hill)
    • After disbanding the commission, Trump complained that Democratic states sabotaged its work by refusing to hand over data "because they know that many people are voting illegally." It's important to note that this is a false claim by President Trump. Republican secretaries of state also refused the commission's data call, with good reason, given its lax security practices.

states and cities

  • Highlighting some of Washington, D.C.'s questionable FOIA denials. After highlighting two recent FOIA denials that they deemed particularly questionable, the D.C. Open Government Coalition concluded that "applying FOIA law is complex, with a bushel of exceptions and court cases filling thousands of pages in the law books. But maybe it’s time for D.C. Council oversight to take a look at D.C. agencies’ FOIA staff training and supervision and press for improvement in the 50 percent error rate and such howlers as the secret Amazon bid and secret school breakfast details." (D.C. Open Government Coalition)
  • Kansas school board violates open meetings law with secret session. "Government bodies can’t conduct private meetings that span several days – as the Wichita school board did last February – according to Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt…The new opinion affirms a complaint filed by The Eagle last year, alleging that the Wichita school board violated the open meetings law when it met in secret during an eight-day private session to interview candidates for superintendent." (The Wichita Eagle)
  • Can New York City's algorithmic transparency bill serve as a model for other governments? "The New York City Council met early in December to pass a law on algorithmic decision-making transparency that could have real significance for cities and states in the rest of the nation. With the passage of an algorithmic accountability bill, the city gains a task force that will monitor the fairness and validity of algorithms used by municipal agencies." (Government Technology) In December, we highlighted the bills flaws as well as its positive attributes. 
  • Missouri governor faces public records lawsuit over use of private messaging app. "In a legal action filed in late December, attorney Ben Sansone wants a judge to bar the Republican governor and his staff from using the Confide app and reveal the names of all staffers who have used the software." (Government Technology)

washington watch

  • Weeks after voting to repeal net neutrality, the FCC released the final text of its decision. You can read the decision here. Our take? Around the world, nations are codifying the principle that Internet service providers must transparently treat all traffic the same, regardless of its source: No blocking, throttling or paid prioritization. The USA should be taking the lead, not ceding it. 
  • IG review finds significant errors with Homeland Security DATA Act compliance, but the agency is pushing back. "Nearly $2 billion in financial transactions completed by the Department of Homeland Security could not be linked to their corresponding award-level transactions for Q2 of FY2017…In reply comments from oversight liaison Jim Crumpacker, DHS argued that OIG was applying accounting strictures not contained in the Data Act while ignoring flexibilities afforded to reporting agencies." (Federal Computer Week)
  • The Justice Department launched a new investigation into the Clinton Foundation. "The Justice Department has launched a new inquiry into whether the Clinton Foundation engaged in any pay-to-play politics or other illegal activities while Hillary Clinton served as Secretary of State, law enforcement officials and a witness tells The Hill." (The Hill)

save the dates

  • Populism and Corruption: Comparing Europe and the US. January 11th at 4:30 PM in Washington, DC. The second installment in the “Democracy Dialogues” series presented by the Open Gov Hub, Global Integrity, Sunlight Foundation, and Transparency International seeks to explore why populism has emerged both in the United States and in Europe, and the relationship of populism to to various forms of corruption (including kleptocracy). It will also address the international linkages between populist sentiments spreading and between international money flows facilitating corruption across boundaries, and the ways in which Western governments or other actors may enable corrupt actors in other countries. Learn more and RSVP here
  • Open Data Day. March 3rd. Around the world. 2018 is here and so is the latest edition of Open Data Day. Join the global movement "on Saturday 3 March, [to] celebrate Open Data Day (ODD). As always, this is a bottom-up initiative, where we expect to gain momentum and highlight the different uses that Open Data can have in different contexts." You can learn more and submit details about your event to Open Knowledge


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