In today's edition, Kellyanne Conway is cited for Hatch Act violations, MuckRock celebrates FOIA March Madness, Maryland pushes for presidential tax return transparency, and much more.
But first, a couple of pieces of good news from Sunlight HQ! Yesterday, we proudly announced the addition of Zoë Reiter and Katherine Maher to our board of directors. We also shared a new addition to our Web Integrity Project, where Jon Campbell has come on board as a senior investigator.
- Markers bearing presidential seal removed from Trump golf course. "The Trump Organization says it has removed golf markers bearing the presidential seal from one of its golf courses. As ProPublica and WNYC reported yesterday, President Trump’s company recently ordered dozens of presidential seals to be used as golf tee markers. It is illegal to use the presidential seal for commercial purposes." The Trump Organization put out a statement saying the seals had been presented by a "small group of members" although, as the initial story noted "an order form for the markers lists them as being bought by 'Trump International.'" (ProPublica)
- Kellyanne Conway cited by Office of Special Counsel for Hatch Act violations. "Despite a White House promise that Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway had learned her ethics obligations, Conway on Tuesday was cited by the Office of Special Counsel for violating the Hatch Act in two televised interviews…Employees of the Executive Office of the President are subject to the Hatch Act’s restrictions on seeking to influence an election, though the president and vice president are not." (Government Executive)
- Trump administration announces plan to improve patient access to health data. "Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma announced a new administration initiative called "MyHealthEData" on Tuesday at the HIMSS 2018 conference in Las Vegas. The new program is led by the White House Office of American Innovation with participation from Health and Human Services Department and CMS, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, the National Institutes of Health and the Veterans Affairs Department." (FedTech)
- The head of Scott Pruitt's security detail suggested the EPA hire his business partner to sweep for bugs in the administrators office. Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis report, "Pasquale 'Nino' Perrotta — who heads Pruitt’s security detail and also serves as a principal of Rockville-based Sequoia Security Group — advised EPA officials to hire a member of the management team at Sequoia, Edwin Steinmetz, according to an administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal agency decisions. The $3,000 “communications audit” contract to sweep Pruitt’s office on March 3 for concealed listening devices was conducted by Edwin Steinmetz Associates, according to records obtained by the Post." (Washington Post)
- Documents reveal that the FBI paid members of the Best Buy Geek Squad as informants. "The relationship between the FBI and employees of Best Buy's computer and device repair unit Geek Squad is more complex than first thought, according to newly released documents. Records posted Tuesday by the Electronic Frontier Foundation following a freedom of information lawsuit filed last year reveal that federal agents would pay Geek Squad managers who pass on information about illegal materials on devices sent in by customers for repairs." (ZDNet) The EFF says that may be a violation of the Fourth Amendment. It looks like a warrantless search of "personal papers" to us.
- The EPA is allowing this appointee to take outside consulting work and keep his clients secret. "A key aide to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt has been granted permission to make extra money moonlighting for private clients whose identities are being kept secret. A letter approving outside employment contracts for John Konkus — signed by an EPA ethics lawyer in August — was released Monday by Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The ethics official noted that Konkus’ outside contracts presented a “financial conflict of interest” and barred him from participating in matters at EPA that would have a “direct and predictable” financial benefit for his clients." (Associated Press) As POGO's Nick Schwellenbach pointed out, these "waivers are meant to allow government workers to work part-time gigs like at a bar in the evening," not take high level consulting clients.
- The third annual FOIA March Madness contest has arrived. Beryl Lipton explains, "We’ve chosen 64 teams from across the federal Freedom of Information Act offices. The selection is less-than-scientific, including some fan favorites from last year and some new contenders and absent certain non-responsives from the 2017 iteration. We’ll be submitting the same FOIA request to each office, eliminating slowpokes each week and advancing those quick on the reply. The offices have been divided into four divisions, so we’re going to need you to submit your picks for each of the groups: the final two-team match-up for each division, the winner of each of those pairings, and an overall winner." (MuckRock)
- USDS and HHS announce an updated "Blue Button", providing API access to Medicare claims data. "The U.S. Digital Service team at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has released a new tool that aims to help us learn more from Medicare claims data. CMS Administrator Seema Verma announced Blue Button 2.0, an application programming interface, or API, during her keynote at HIMSS on Tuesday morning. Blue Button 2.0 is an update to the original Blue Button built by CMS and the Department of Veterans Affairs in 2010." (FedScoop)
states and cities
- Maryland's top court moves to restore names of police officers to public database. "Maryland’s highest court voted unanimously Tuesday to restore the names of police officers to a statewide database of court records and for the fix to take place by the end of the week. The judges moved quickly to reverse a controversial decision that had blocked online public access to information previously available about arresting officers and the names of other law enforcement officials involved in criminal cases." (Washington Post)
- Maryland Senate passes presidential candidate tax transparency bill. "The Maryland Senate on Monday night passed a bill to require president and vice presidential candidates to release their tax returns if they wish to appear on the state's ballots." If the bill moves forward, "Maryland would be the first state to enact such a law, which would require candidates to share tax returns going back at least five years. The governors of California and New Jersey vetoed similar measures." (Baltimore Sun)
- A Kansas agency shared 11,000 health records and social security numbers with unauthorized partners. "A Kansas agency sent the health-related information and Social Security numbers of about 11,000 people to its business partners when it shouldn’t have, the agency disclosed Thursday. The Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services said an employee sent an unauthorized e-mail with the information that the agency became aware of on Feb. 23." (Government Technology)
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