In today's edition, we reflect on the opacity of the Trump administration, President Trump spends some time with big donors in California, Ohio obscures some salary data, Singapore looks to crack down hard on fake news, and more.
rays of sunshine
As Sunshine Week continues, we'll be doing our best to highlight some of the great events, reports, and stories on the state of transparency and open government in the United States throughout the week. Want to see something highlighted here? Drop us a line: email@example.com
Today's rays of sunshine:
- Reflecting on the turbidity of Sunshine Week during the Trump presidency… Joe Davidson laments, "if sunshine is the best disinfectant, President Trump must pray for rain. He and his administration have a gloomy record when it comes to transparency, a particularly lamentable situation during Sunshine Week, which ends Saturday. Started by the American Society of News Editors (ASNE), the observance began in 2005 to celebrate openness and transparency in government. But what’s to celebrate under Trump?" (Washington Post)
- …and detailing the administration's "veil of secrecy." The USA Today editorial board weighs on on Trump administration transparency. "The whole world is privy to President Trump’s innermost thoughts almost any time of the day or night via his frequently erupting Twitter account. But try finding out who visited the White House, and suddenly you’re in top-secret territory. It’s the same for visitors to Mar-a-Lago, where Trump spends so many weekends, and most famously for Trump’s tax returns, which he has refused to release despite an unbroken presidential tradition of doing so going back four decades…The veil of secrecy doesn’t end there. Across government, the Trump administration has shrouded much information that was once public, from crime statistics to records of kennels that mistreat puppies." (USA Today)
- Senators express bipartisan frustration over state of FOIA at Sunshine Week hearing. "On Capitol Hill, senators are complaining that there's too little transparency surrounding the government's premier transparency law. While the Department of Justice recently launched a one-stop shop to centralize the submissions of Freedom of Information Act requests, Republican and Democratic senators alike expressed frustrations with agencies' actual responses — or lack thereof — to records requests." (Federal Computer Week) You can watch video from the hearing and read witness testimony on the Judiciary Committee's website.
- GAO report finds that several agencies have significant FOIA backlogs and no plans to reduce them. The overall results of the report were mixed, but as Anna Massoglia pointed out, "4 federal government agencies have backlogs of 1,000 or more—and, in some cases, tens of thousands— FOIA requests rom 2012 to 2016 but 'lacked plans' to reduce the backlog."
- Sunlight joins coalition condemning threats to transparency, accountability, and ethics in DC. Writing, "those in the highest levels of government have moved far beyond previous efforts to evade transparency, engaging in an unprecedented, systemic endeavor to undermine the basic norms of disclosure, accountability and truthfulness. The Trump Administration has undermined the role of the press, and uses misinformation to thwart the public’s understanding of its actions. Furthermore, the oversight function of Congress has been weakened, if not trivialized, by partisanship. By devaluing openness and accountability, those in power today are diminishing the public trust in government and eroding the foundations of our democracy." The statement was signed by 34 organizations and individuals. You can read it in its entirety via Open The Government.
- Our event exploring the state of environmental transparency was last night! You can watch video of a conversation between the Project on Government Oversight's Danielle Brian and New York Times reporter Eric Lipton right here. We also encourage you to read these reports from the Union of Concerned Scientists that came up during the event.
- Open Government Partnership announces OpenGov Week. Scheduled to take place from May 7 through 11, OpenGov Week will feature seminars, hackathons, public debates, webinars, open dataset releases and other events planned by citizens, civil society, and governments around the world. You can email firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how to host or participate in an event and learn more at OpenGovWeek.org.
- President Trump targets big donors in California. "Would it be worth it for America to elect a president who lacked experience and moral character if he could also promise unusual independence from moneyed elites? Under Donald Trump, we won’t get an answer…The latest example [of why] is unfolding in Southern California, which Trump is visiting in order to spend time accommodating extremely rich people in exchange for big donations." (The Atlantic)
- President Trump's pick head up the CIA will face questions over torture, document destruction. "President Trump’s nominee to lead the CIA, Gina Haspel, was deeply involved in the Agency’s torture program, according to multiple credible press reports. Haspel ran the CIA’s first overseas prison for terrorism suspects, in Thailand, where Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri and Abu Zubaydah were waterboarded, deprived of sleep, confined in coffin-sized boxes, and otherwise tortured. She later was involved in the destruction of the videotapes that documented Zubaydah’s and Nashiri’s treatment." (Project on Government Oversight)
- As scandals mount, President Trump reportedly considers firing VA secretary. "President Donald Trump is considering ousting embattled Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, who has faced an insurgency within his department and fresh allegations that he used a member of his security detail to run personal errands." (Associated Press)
states and cities
- Ohio's privatized economic development agency underreports salaries, possibly in violation of law. "JobsOhio continues to under report the amounts it pays employees — including 34 workers who make at least six-figure annual salaries — in a move that could run contrary to state law. In its 2017 filings with the state, Gov. John Kasich’s privatized economic development agency again reported employees’ taxable income — which does not include salary diverted to non-taxable retirement contributions and health insurance costs — instead of their gross income." (The Columbus Dispatch)
- Former top aide to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) convicted on several corruption charges. "Jurors convicted a former top aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo on federal bribery and fraud charges Tuesday in a trial that further exposed the state capital's culture of backroom deal-making. Joseph Percoco, who was once likened to a brother by the Democratic governor, faces up to 20 years in prison for his conviction on conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud and soliciting bribes. Jurors who deliberated off and on for three weeks acquitted Percoco of extortion and one of the bribery charges he had faced." (Bloomberg)
- Florida considers law that would boost criminal justice transparency. "Florida will have the most transparent criminal justice system in the nation following new legislation aimed at improving data collection. The legislation establishes a framework for a new database that will track a defendant's experience at each step of the criminal justice system — from arrest and bail proceedings to sentencing — and compare those outcomes through a searchable website available to the public." (Government Technology)
around the world
- Singapore considers "comprehensive" approach to fight fake news. "Singapore intends to treat fake news with the same comprehensive approach as it does illicit drugs while allowing space for a “robust” discourse, according to a cabinet minister involved in discussions on new regulations." (Bloomberg)
- European expert group on fake news releases report and recommendations. The EU released "the final report from its High Level Expert Group on fake news, entitled 'A Multi-Dimensional Approach to Disinformation,' on March 12. Several of the experts involved in fact-checking and tracking disinformation, including Claire Wardle of First Draft and Alexios Mantzarlis of the International Fact-Checking Network, summed up the main points of the report in a Medium post…" (Columbia Journalism Review)
- Turkey approves controversial voting law that may help President Erdoğan further consolidate power. "The Turkish parliament has passed legislation that will alter the country’s electoral regulations, sparking criticism from opposition members, who fear the change will undermine the fairness of 2019 election. The new law allows parties to create alliances to help them enter parliament, paving the way for President Recept Tayyip Erdoğan’s ruling AKP to band together with its nationalist allies and continue to consolidate power as Turkey moves from a parliamentary democracy into an executive presidency following a 2017 referendum in which voters approved changes to the constitution." (POLITICO)
- The Open Data Charter Measurement Guide is open for public consultation. You can read more about the Open Data Charter, the Measurement Guide, and how to give feedback via this blogpost from Open Knowledge.
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