Today in OpenGov: Withholdings


In today's edition, the GREAT Act moves forward, Seattle and Washington, DC dominate our city related headlines, a moment of reflection around some Trump administration actions, and more. 

washington watch

Image credit: National Parks Service.
  • House committee approves GREAT Act, other good government reforms. We're happy to share the news that the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee voted to advance the GREAT Act, which would result in more open grant data, serving the public interest and helping the United States regain leadership in democratic disclosure. Charles S. Clark has more on yesterday's hearing, which moved forward several additional reform measures, for Government Executive.
  • The GREAT Act moved forward with one potential complication, an amendment introduced by Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) that "would require the Office of Management Budget director and the HHS secretary to evaluate whether open source identifiers are the most beneficial option before determining to choose them over DUNS." (FedScoop) This is a good place for a reminder that we've long been skeptical of the DUNS number and we're not alone. In 2012, the GAO highlighted the problems with giving a monopoly on government entity identification to DUNS' closed, proprietary system. 
  • The FCC won't release a video it produced joking about Chairman Ajit Pai being a "Verizon puppet." "At its own discretion, the Federal Communications Commission has chosen to block the release of records related to a video produced last year in which FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and a Verizon executive joke about installing a 'Verizon puppet' as head of the FCC. In a letter to Gizmodo last week, the agency said it was withholding the records from the public in order to prevent harm to the agency—an excuse experts say is a flagrant attempt to skirt federal transparency law." (Gizmodo) Our take? The FCC is improperly claiming the deliberative exemption of the FOIA to justify withholding disclosure of a parody video. The attempt casts another long shadow on Ajit Pai's aspirational claims of transparency.
  • How changes to the campaign finance system have benefited the wealthy. "Here's a statistic to chew on as congressional candidates chase money for midterm elections. This stat is from 2016. That year, individual donors gave or spent $5 billion and half of that came from 19,000 people – about the population of Johnstown, Pa. While small donors are giving more than ever, the campaign finance system has changed dramatically to benefit the wealthy." (NPR)

states and cities

The Space Needle in Seattle rises out of fog. Image Credit: Tim Durkan.
  • Facebook's opacity in Seattle shows why self-regulation on digital disclosure isn't enough. Responding to reports that the City of Seattle says Facebook is in violation of its campaign finance law, we explained that while Facebook sent spending numbers to Seattle, they did not include not copies of the ads, nor data about whom they targeted. The company has proposed a similarly opaque approach to transparency at the federal level and it’s not close to good enough. Congress should mandate that the company – and every huge Internet platform that’s accepting electioneering – meets or exceeds the standard of disclaimers and disclosure on TV, radio, satellite or print outlets. States and cities should explore similar reforms. (Sunlight Foundation)
  • Seattle embraces data privacy leadership role. "As the collection of data by city governments becomes increasingly comprehensive and complex, municipalities have begun to create privacy policies aimed at keeping citizen info safe. Among those undertaking these efforts, Seattle is often recognized as the leader…The city, however, is not content to rest on its past work and its well-earned reputation as a leader in the field." (Government Technology)
  • D.C. Council will hold a hearing to explore the non-renewal of the city's open government watchdog. "As public discussion builds concerning the unexplained nonrenewal of a key D.C. open government agency head, the D.C. Council Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety will hear testimony from the public and the Board of Ethics and Government Accountability (BEGA) at a hearing Thursday, February 8 at 9:30 AM." (DC Open Government Coalition)
  • D.C. Council approves public campaign financing measure. The D.C. Council unanimously passed the Fair Elections Amendment Act of 2017, which will create a public financing system for campaigns in the District of Columbia. We think this is good news, and a worthy experiment in one of the laboratories of democracy.
  • California approves whistleblower protections for state legislative employees. "Employees working in California’s legislature will be covered under state whistleblower protection laws, the first step in what legislators say will be an ongoing effort to fix a culture that has enabled rampant sexual harassment and discrimination to take place." (The Hill)


  • Reflecting on President Trump's rejection of expertise. Philip Bump considers the President's "amateur administration", concluding "one of the successes of the American experiment has been that consistent cadre of employees who serve regardless of president and use their expertise to help steer the country. Under Trump, it seems that they’re often just more experts, more 'swamp' to be brushed aside as an impediment to what his gut — or his team’s guts — tell them is the right thing to do." (Washington Post)
  • Bannon testimony to House committee delayed. "Former White House strategist Steve Bannon’s interview with a House committee looking into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election has been delayed a week, according to lawmakers pushing back against White House efforts to limit his testimony." (Bloomberg)
  • On transparency and #ReleaseTheMemo. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) reflects on the controversy around "The Memo", arguing that "#ReleaseTheMemo is the scenario civil rights advocates have warned about for so long: An administration and its congressional enablers are selectively releasing classified information to shield a corrupt administration from facing justice. What is so frustrating about this transparently bogus campaign is how it perverts legitimate concerns about overclassification and government surveillance that civil liberties advocates have fought so hard to bring to light." (POLITICO)

one sentence or less

  • This Florida city was struggling to expand a police body camera program, then its mayor got arrested. (Government Technology)
  • California's proposed net neutrality bill may struggle to stand up to legal challenges, experts caution. (Ars Technica)
  • The RNC raised more than $1.5 million by offering to display donors names on State of the Union livestream. (Washington Post)
  • A former congressional candidate reflects on his experience with the overpowering "money game." (The Intercept)
  • Managers and policymakers must use government data for it to be valuable. (Government Executive)
  • When Paul Manafort was indicted last year two lobbying firms were drawn into the controversy; only one survived. (POLITICO)


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