Today in OpenGov: Time for a reboot


In today's edition, we're sharing fresh ideas on community support for open data, the Department of Veterans Affairs needs an open government reboot, Wall Street's cops take on the 'political intelligence' industry, using open data to verify election information in Kenya, and more. 

states and cities

  • On April 18th, get some fresh ideas to help your community use city open data. The Sunlight Open Cities Team shared details on their latest online workshop, which will bring together city open data staff for an online discussion, idea swap, and presentation on best practices to support community data use. Participants will hear from the Sunlight Open Cities team about lessons we’ve learned as we’ve piloted our Tactical Data Engagement work, as well as from city staff who have successfully facilitated community use of data. Learn more on the Sunlight Foundation blog
  • On April 5th, join Sunlight and Open Knowledge US for a webinar on how to create a culture of openness in your city hall. "New technologies are allowing cities to publish open data more easily and efficiently than ever before. As they do, many cities are shifting their focus from the mechanics of publication to how to build a staff culture that embodies an open approach to government and understand the ways data publication connects to broader city goals. Join us on April 5, 2018 for a conversation with the Sunlight Foundation’s Open Cities team about ways city technology staff can become champions of open data and foster a culture within city hall that prioritizes empowered access to information for all residents." (Open Knowledge)
  • Montana Supreme Court rules that government bodies have to justify decisions to close meetings. "Montana's government bodies and agencies must give some details about whose privacy rights they are protecting when justifying closing a meeting that would otherwise be open to the public, the state Supreme Court ruled." (Montana Standard via NFOIC)
  • New York's top court ruled that the NYPD is allowed to "neither confirm nor deny the existence of documents." As Adam Klasfeld explained, this practice is rooted in CIA spycraft and is called a Glomar response when applied to the federal FOIA. You can read the decision here and get some more background in this post from the Courthouse News Service.


  • It's time for an open government reboot at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Sunlight's Alex Howard responded to the news that President Trump fired VA Secretary David Shulkin on Wednesday, focusing on the VA's mixed record on transparency during Shulkin's tenure, which started in the Obama administration. Our take? It’s time for an open government reboot at the VA. (Sunlight Foundation)
  • Justice Department asked to probe Cambridge Analytica's work for the Trump campaign and a super PAC run by John Bolton. "Government watchdog groups on Thursday called for an investigation into whether President Trump’s campaign and a super PAC controlled by his new national security adviser conspired with an embattled political data firm to violate elections laws." (Washington Post)
  • Trump nominee to oversee Superfund program has long history of fighting environmental cleanups. Despite public support for the Superfund program, actions by Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt's actions have shown a different stance. Sharon Lerner writes, "perhaps even more undermining to the program are the people Pruitt has chosen to run it. First there was Albert Kelly, a former banker who had contributed to Pruitt’s campaigns and whose bank had given him loans, appointed to head the Superfund task force last May despite the fact that he had no previous environmental experience. And now comes Trump’s nomination for Kelly’s boss at the office responsible for managing hazardous waste: Peter Wright, a man with an extensive history with Superfund — fighting EPA cleanups on behalf of polluters." (The Intercept)
  • Senators push for transparency around Trump's nominee to head the CIA Gina Haspel's connection to torture programs. Earlier this week Elana Schor and Burgess Everett reported that "the CIA is starting to share a bit of the covert past of Gina Haspel. But a lot more transparency may be required if the agency veteran is to become its next director. Senators who hold the keys to her confirmation are asking the CIA to provide more details on Haspel’s role in using brutal interrogation tactics against detainees during the George W. Bush administration." (POLITICO)

washington watch

Chart via OpenSecrets. 
  • In celebration of baseball's opening day, here's a breakdown of Major League Baseball's recent lobbying boost. Lobbying by the league has jumped significantly over the past two years, approaching levels that it hasn't logged since the late 1990's. As SBNation explained recently, that lobbying boost helped MLB sneak a provision into the recently passed omnibus spending bill that will save team owners money by suppressing wages in the minor leagues.
  • The 'political intelligence' industry is under scrutiny in first-of-its-kind trial. "The federal prosecutors who sent Wall Streeters to prison for trading on insider information are taking on Washington’s culture of leaks in a first-of-its-kind trial next week. The capital’s 'political intelligence' industry is now in their crosshairs. Hedge funds and other businesses pay consultants, often recent government employees, expecting them to leverage relationships with colleagues still in public service to get a heads-up on government actions that could move markets. David Blaszczak, who consulted for hedge funds after leaving the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, is charged in Manhattan with passing details of government plans to cut reimbursement rates for a certain kind of cancer treatment and to increase payments for kidney dialysis." (Bloomberg)
  • The HHS Inspector General is probing controversy at the agency's Cyber Center. "The Health and Human Services Department’s inspector general has indeed launched an investigation into the department’s fledgling cyber operations center, a spokeswoman confirmed to Nextgov Wednesday… according to this car accident lawyer, controversy began in September when center Director Maggie Amato and department Deputy Chief Information Security Officer Leo Scanlon were abruptly reassigned following a letter to a Senate oversight committee alleging the pair had accepted inappropriate gifts from cybersecurity companies that later won multi-million dollar contracts with the agency." (NextGov)
  • The State Department has plans to require visa applicants to disclose social media information. "The State Department wants to require foreigners seeking visas to enter the United States to hand over information about their social media histories to the U.S. government. Under the proposal, applicants for immigrant and nonimmigrant visas would be required to disclose “identifiers” they have used on various social media platforms in the previous five years, in addition to old telephone numbers and email addresses." (The Hill)  

around the world

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Image via the World Economic Forum. 
  • Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy will face trial on corruption charges. "Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy is to face trial for corruption and misusing his influence. Newspaper Le Monde reported on Thursday that he is accused of using his power to secure leaked details of an inquiry into alleged irregularities in his 2007 election campaign. The former president was taken into police custody earlier this month to be questioned about allegations that part of his victorious 2007 campaign was illegally financed by Libya’s then-government." (POLITICO)
  • Former Supreme Court justice who rose to prominence overseeing corruption case considers presidential bid in Brazil. "Brazil’s former Supreme Court President Joaquim Barbosa is to join the Brazilian Socialist Party, or PSB, with an eye on running for president, according to three party sources…Barbosa, a 63 year-old black man raised in poverty, became a household name in Brazil during the Supreme Court’s handling of the so-called 'mensalao' corruption scandal in the government of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva." (Bloomberg)
  • How open data helped verify information following contested Kenyan election. "The August 2017 presidential election in Kenya was clouded by accusations of fraud and doubts about the accuracy of results posted on the Independent Elections and Boundary Committee (IEBC) website. Some groups alleged that information from the official polling-station-level presidential results forms (Form 34A) posted on the website may have been altered during the transmission of the forms from polling stations to the national level…fresh elections were called for October 26. To promote accountability and transparency, NDI provided technical assistance to the Elections Observation Group (ELOG) to deploy 766 observers to a sample of polling stations across the country to systematically observe the elections, including opening, voting and counting. In addition to reporting their findings on the quality of the voting process, ELOG asked its observers to take pictures of the completed Form 34As at their polling stations and send the images to the organization through designated WhatsApp numbers to verify the credibility of the data." (National Democratic Institute)
  • This Thai database aims to boost gender equality in news reporting. "Alarmed by the low number of women experts interviewed on mainstream media, UNESCO Bangkok has launched a website that links Thai journalists and researchers to female academics, government officials, corporate leaders, and NGO activists. The 'Women Make the News' database was launched in 2017 to advance gender equality in the media and society. It provides a list of contacts of female experts to feature more women voices in news reports." (Global Voices)


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