Today in OpenGov: A GREAT Act for federal grant transparency


In today's edition, we highlight some of President Trump's latest conflicts, a Pentagon office struggles to track hundreds of millions of dollars, Facebook runs into campaign finance trouble in Seattle, Turkey puts a human rights activist back in jail, and more. 

great for grant reporting

Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) speaks in favor of the GREAT Act, which she sponsored. Watch the full mark up via the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform

Today, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform will mark up the Grant Reporting Efficiency and Agreements Transparency (GREAT) Act 0f 2018. The bill would move federal grant reporting from a document-based system to an open data-centric model, modernizing an important component of public business. It would establish a comprehensive taxonomy of standard definitions for the data elements that are necessary to manage federal awards and mandate the use of unique, non-proprietary identifiers for those awards and the entities that receive them.

We believe that more open grant data will serve the public interest, helping the United States regain leadership in democratic disclosure. We told the Committee as much in a letter, signed by a broad range of organizations, supporting the GREAT Act and, in particular, its move to make an open, license-free identifier for the recipients of grants the default in the United States.

Our endorsement of the GREAT Act follows years of advocacy for an open identifier for legal entities.


  • President Trump and the RNC will host a fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago in March. "Mar-a-Lago will host a fundraiser for Donald Trump on March 3, according to an invite an organizer shared with the Buzz. Tickets start at $2,700 with $25,000 and $50,000 options for ballers." (Tampa Bay Times)
  • Meanwhile, the NRCC is raffling off an expense-paid trip to a Trump winery. "The National Republican Congressional Committee is offering donors the chance for an "all expenses paid trip" over Mother's Day weekend to a Virginia winery owned by President Donald Trump's business. According to an NRCC fundraising page, supporters can enter a raffle to win an all-inclusive trip to the Trump Winery in Charlottesville from May 11-13 by donating to the committee's efforts to bolster the Republican majority in Congress." (POLITICO) Our take? Add two more examples to the growing list of ways that President Trump is profiting off his political allies. 
  • Did President Trump profit off his presidential transition? "Trump for America, a nonprofit that raised millions of private dollars for Donald Trump’s presidential transition expenses, still hasn’t provided more than vague outlines of its spending and won’t say what its plans are for nearly $2 million in leftover cash. But a Center for Public Integrity review of presidential transition and related records raises the question of whether the group used money it collected from wealthy special interests to pay Trump’s company hundreds of thousands of dollars for the transition’s use of Trump Tower in New York City." (Center for Public Integrity)
  • White House staff reminded to avoid encrypted messaging during ethics training. "White House lawyers have been reminding President Trump’s staff not to use encrypted messaging apps for official government business as the administration seeks to dismiss a lawsuit accusing it of violating federal records laws. The warnings were issued during mandatory ethics training sessions held for White House personnel in the past several weeks." (Washington Post)
  • House Intelligence Committee votes to release Democratic memo on FBI surveillance. "The House Intelligence Committee voted unanimously Monday in favor of publicly releasing a classified memo that Democrats say undermines allegations by President Donald Trump and his allies that the FBI abused its spying powers while investigating his campaign. Trump has five days to review the request to release the memo, which was written by committee Democrats." (POLITICO)

washington watch

Pennsylvania's gerrymandered 7th Congressional District. Image via Wikipedia
  • Supreme Court declines to block Pennsylvania gerrymandering decision, districts must be redrawn. "The United States Supreme Court on Monday refused to stop Pennsylvania’s highest court from requiring lawmakers there to redraw the state’s congressional map, which the state court had found to be marred by partisan gerrymandering. The Supreme Court’s order was expected, as the Pennsylvania court had based its decision solely on the state constitution. On matters of state law, the judgments of state supreme courts are typically final." (New York Times)
  • How the Defense Logistics Agency failed to track $800 million worth of construction spending. "One of the Pentagon’s largest agencies can’t account for hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of spending, a leading accounting firm says in an internal auditobtained by POLITICO that arrives just as President Donald Trump is proposing a boost in the military budget. Ernst & Young found that the Defense Logistics Agency failed to properly document more than $800 million in construction projects, just one of a series of examples where it lacks a paper trail for millions of dollars in property and equipment." (POLITICO)
  • The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services appear to deny access to a journalist after he refused to alter a story. "The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services threatened to ban a reporter from participating in the federal agency’s telephone news conferences after he refused to delete three sentences from a published story that apparently had rankled CMS Administrator Seema Verma. The reporter — Virgil Dickson, Washington bureau chief for Modern Healthcare — believed the agency was making good on its threat on Thursday when, he said, his phone went mute during a CMS press call and a woman’s voice told him he was not allowed to participate." (Covering Health)
  • Former official at Peace Corps and State Department-funded nonprofit faces criminal charges over conflict-of-interest violations. "A former official at a State Department-funded global health nonprofit founded by former Secretary of State John Kerry’s daughter Vanessa is facing a criminal charge that he violated federal conflict of interest law by lobbying former colleagues in government. Federal prosecutors have charged longtime anti-AIDS activist Warren “Buck” Buckingham – former director of the Peace Corps’ Office of Global Health and HIV – with contacting the Peace Corps in August and September 2015 about a “particular matter” he worked on while he worked at the agency." (POLITICO)

states and cities

  • Facebook is in violation of Seattle online political ad disclosure law. "Seattle’s election authority said on Monday that Facebook Inc is in violation of a city law that requires disclosure of who buys election ads, the first attempt of its kind to regulate U.S. political ads on the internet. Facebook must disclose details about spending in last year’s Seattle city elections or face penalties, Wayne Barnett, executive director of the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission, said in a statement." (Reuters)
  • Wisconsin legislature should respond to public records requests for digital documents with…digital documents. John Foust argues that the Legislature should provide digital responses to public records requests when prompted. He writes, "Providing records in piles of paper makes them less usable and requires requesters to physically travel to where the records are located to avoid paying for hundreds and even thousands of pages of copies. The Legislature’s policy discourages inquiry and prevents an easy examination of public information. If you want records in electronic form, ask for them that way. And that’s how responsible officials will provide them—with or without the intervention of the courts." (Urban Milwaukee) We agree. Digitizing public records improves disclosure, accountability, oversight and informs the public that a government services. We encourage Wisconsin & states everywhere to bring their governance processes into the 21st century.
  • Public records proposals in Washington state worry transparency advocates. "Lawmakers in Olympia are dealing with only a couple of public records bills this year, but those few worry open-government advocates." The proposals being tracked would redact the birthdays of public employees from public record, change an existing police body camera footage law, and potentially limit the extent to which the legislature is subject to the State's Public Records Act. (Yakima Herald)

around the world

  • France's efforts to crack down on "fake news" could have unintended consequences for alternative media, freedom of speech. "Can a democratic country outlaw fake news? France is about to find out after President Emmanuel Macron ordered a law to quash false information disseminated around electoral campaigns. Criticism is pouring in from media advocates, tech experts — and Kremlin-backed broadcaster RT. They say the law smacks of authoritarianism, would be impossible to enforce and is sure to backfire." (New York Post)
  • Samsung vice chairman released from prison following suspension of bribery charges. "Samsung Group's de facto leader and vice chairman, Lee Jae-yong  (aka, Jay Y. Lee), was sentenced to five years in prison after being found guilty of bribery, embezzlement, capital flight, and perjury charges. Today, only six months after his sentencing, Lee is out of prison. In a hearing monday, a South Korean appeals court cut Lee's original sentence in half, to two-and-a-half years. It also suspended the charges against Lee for bribery and embezzlement, which allows Lee to walk free." (Ars Technica)
  • Head of Amnesty International Turkey re-arrested after brief release from jail. "There was a palpable burst of surprise and relief among family and friends when the court ordered the conditional release of Taner Kilic, chair of Amnesty International Turkey, who has spent eight months in prison. He was the only one left behind bars after the court released all members of the #Istanbul10 human rights defenders group in October of last year. This joy was short-lived, however. The prosecutor — who had already requested that Taner be kept in detention — immediately appealed the decision, and the second court granted the request." Kilic was back in jail a day later. (Global Voices)
  • Maldives government cracks down on Supreme Court, jails two judges following ruling in favor of opposition. "Security forces in the Maldives stormed the Supreme Court overnight, arresting two judges and later a top opposition politician, after the government declared a state of emergency in the Indian Ocean nation famous its luxurious resorts. The government of President Yameen Abdul Gayoom has moved to assert its power since the Supreme Court ordered several imprisoned opposition politicians to be freed late last week." (Bloomberg)


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