Today in OpenGov: A Week of Sunshine


In today's edition, we prepare to celebrate Sunshine Week, President Trump doesn't want to stop blocking people on Twitter, we join the Police Foundation to assess use of force data, the need for online ad transparency is clear, but rules might not be in place for the Midterm elections, and more. 

celebrating Sunshine week

The new includes an API, downloadable data, and a clear path for feedback.

This year, Sunshine Week takes place between March 11th and 17th, but the celebrating has already started. We hope you'll check out all of the scheduled events, but we want to highlight a few happenings specifically.

  • On the eve of Sunshine Week, the Department of Justice launches the new and improved Alex Howard explored the new site and its conception, explaining that, "as mandated by the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016 the United States of America has built and launched a new website for the public to make Freedom of Information Act requests at, responding to the feedback and recommendations of transparency advocates, journalists and technologists as the site was built in the open online." (Sunlight Foundation) While the upgrade won’t fix all that ails that nation’s canonical transparency law as Sunshine Week dawns across the United States, this modern, responsive website based upon open standards and open source frameworks is a welcome reminder that 18F can build beautiful services when an agency is willing and able to fund them.
  • The U.S. Senate Judiciary will hold a hearing on the Freedom of Information Act on Tuesday, March 13th. The hearing will start at 10:15 AM and be held in room 226 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building. Learn more on the Judiciary Committee's website. We hope that Chairman Grassley calls on the Environmental Protection Agency to testify about the recently reported jump in public records lawsuits being filed against the agency. 
  • Also on March 13th, join us for an event on the state of environmental transparency. Please join the Sunlight Foundation, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and the Project on Government Oversight for a Sunshine Week forum about the state of environmental transparency in the federal government. The evening’s discussions will offer a deep dive into what's happening across the worlds of environment, good governance, and the role of evidence in public policy and decision-making. Learn more and register to attend here
  • Join us on Thursday, March 15th for a discussion on the State of Open Government. On the evening of March 15, Sunlight is hosting the State of Open Government, followed by our annual Sunshine Week Happy Hour. We are honored to host some of the nation’s foremost experts on ethics and open government, including Danielle Brian, Walter Shaub, and Cori Zarek. Learn more and register to attend here


  • Judge suggests a compromise in fight over President Trump's habit of blocking critics on social media. "A judge recommended Thursday that President Donald Trump mute rather than block some of his critics from following him on Twitter to resolve a First Amendment lawsuit. U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald suggested a settlement as the preferred outcome after hearing lawyers argue whether it’s constitutional for Trump to block some followers." (Associated Press) As we've written before, we believe that every civil servant or elected official should stop blocking constituents, from the president to local councilors.
  • Interior Department reportedly set to spend more than $130,000 on new doors for Secretary Ryan Zinke's office. "The Interior Department is spending $139,000 for new doors for Secretary Ryan Zinke's office suite, according to records posted online. The work was recommended by Interior career facilities and security officials, an agency spokeswoman said, not by Zinke." (POLITICO)
  • More than half of the political appointees at the EPA have industry ties. "An analysis by the AP shows that nearly half of the political appointees hired at the Environmental Protection Agency under Trump have strong industry ties. Of 59 EPA hires tracked by the AP over the last year, about a third worked as registered lobbyists or lawyers for chemical manufacturers, fossil fuel producers and other corporate clients that raise the very type of revolving-door conflicts of interests that Trump promised voters he would eliminate." (Detroit News)
  • Trump administration continues slow pace of filling top jobs. "After more than a year in office, the Trump administration is maintaining a very slow pace for filling top government jobs. The appointments tracker run by the Partnership for Public Service and the Washington Post shows that President Donald Trump is 'months behind his predecessors in staffing up political leadership.'" (Federal Computer Week)

states and cities

Participants at Code for DC’s March meeting add Police Data Initiative information to the U.S. City Open Data Census.
  • Assessing police use of force data and feeding the 2018 U.S. City Open Data Census with the Police Foundation. In a guest post on our blog, Julia Billings writes that "open police data can encourage joint problem solving, enhanced understanding, and accountability between communities and the law enforcement agencies that serve them. That’s the mission of the Police Foundation‘s Police Data Initiative (PDI) and we’re excited to join the Sunlight Foundation in 2018 to empower communities across the nation and share the importance of releasing open police use of force data as part of the 2018 U.S. City Open Data Census." (Sunlight Foundation)
  • Michigan legislature votes to exempt cybersecurity information from FOI law. "Cybersecurity plans and vulnerabilities would be exempt from open-records requests under legislation approved by Michigan's Legislature. Legislators sent the bill to Gov. Rick Snyder Tuesday on a 104-4 vote, paving the way for the state to block cybersecurity information shared with Michigan State Police and other public bodies." (WNMU-FM)
  • Phoenix, Arizona considers banning dark money from city elections. "The Phoenix City Council Wednesday took the first step toward curbing the influence of 'dark money' — campaign donations made by political non-profits that do not have to disclose their donors…The council voted 6-3 to move forward with exploring a charter change. The drafted amendment will have to come back to the council for a final vote and then must win approval from Phoenix voters." (AZ Central)

washington watch

Digital political ad spending has skyrocketed over the past few election cycles.
  • The FEC has proposed rules on online ad transparency, but they probably won't be ready for the 2018 midterms. "Proposed Federal Election Commission rules aimed at preventing foreign influence on U.S. elections through better disclosure of online political ad sponsors may not take effect before the 2018 midterms, the panel’s Republican chairwoman said Thursday." (Washington Post)
  • Meanwhile, OpenSecrets looks at the ongoing boom in undisclosed online political advertising. "Political investment in digital outreach has skyrocketed in recent years, and both Barack Obama and Donald Trump revolutionized the use of digital advertising in their presidential campaigns…In the 2018 midterms, spending on digital ads is expected to make up around 22 percent — or $1.9 billion — of overall political advertising. (OpenSecrets) Our view? This combined lack of regulation and transparency means that "dark social" is only going to get worse. Please ask your member of Congress to vote for the Honest Ads Act in 2018.
  • New study finds that fake news thrives on Twitter. Robinson Meyer digs into "an ambitious and first-of-its-kind study published Thursday in Science. The massive new study analyzes every major contested news story in English across the span of Twitter’s existence—some 126,000 stories, tweeted by 3 million users, over more than 10 years—and finds that the truth simply cannot compete with hoax and rumor. By every common metric, falsehood consistently dominates the truth on Twitter, the study finds: Fake news and false rumors reach more people, penetrate deeper into the social network, and spread much faster than accurate stories." (The Atlantic)
  • Time to tackle fraud in public comment system, argues FCC commissioner. FCC Jessica Rosenworcel argues "the sheer volume of fraud suggests a systemic effort to corrupt the process by which the public participates in some of the biggest decisions made in Washington. That deserves attention — and a fix. If we do this right, we can do more than rid our public records of comments from dead people and Russia, stolen identities and bots. We can find a way to give all Americans — no matter who they are or where they live — a fighting chance at making Washington listen to what they think." (Washington Post) Our view? If fake and fraudulent comments become the norm for federal rulemaking online, it will poison the potential for the Internet to give the public a voice in government, wherever we are connected. Independent agencies and Congress can and should do better. 


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