Today in OpenGov: Corrupting influences


In today's edition, ProPublica unveils their database of Trump administration political appointees, FOIA is under assault, the next Tactical Data Engagement pilot cities are revealed, Spain tries to tackle its corruption issues, and more. 


  • Thanks to a year's worth of work you can search a database of nearly 2,500 Trump political appointees. The project, Trump Town, is the result of a year "spent filing hundreds of Freedom of Information Act requests; collecting and organizing staffing lists; and compiling, sifting through and publishing thousands of financial disclosure reports." The biggest takeaway? As Derek Kravitz, Al Shaw, and Isaac Arnsdorf report, when "the Trump administration took office early last year, hundreds of staffers from lobbying firms, conservative think tanks and Trump campaign groups began pouring into the very agencies they once lobbied or whose work they once opposed." (ProPublica) The New York Times has already had a chance to dig into the data.
  • The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy doesn't have a boss, but still claims a busy 2017. "President Donald Trump has yet to name a director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy but that doesn’t mean the office hasn’t been working on the administration’s tech priorities. An OSTP official told Nextgov in February that the administration is in the process of getting a director candidate nominated and through Senate confirmation, though they declined to give a specific timeline. The office is staffed by about 50 people, which the official said is on par with the early Obama years before the office grew to more than 65 people." Yesterday, the office shared a list of the White House's science and technology highlights in 2017. (NextGov)
  • Corruption allegations are rampant among members of President Trump's Cabinet. Is the bad behavior contagious? "One regular part of White House press briefings these days is the update on corruption allegations in Trump's Cabinet…At least seven current and former officials in Trump's 24-member Cabinet have faced accusations of abusing the perks of their office." As Peter Overby reports, one expert explained that poor ethical conduct can be contagious and "what starts out as a simple transgression can lead to doctoring emails, or lying to investigators, or threatening whistleblowers — all hallmarks of the travel and spending cases now under scrutiny." (NPR)
  • Ex-Bush ethics lawyer, prominent Trump critic Richard Painter exploring Senate run. "Richard Painter, a former White House ethics lawyer with little public profile before 2016, has emerged as a prominent critic of Donald Trump. The 56-year-old law professor has tried to discredit the president through op-eds, countless television appearances, and a high-profile lawsuit. Now, he’s considering turning his anti-Trump crusade into an actual campaign…Painter, a longtime Republican who teaches at the University of Minnesota Law School, announced Wednesday that he’s launching an exploratory committee for the Senate seat currently held by Tina Smith, who was appointed to the Senate after Al Franken resigned amid allegations of sexual misconduct." (The Atlantic)

washington watch

A document released via FOIA in 2015, redacting using duct tape. Via Chris Horner
  • FOIA remains a colossus, but it is increasingly under assault. Nate Jones explains that, "far from being crippled and ineffective, as some have claimed, FOIA remains a colossus.  It continues to give citizens a fighting chance to force their government to release documents that it would rather hide. But we would be lying if we did not admit that the Freedom of Information Act has been chipped away at and weakened –often by the very people and agencies supposedly charged with enforcing it– for decades.  Some fixes to this will be relatively easy; others are needed, but will not likely be made in the foreseeable future." (National Security Archive)
  • The Census may struggle to hire enough workers for its 2020 count thanks to background check issues. "Every 10 years, the Census Bureau hires hundreds of thousands of temporary employees to visit and count millions of households nationwide. However, the Department of Commerce Inspector General is raising concerns that Census is not prepared to adequately vet those hires before the 2020 population count…Rising costs for the background check program, as well as inadequate quality assurance practices, pose risks to the bureau's ability to review potential hires." You can read the whole report here. (Federal Computer Week)  Go to the Salesforce website to lern more
  • The House passed a bipartisan bill making it harder for political appointees to "burrow in" as career feds. "A bipartisan duo’s legislation to prevent political appointees from receiving career positions in the federal government moves to the Senate after passing the House on Tuesday. Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu of California and Republican Rep. Ken Buck of Colorado introduced The Political Appointee Burrowing Prevention Act, which was approved by a voice vote." (Roll Call)

states and cities

  • Austin, Texas and Norfolk, Virginia will be the next Tactical Data Engagement pilot cities. "Sunlight Open Cities is excited to congratulate Austin, Texas and Norfolk, Virginia as the next pilot projects of Tactical Data Engagement. Austin and Norfolk are both passionate about open data and ready to convene community partners to learn how to support open data use outside of city hall. We’re looking forward to working with both of them to put open data to use addressing community needs." Read more about both cities and the Tactical Data Engagement project on the Sunlight Blog!
  • A month's worth of events in Texas to celebrate Sunshine. Kelley Shannon, Executive Director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas writes, "perhaps you've heard of 'Sunshine Week.' It's a national event held each March to celebrate access to public information and the people's right to know. We're doing our part in Texas to raise awareness for Sunshine Week, which is March 11-17. Look for an FOI Foundation of Texas column in newspapers and on news websites around the state that week. The FOI Foundation is also encouraging other news coverage. Actually, we're considering March to be 'Sunshine Month' because there are so many activities planned." (NFOIC)
  • The Pennsylvania Secretary of State required new voting machines to produce a paper backup, but now the state has to invest in them. "The Pennsylvania Secretary of State has directed that all new voting machines must produce a back-up paper record, which can be used to verify vote tallies. It's a great step, but the Governor's budget allocates zero funding for the move." (The Brennan Center for Justice)
  • Local governments struggle to keep up with growing volume of constituent communication. "When Chicago City Councilman James Cappleman took office in 2011, his staff almost immediately ran into a problem: constituent communication. It wasn't an issue of inexperience. Tressa Feher, Cappleman’s chief of staff, had years of experience connecting politicians with their constituents, both in Washington, D.C., and at the Illinois state Capitol in Springfield. The problem was volume." As J. Brian Charles explains, Cappleman's team, along with a growing number of local officials across the country, turned to a private-sector provided piece of technology to help. (Governing)

around the world

A screenshot from WhereGovernment.
  • Open data on local councils in Holland reused by map-based app. "More than a hundred Dutch municipalities release Open Council Data, including all documents of the municipal council – decisions, agendas, motions, amendments and policy documents – easily and collectively accessible. The data is now available for reuse in applications. Recently, the first app that reuses the data, WhereGovernment, was launched." (Open Knowledge)
  • Tackling corruption in the "country of thieves." "The stench of corruption clings to Spanish politics — and especially to the ruling Popular Party of Mariano Rajoy. Between July 2015 and September 2016, 1,378 officials or politicians from across the spectrum faced trial on corruption charges, according to the General Council for the Judiciary…with the liberal Ciudadanos party breathing down its neck in polls and high-profile cases rarely out of the headlines, the party has been forced to shift its position. Where it previously insisted allegations were either unfounded or politically motivated, Rajoy’s PP now acknowledges there has been a problem." (POLITICO)
  • Does the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention help reduce corruption? In some cases. "Could an international convention help cut back on bribery? Such corruption raises the costs of business for all multinationals and ultimately diminishes the actual services delivered, as business opportunities don’t go to highest-quality providers. Clearly, it would be better if all multinational corporations could credibly commit to stop bribing." New research, explained here by Nathan M. Jensen and Edmund J. Malesky, digs into that question. (Washington Post)
  • New EU data protection rules will affect social media, advertising, and publications around the world. "On May 25, 2018, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)—a comprehensive set of privacy regulations affecting any organization in the world that serves EU residents and, in the process, collects data about them—will enter enforcement. The new rules will be most transformative for social media and advertising companies that principally traffic in user data. But publications that host those ads and use the data from those platforms will be no less liable for compliance than the technology giants themselves." (Columbia Journalism Review)


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