Today in OpenGov: The State of the Union is opaque


In today's edition, we explore a new report on trust in the media, President Trump prepares for his first State of the Union address tonight, we make the case for transparency around a leaked Brexit analysis, Seattle shares privacy tips, and more. 

washington watch

  • Public trust in media wavers as "fake news" threat grows. Sunlight's reporting intern Brianna Williams went to the Washington Post for a forum on new research on trust in the media by the Knight Foundation and Gallup. The story she filed highlighted the main questions explored during the event and shed light on some of the key takeaways from the new report. (Sunlight Foundation)
  • How big donors' plan to reward the GOP for passing tax reform. "Republicans in Congress faced a near-mutiny last fall from some wealthy GOP donors frustrated with Washington’s inability to get anything done. Then they passed the tax bill. Now the checkbooks are open again, the party's top bankrollers say — just in time for a challenging midterm election cycle." (POLITICO)
  • Pentagon moves to classify range of data on Afghanistan war progress. "The U.S. Department of Defense has classified a sweeping range of data used to measure its progress in Afghanistan, a government watchdog said, sealing much of the information from public view." (Wall Street Journal)
  • How fitness tracking data revealed U.S. military base locations and troop habits. "A fitness app that posts a map of its users’ activity has unwittingly revealed the locations and habits of military bases and personnel, including those of American forces in Iraq and Syria, security analysts say." (New York Times)


  • New report documents President Trump's failures on integrity and accountability. The report, The Art of the Lie, from Democracy 21 and Common Cause takes a critical view at Trump's first year, concluding that "since he swore an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution, President Trump’s failures on government integrity and accountability continue to reach new lows. Rarely has a day gone by when he has not egregiously broken from democratic norms and the values that are central to building trust in our government." (The Art of the Lie)
  • Meanwhile, the Washington Post has started keeping a "living Q&A" on President Trump's businesses and possible conflicts of interest
  • Trump campaign livestream of State of the Union will highlight donors names. "President Trump is seeking to parlay his first State of the Union address on Tuesday into cash for his reelection campaign by offering supporters a chance to see their name flashed on the screen during a broadcast of the speech. In a fundraising solicitation on Monday, Trump offered those willing to pay at least $35 the opportunity to see their name displayed during a live streaming of the address on his campaign website." (Washington Post)
  • House Intelligence Committee votes to release controversial memo alleging FBI misconduct, despite DOJ pushback. "Republicans on the House intelligence committee voted Monday in favor of releasing a classified memo that alleges misconduct by senior FBI officials involved in the Russia probe, despite objections from the Department of Justice. The GOP-led panel voted along party lines to release the secret document — which was written by Republicans — and against making public a competing memo Democrats had crafted, said Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the committee." The White House will review the memo before approving its release. (POLITICO)
  • Emails obtained via FOIA indicate that EPA Administrator Pruitt was involved in removal of climate change information from web. "Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) has obtained emails indicating Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt’s personal involvement in efforts to remove information about climate change from EPA’s website. EDF obtained the emails from EPA in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request." You can view the files in question here. (Environmental Defense Fund

around the world

  • Leaked government Brexit analysis shows that leaving the EU will be bad for the UK. "The government's new analysis of the impact of Brexit says the UK would be worse off outside the European Union under every scenario modelled, BuzzFeed News can reveal…The assessment seen by BuzzFeed News is being kept tightly guarded inside government. It was prepared by officials across Whitehall for the Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU) and is reportedly being presented to key ministers in one-to-one meetings this week ahead of discussion at the Brexit cabinet subcommittee next week." (BuzzFeed) Our take? everyone would have been better served if the UK government had been open about what they know, disclosing this analysis instead of having it be leaked. Adopting secrecy because of expected embarrassment increases public distrust in the long term.
  • In Myanmar, courts have convicted 100% of those charged under controversial telecom law since 2016. "In 2016-17, every person charged under Section 66 (d) of Myanmar's Telecommunications Law was convicted and sentenced to prison…One prominent example of how local officials have used section 66 (d) to harass the media came with the case of Democratic Voice of Burma journalist Wunna Tun. While working on an investigative story about irregularities in irrigation loans to farmers in the Bago region, village officials accused him of being corrupt and distributing inaccurate information." (Global Voices
  • World Bank announces funding for 12 projects centered on improving development data. In a release, the World Bank Data Team writes, "We’re pleased to announce support for 12 projects which seek to improve the way development data are produced, managed, and used. They bring together diverse teams of collaborators from around the world, and are focused on solving challenges in low and lower middle-income countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia, Latin America, and South Asia." (World Bank Data Blog)
  • Kenyan opposition party plans to inaugurate leader as "people's president". "Kenya’s main opposition alliance defied warnings of a crackdown and prepared to inaugurate its leader as a so-called people’s president, threatening to deepen the East African nation’s political crisis." (Bloomberg)

states and cities

  • Seattle celebrates Data Privacy Day with practical tips for citizens. "In honor of Data Privacy Day this month, Seattle Chief Privacy Officer Ginger Armbruster has written a series of [posts] with tips aimed at helping citizens to stay safe online. Data Privacy Day was Sunday, Jan. 28, and for the occasion Armbruster wrote an introduction to the concept of Data Privacy Day , as well as a pair of blogs with specific advice for citizens — one with tips regarding their personal privacy and another with tips on how they can help be safe in the online space overall." (Government Technology)
  • Louisiana looks to Ohio's budget transparency portal for help settling financial issues. "As Louisiana politicians try to find solutions for the state's seemingly never-ending financial struggles, a website that sheds light on another state's budget could play a key role in forging a plan." (Government Technology)
  • Washington DC's only public hospital knocked for open meetings violations. "The board of United Medical Center, the District’s last remaining public hospital, violated the law in voting in secret session December 13, 2017, to close the hospital obstetrics unit that serves a low-income area in southeast Washington, D.C. An opinion…released [last week] by the D.C. Office of Open Government, in response to a complaint by the Open Government Coalition, finds violations of the law and requires the hospital board to publish the audio recording of the discussion and vote (closed sessions must be taped) since the actual discussion shows there was no reason it should not have been public." (D.C. Open Government Coalition)


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