Today in OpenGov: Hedge your bets


In today’s edition, President Trump reportedly tried to fire Robert Mueller last year, hedge funds have Washington wired, John Wonderlich weighs on the transparency and open government leadership by cities across the country, and more.


Robert Mueller. Image Credit: Pete Souza via The White House.
  • President Trump reportedly wanted to fire special counsel Robert Mueller last June. Michael S. Schmidt and Maggie Haberman report that “President Trump ordered the firing last June of Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel overseeing the Russia investigation, according to four people told of the matter, but ultimately backed down after the White House counsel threatened to resign rather than carry out the directive.” (New York Times)
  • Already strained FOIA system faces new challenges in Trump era. Michael Morisy assessed how FOIA fared under the first year of the Trump administration. “Unfortunately for transparency, things” turned out much as he predicted when he considered the future a year ago. Lowlights include a slight uptick in response times, a big jump in FOIA lawsuits, and the rollback of a number of Obama era accountability measures, including open data around White House visitor logs. (MuckRock)
  • These House Democrats reminded President Trump that he still hasn’t filled out his Office of Science and Technology Policy. “As technology advances and permeates most aspects of society, several lawmakers are urging President Donald Trump to appoint a scientific adviser and the staff needed to support the Office of Science and Technology Policy. Reps. Don Beyer, D-Va., Bill Foster, D-Ill., Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., and Mark Takano, D-Calif., sent a letter on Jan. 24 to the president urging him to fill the vacant role of OSTP director and increase staffing to the level of the Obama administration.” (NextGov)
  • Maryland Judge appears open to state arguments over standing in emoluments case. “President Donald Trump managed to defeat the first lawsuit challenging his receipt of business profits while in office, but knocking out the second case over his alleged violations of the Constitution’s emoluments clauses may not be so easy. As a daylong hearing on that second suit kicked off in a Maryland courtroom Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Peter Messitte repeatedly indicated he wasn’t persuaded by aspects of a ruling a fellow judge in New York City issued last monthdismissing a high-profile case over Trump’s refusal to divest his business holdings.” (POLITICO)

states and cities

  • The transparency effect of city certification. Sunlight’s Executive Director John Wonderlich reflected on his experiences as a member of the What Works Cities Certification Standard Committee, which recently awarded What Works Cities Certification to nine cities. Explaining the power of certification, he wrote “If encouraging cities to share their challenges and successes makes them more transparent, assessing or certifying them can help hold them more accountable. What Works Cities’ certification criteria show what cities should be doing, and very explicitly rewards the cities that are doing it. This is a public, positive form of accountability — a race to the top, or virtuous competition between cities.” (Sunlight Foundation)
  • Wisconsin elections commission moves to retain interim administrator following controversial Senate vote. “A divided Wisconsin Elections Commission voted Wednesday to retain its embattled leader through early spring, thumbing its nose at state Senate Republicans who a day earlier refused to confirm him. One Republican commissioner joined with three Democratic commissioners to retain Michael Haas as interim administrator through April 30.” (Washington Post)
  • Kansas Secretary of State’s website exposes personal information from thousands of state employees. “Along with a bevy of personal information contained in documents that, according to a statement on the website, was intended to be public, the Kansas Secretary of State’s website left exposed the last four digits of Social Security numbers (SSN4) belonging to numerous current and former candidates for office, as well as thousands—potentially tens of thousands—of high-ranking state employees at virtually ever Kansas government agency.” (Gizmodo)
  • Watch video from November’s Summit on Data-Smart government. The Summit on Data-Smart Government brought data leaders from across the country to Cambridge in November of 2017. You can now watch videos from the event via Data-Smart City Solutions.
  • How Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is using data to assess fire risk. This interview, part of MetroLab’s Innovation of the Month series, explores “how Pittsburgh’s Bureau of Fire is using predictive analytics to help their department prioritize commercial building inspections.” (Government Technology)

washington watch

Image via the National Parks Service.
  • How hedge funds get their way in Washington without anyone knowing. Zachary Mider and Ben Elgin explore “a furtive campaign by Wall Street to bend the political process. Over the past two decades, hedge funds have grown explosively, with a collective $3.4 trillion under management. Not content to make bets and watch from the sidelines, the largest funds increasingly are trying to steer government outcomes—such as negotiations over sovereign debt—so that their investments are likelier to pay out. When billions are at stake on a given wager, a lobbying campaign looks cheap. But hedge funds know that they’re politically toxic—portrayed by both parties as overpaid plutocrats—and prefer that much of these offensives be conducted in secret.” (Bloomberg)
  • The ACLU issues bipartisan challenge to lawmakers who block people on social media. “The American Civil Liberties Union is challenging Democrats and Republicans for blocking constituent social media, citing constitutional free speech protections. The group has assumed the case of a woman who filed suit against Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar last September for blocking her access to his Facebook page…[they have also] sent letters to three Georgia lawmakers, Sen. Johnny Isakson and Reps. John Lewis and Barry Loudermilk, warning them to unblock constituents on social media or provide valid reasons for their decisions to block certain users. Otherwise, they could face a lawsuit similar to the one against Gosar.” (Roll Call)
  • The NSA removed “honesty” and “openness” from its list of core values. Jean Marc Manach reports that the NSA “maintains a page on its website that outlines its mission statement. But earlier this month, the agency made a discreet change: It removed ‘honesty’ as its top priority.” (The Intercept) We’d also like to point out that, while the Director of National Intelligences /Open page is still up, it’s looking increasingly dated while promises about updates to have gone unfulfilled.
  • Congress must demand answers from the intelligence community following passage of FISA reauthorization. Jake Laperruque, a senior counsel with the Constitution Project at the Project On Government Oversight, argues that “Senators voting on a new NSA director should set a strong but simple condition for their approval: In order to be confirmed, the next NSA director must publicly commit to Congress that that the NSA will provide an estimate of the number of Americans affected by Section 702…” of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. (The Hill)
  • Veterans Affairs, Health and Human Services partner to fight healthcare fraud. “The Department of Health and Human Services has partnered with the Department of Veterans Affairs to share data, analytics tools and strategies in efforts to mitigate fraud, waste and abuse in government healthcare programs.” (ExecutiveGov)


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