Today in OpenGov: #DemocracyDialogues


In today's edition, a reminder that the developers of "smart cities" shouldn't make the consent of the governed an afterthought, more progress on legislative transparency in Virginia, confirming widespread removal of climate change from federal websites, a report that the Trump Organization quietly cashes in some investments, automating Washington, and much more. Please send us your tips, news, analysis, new data releases, and events at

Discussing Populism and CORRUPTION

In 2018, we are collaborating with Global Integrity, the OpenGovHub and Transparency International on a series of Democracy Dialogues in DC.

The first event in the series took place in 2017. You can watch the archived video on our website. If you're in Washington today, we hope you'll join us for the next event in the series.

Today's event, Populism and Corruption: Comparing Europe and the U.S., will be held at the OpenGov Hub in Washington, DC starting at 4:30.

You can learn more and register to attend here.  We hope to see you there!


At 9:12 PM last night, the White House press secretary released a statement opposing an amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act:

"The Administration strongly opposes the “USA Rights” amendment to the FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act, which the House will consider tomorrow.  This amendment would re-establish the walls between intelligence and law enforcement that our country knocked down following the attacks of 9/11 in order to increase information sharing and improve our national security.  The Administration urges the House to reject this amendment and preserve the useful role FISA’s Section 702 authority plays in protecting American lives."

At 7:33 AM this morning, President Trump criticized the FISA Act, which he asserted had been used to surveil his campaign and linked to the controversial dossier of intelligence about him assembled by Fusion GPS. 

In a second tweet at  9:14 AM  he endorsed of reauthorization of the act.

Sunlight's position, at least, is consistent on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA): more transparency! As we highlighted yesterday, when we joined more than 40 organizations from across the political spectrum in urging members of Congress to support the USA RIGHTS amendment being offered on the bill.

The amendment would enact meaningful reforms to Section 702 of FISA, which has historically been used by the government to unconstitutionally collect Americans’ communications without a warrant or individualized approval from a judge. Concerns regarding this collection are compounded by the government’s routine searches of Section 702 data for the information of U.S. citizens and residents despite the fact that Section 702 explicitly prohibits the targeting of such persons.

Without the addition of the USA RIGHTS amendment the FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act should not pass through the House.

We urge you to read through the full letter here and consider urging your member of Congress to vote YES on the USA RIGHTS Amendment and NO on on the FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act if the USA RIGHTS amendment does not pass.

OPENING states and cities

The Quayside area of Toronto. Image via Civicist
  • A plan to redevelop a Toronto neighborhood into a "data-driven innovation hub" is raising good questions on privacy and data governance. "When Sidewalk Labs hosted a public forum in Toronto last November to gather feedback on its plan to build a data-driven innovation hub on a mostly derelict stretch of industrial waterfront, several participants posed tough questions about how the company, a subsidiary of Alphabet/Google, would address privacy issues—questions that have yet to be answered some three months later." (Civicist)
  • The Virginia House of Delegates may change its rules to require recorded subcommittee votes. The Virginia ACLU weighed in on the proposed rule change on Twitter, writing "The House of Delegates made the right decision today by requiring subcommittee votes to be recorded. Open government is the cornerstone of a democracy. This will benefit the public and the Commonwealth as a whole." Jordan Pascale, who initially shared the news, explained that the rule change proposal had not been "officially voted on yet" but it has been a priority of chamber Democrats and was introduced by the Republican leader, so it looks likely to pass. 
  • Louisville, Kentucky has opened its data, but is it for everyone? Sunlight's Stephen Larrick weighed in on the fact that much of the information shared through Louisville's open data portal is released as raw data saying, "If you just are sharing the raw data, even if that raw data is the people’s raw data, access is not going to be equal.” (89.3 WFPL)
  • Washington, DC Counsel moves forward with public election financing program despite opposition from mayor. "The D.C. Council unanimously backed publicly financed campaigns Tuesday, a move lauded by clean-government advocates in a city long plagued by its association with a pay-to-play culture." Rachel Chason reports that critics of the program include Mayor Muriel Bowser, who argues that there are better uses of taxpayer funds. (Washington Post)


  • As we have highlighted , "climate change" has disappeared from federal websites under the Trump administration. A new report by the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative found that "nearly a year into the Trump administration, mentions of climate change have been systematically removed, altered or played down on websites across the federal government…" (New York Times)
  • The Trump Organization unloaded $35 million worth of property in 2017 –  mostly to secretive buyers. "President Trump’s companies sold more than $35 million in real estate in 2017, mostly to secretive shell companies that obscure buyers’ identities, continuing a dramatic shift in his customers' behavior that began during the election, a USA TODAY review found." Since President Trump won the GOP nomination in 2016, buyers of Trump property have increasingly used LLCs to obscure their identities. (USA Today)
  • Bipartisan backlash to the Interior Department's decision to exempt Florida from rule change expanding offshore drilling. "The Trump administration’s decision to exempt Florida from expanded offshore drilling kicked off a frenzy Wednesday in other coastal states, with governors from both political parties asking: 'Why not us?'" (Washington Post)  The move has been criticized as an obvious political favor to Florida Governor and Trump ally Rick Scott (R) as well as a potential conflict of interest given the President's property in the state. (The Hill)
  • President Trump lashes out at libel laws. In a statement at yesterday's Cabinet meeting – which isn't online at the White House website yet – President Trump said that his administration is going to take "a very, very strong look" at the nation's libel laws. The Washington Post has all the context.
  • As we pointed out on Twitter, President Trump, who has made at least 2,000 false claims as President and made a veritable cottage industry of lying about President Barack Obama's birthplace, has been protected under the libel law he claims to hate so much. 

washington watch

Image by Justin Metz. Via POLITICO.
  • "Can the swamp really be automated?" Nancy Scola's excellent new feature investigates the growing movement to use technology to better understand the "dense entanglement of politics, rulemaking, legal work, journalism and jurisprudence" that makes DC run – and how it is likely to change the game of politics. Scola focuses her analysis on FiscalNote, a major player in the area, but cast her net much more broadly.  (POLITICO
  • Related: Walmart applied one of these new platforms to kill a tax bill provision last year. Meanwhile, Alexandra Stratton uses Quorum, one of Fiscal Note's competitors, to tell the story of how Walmart killed the Border Adjustment Tax. Stratton writes, "From February until July, when the tax was removed from consideration, the company tailored messages to specific lawmakers to communicate how the tax could have a “chilling effect” on consumers—ranging from cheese production in Wisconsin to port cities on the Eastern Seaboard. Walmart’s campaign came together quickly thanks in part to a piece of computer code designed in a Harvard dorm room a few years ago, which now serves as the backbone of a D.C.-based consulting firm trying to push Washington’s oldest industry into the 21st century." (Bloomberg Business Week)
  • Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) won't run for reelection. "California Republican Darrell Issa announced Wednesday he won’t run for reelection in 2018 after 18 years in the House of Representatives, four of which he spent chairing the powerful House Oversight and Government Reform Committee…many of Issa’s most impactful actions occurred in the realm of federal IT reform, where his tech-savvy and willingness to work across the aisle resulted in meaningful policy changes that could be felt across the federal landscape for decades. Two of the most important IT reform efforts of the last 10 years, the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act and the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act, bear Issa’s fingerprints, and he was the first congressman to push for federal chief information officers to have spending authority." (NextGov)
  • Federal CIOs lack visibility into agency IT spending leading to contracting problems, according to new GAO report. "Agency CIOs are supposed to have total visibility into IT spending under the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act, but in practice that's not always the case, potentially causing duplicative or poorly conceived IT contracts, according to a new study from the Government Accountability Office." (Federal Computer Week) You can read the report here


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