Today in OpenGov: Release the Memos


In today’s edition, we celebrate the relaunch of the U.S. City Open Data Census, comment on transparency in DC, highlight the OpenGov Foundation explains what really happens to your message to Congress, worldwide budget transparency takes a step backwards, and much more.

petitioning government

When we sent this newsletter yesterday, “We The People” the White House epetitions website, was still offline. The platform, however, went back online shortly after we went to WordPress with all of 2017’s petitions intact – but still without any responses from the Trump Administration.

Of particular note: a petiiton with over 1,100,000 signatures calling on President Trump to release his tax returns. If you support that goal, as we do, please sign and share it on your social networks.

releasing the memos

Speaking of transparency, President Donald J.. Trump is expected to approve the release of a controversial memorandum drafted by Republicans on the U.S. House Intelligence Committee.  To date, Trump has supported transparency for his political opponents or for institutions that threaten him, not an open government for the people.

As we noted earlier in the week, the selective declassification of this memorandum — but not the one drafted by Democrats on the committee – is an indicator of bad faith on open government, not a commitment to fully informing the public about how surveillance is used, abused or authorized in U.S. government.

As our deputy director highlighted, how many of the Members of Congress speaking out about transparency this week have said anything over the last year about White House visitor logs, secret ethics waivers, FOIA denials, openness for that “voter fraud” panel, or the tax returns of the president?  If the contents of this memorandum documented violations of civil liberties or issues around transparency regarding surveillance, why didn’t the Members of Congress vote to reform Section 702 rather than reauthorizing it?

“Full transparency” is not selective disclosure of information with the transparent goal of delegitimizing the Office of the Special Counsel and the FBI’s investigation of President Trump’s campaign. Full transparency would include not just the release this Nunes memo: it would mean releasing the memo from the Democrats on the committee, the underlying intelligence it’s based upon, the applications and renewals of relevant FISA warrants, going beyond the requirements of the USA Freedom Act to disclose all secret laws and interpretations at the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, or the number of Americans whose papers are being searched without a warrant.

Until we see comprehensive disclosures that are aligned with reforms to improve oversight of intelligence, the use of “transparency” in Washington should be interpreted through a partisan lens, not cited as a good faith effort to uphold the American public’s right to know what is being done in our name.

states and cities

  • Relaunching the U.S. City Open Data Census. Alex Dodds explained that, thanks to recent changes to the technical platform that supports the U.S. City Open Data Census (and dozens of similar projects around the world) by our partners at Open Knowledge International, we have relaunched the U.S. City Open Data Census. The Census is one of the nation’s most prominent (though not perfect) benchmarking tools for city staff and residents to understand what data their city makes available, how their city compares to others across the country, and what datasets their city should consider releasing to be among the nation’s leaders on transparent and accountable government. You can learn more on the Sunlight blog or check out the update and get involved.
  • What’s changed in the new U.S. City Open Data Census? Greg Jordan-Detamore detailed the changes, which include new datasets on emergency calls, employee salaries, police use-of-force, and traffic crashes. Along with the update comes the removal of three datasets, “solely for jurisdictional reasons. Asset Disclosure and Campaign Finance Contributions were previously included in the City Open Data Census, but these datasets are more often maintained by state governments and not available at the local level. Similarly, Transit Information was formerly included in the Census, but this information is rarely held by the municipal government.” Read Greg’s full post on the Sunlight blog for all of the details.
  • How Memphis, Tennessee used crowdlaw to build their new open data policy. “On February 1, 2017 Mayor Jim Strickland unveiled the City of Memphis, Tennessee’s new open data policy and performance dashboard, two steps toward his administration’s ambitious goal to be the most communicative and transparent in city history. Sunlight is proud to have worked with Memphis as part of What Works Cities. Over the last several months we’ve collaborated with city staff to help draft their new policy, and as always, we congratulate Memphis for this policy that will make city data open by default. We’re particularly excited about Memphis’ work, however, because the city created this policy in collaboration with residents using crowdlaw, a relatively new part of our standard recommendations for cities.” (Sunlight Foundation)
  • Turkey is running an unusual influence campaign in state capitals across the United States. “A law firm hired by the government of Turkey is lobbying state officials across the U.S. about what it alleges is a suspicious network of American charter schools run by a dangerous Turkish opposition leader…It’s the latest move in a curious propaganda war playing out in America’s state capitals between Turkey’s ruling party and a secretive religious movement that the Center for Public Integrity previously revealed has funded scores of international trips for state lawmakers from places such as Texas and Tennessee.” (Center for Public Integrity)

washington watch

[This process diagram shows the complicated process of tracking and responding to constituent correspondence.]
  • The OpenGov Foundation published a new in-depth look at how Congress engages with constituent input. Our friends at the OpenGov Foundation are out with a new report, “From Voicemails to Votes“, which shares the results of their “a first-of-its-kind effort to apply a human-centered design/user research approach to investigate the systems, tools, constraints, and human drivers that fuel congressional constituent correspondence processes.” (OpenGov Foundation) The folks at Wired Magazine got an early look at the report. OGF’s takeaway? “Guaranteeing a robust, two-way conversation between Congress and the public requires having more efficient systems in place for managing that conversation. But it also requires that the public keeps that conversation going for the long haul—even when it feels like no one’s listening.”
  • Members of Congress  introduced a new bill to modernize grant tracking. Good idea! “A bipartisan set of lawmakers is looking to better track the more than $600 billion in federal grants every year awarded to state and local governments. The Grant Reporting Efficiency and Agreements Transparency (GREAT) Act — sponsored by Reps. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.), Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), Mike Quigley (R-Ill.) and Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.) — would legislate a governmentwide open data structure for all federal grant reporting information.” (Federal Computer Week)
  • Embattled Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) spent more on legal fees than he raised last year. “Amid an investigation into his spending of campaign cash, California Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter spent more on legal fees than he raised last quarter. According to California Target Book’s Rob Pyers, who follows campaign finance reports, Hunter raised only $50,000 between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31 last year…For the year, he raised $420,000. But according to a calculation by Pyers, he spent more than $535,000 on legal fees.” (Roll Call)
  • A new report on the state of open data in Washington is unclouded by the threats to open government. The report by the Data Foundation and Grant Thornton combines the perspectives from open data practitioners and leaders in government and industry. The report is a worth a read, focusing on financial transparency, compliance data, and the role of open data in the private sector, but the absence of watchdogs and journalists paints a much rosier picture of the state of open data in DC than we see. (Data Foundation)
    While it’s accurate to report there haven’t been widespread open data take downs, the quality of disclosures has shifted.  Other political and policy moves show that proactive disclosures rest on shaky, not strong, ground, from the EPA to the FBI. Notably,  the Department of Justice went to court to argue against open data. As we’ve noted before, the biggest threats to open data are political. That’s why we’ll continue to track changes in online public access to public information during the Trump administration – including the open data that’s gone offline – encourage oversight and leadership from Congress, and push the president to fill key technology positions in his administration.

around the world

  • For the first time since the Open Budget Index launched, budget transparency has taken a step backwards around the world. OGP Chief Executive Officer Sanjay Pradhan announced the results of the Open Budget Survey 2017, calling the results troubling. “For the first time since the International Budget Partnership (IBP) began to collect a data through its Open Budget Index (OBI), the 2017 survey finds that the global level of budget transparency has actually fallen (especially in Sub-Saharan Africa), after a decade of steady, albeit incremental increases.  Scores on participation and oversight continue to be low.” (Open Government Partnership)
  • The Dutch government is considering banning foreign political cash. “The Dutch government wants to ban foreign funding for political parties to prevent outside interference in domestic politics, Interior Minister Kajsa Ollongren announced Thursday. Ollongren came up with the proposal following a government committee’s report into financing and transparency. If approved, the plans would likely hit the left-wing Socialist Party (SP) and the far-right Party for Freedom (PVV) particularly hard.” (POLITICO)
  • A Czech political party wants to ban against Soros-funded non-governmental organizations. “A Czech anti-immigrant party accused financier George Soros of imposing ‘supranational governance’ on the country, joining a surge of politicians calling for a crackdown on non-governmental organizations in ex-communist Europe. Freedom and Direct Democracy, which holds more than a 10th of the 200 seats in parliament, said it will support steps limiting the influence of such entities in Czech politics and media, according to a statement on Tuesday. ” (Bloomberg)


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