In today’s edition, we ask federal agencies about their plans for open government – and aren’t impressed by the answers – the GAO agrees to probe fake comments to the FCC, the UK government forms a unit to fight fake news, Boston loses its CIO, and more.
- How the Trump administration has deprioritized open government in its first year. Briana Williams explains how, during the first year of “the Trump administration…the Open Government Initiative, Open Government Partnership, and related programs, initiatives and partnerships across the federal government are being ignored, neglected or even forgotten in federal agencies.” Specifically, Williams reached out to 24 major federal agencies with some basic questions about their open government efforts and plans. The most common response? File a FOIA request. Overall, Williams concludes, “the Trump administration’s record on open government has fallen far short of the standard for ethics, transparency and accountability that should exist in American democracy, undermining anti-corruption efforts worldwide.” (Sunlight Foundation)
- Some of President Trump’s top political advisors are making big bucks from multiple pro-Trump groups, raising coordination concerns. “President Donald Trump’s close political advisers are making millions of dollars working for several different entities gearing up for Trump’s reelection campaign — raising questions about whether they are following campaign finance laws designed to keep campaigns from coordinating with big-money outside groups.” (BuzzFeed)
- Many Trump appointees who made it through the first year stand to benefit from loosened ethics restrictions. Frank Matt explains, “Trump has been in office for one year, which means some of his earliest appointees will soon be free of certain promises in their ethics agreements…Many appointees in the Trump administration – including a number of lobbyists – signed ethics agreements containing a variety of promises, such as pledging to divest assets and resign from positions that pose conflicts of interest. Appointees commonly pledge to recuse themselves from matters before their agency involving their old employers and clients – but these promises have a shelf live. For many top Trump employees, they only had to refrain from participating in matters involving their old employers and interests for one year.” (MuckRock)
- The Justice Department is demanding that “sanctuary cities” share information about illegal immigrants. “The U.S. Justice Department demanded that almost two dozen cities, counties and states — from New York City to California — prove that they’re sharing information with federal immigration authorities about people in the country illegally or risk subpoenas and cuts in public-safety grants.” (Bloomberg)
- The GAO will investigate fake comments on the FCC’s net neutrality repeal. “The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) will investigate the use of impersonation in public comments on the Federal Communications Commission’s net neutrality repeal. Congressional Democrats requested the investigation last month, and the GAO has granted the request.” The investigation will reportedly look beyond the FCC to the federal rulemaking process more broadly. (Ars Technica) Our take? We’re glad to hear the the GAO will review the use of fraudulent identities in federal rulemaking processes. We remain deeply disappointed that the FCC failed to inform the public about what occurred during the net neutrality debate or take accountability for its inaction.
- 7 of 18 counts against Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and co-defendant Melgen dismissed as retrial looms. “A federal judge has acquitted Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez and co-defendant Salomon Melgen on seven of the 18 counts they were tried on last year, just days after the Justice Department announced its intent to try the duo again after the jury deadlocked in the first trial. U.S. District Court Judge William Walls, who came under criticism from Menendez also announced he will not preside over the retrial.” (POLITICO)
- Is it time for Congress to bring back the Office of Technology Assessment? Kevin Kosar and Zach Graves think so — and so do we. In a new paper, they explain that “despite the social and economic importance of science and innovation, policymakers are not always well equipped to understand and meet the associated challenges head-on. This problem is particularly conspicuous in the United States Congress, which serves an essential function through the crafting of legal frameworks for new technologies. Following short-sighted reforms in the mid-1990s…the First Branch has lacked the staffing and expertise to handle the increasingly technical nature of contemporary science and technology debates. These cuts included…the outright elimination of the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) – an expert advisory agency that served as a think tank within Congress from 1972 to 1995, and made important contributions to shaping technology policy in the United States and abroad.” (R Street Institute)
- The FCC released Chairman Ajit Pai’s calendar under FOIA, but it should be more proactive. “In response to a FOIA request by Taylor Scott Amarel, the Federal Communications Commission has released nearly two year’s worth of Chairman Ajit Pai’s calendar.” (MuckRock) Our take? While we’re glad to see that the FCC released this under FOIA, a higher standard for transparency would be for Ajit Pai to publish his calendar online in a structured format.
states and cities
- Boston, Massachusetts’ Chief Information Officer steps down. “On January 24th, Jascha Franklin-Hodge stepped down as Boston’s Chief Information Officer, leaving behind him an impressive set of accomplishments at a decisive moment in the city’s digital evolution. Commenting on his departure, Mayor Marty Walsh noted that Franklin-Hodge ‘helped to bring City Hall and city services into the 21st century in just four short years.’ As CIO, he enhanced online service delivery for residents, empowered staffers with new technologies, and expanded digital access across the city.” (Data-Smart City Solutions)
- A Maine agency’s refusal to release a log of public records requests highlights issues with state law. “A state agency withheld a public record from the Bangor Daily News even as it emailed the same record to the state’s public access watchdog…The small case over a simple record — a request to the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development for a log of public records requests made of the department in 2017 — highlights how state agencies can hold up the release of records to certain requesters if they feel like it.” (Bangor Daily News)
- How these upstate New York cities are leveraging technology to fight blight. Four cities in upstate New York are partnering with the University of Albany’s Center for Technology in Government as part of a “pilot program that aims to share critical code-enforcement data that the participating governments are hopeful will enable them to take a more proactive approach to” the problem of blight in their cities. (Government Technology)
around the world
- UK setting up new anti-fake news unit. “The government is to set up a dedicated national security unit to tackle fake news and disinformation, Downing Street has said as part of a wider announcement about a review of defence capabilities.” (The Guardian)
- Canada piloting blockchain technology to boost transparency in public research and grant funding. “The Canadian government has launched a trial to explore the use of blockchain technology in making government research grant and funding information more transparent to the public…For the trial, the National Research Council (NRC) is using the Catena Blockchain Suite, a Canadian-made product built on the Ethereum blockchain, to publish funding and grant information in real time.” (Global News)
- Brazilian appeals court upholds ex-president’s upholds corruption conviction, complicating his bid to regain power. “A Brazilian appeals court unanimously upheld a graft sentence against former leader Luiz Inacio Inacio Lula da Silva, likely preventing the front-runner in presidential opinion polls from seeking election this year.” (Bloomberg)
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