Today in OpenGov: A K Street winning streak

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In today's edition, we consider "transparency" at the EPA, K Street enjoys an extended winning streak, things continue to get worse for Missouri's embattled governor, a second round of protests rock Hungary, and more. 

Trying to spell "transparency" without the epa

The Environmental Protection Agency headquarters in Washington, DC. Image credit: EPA.
The EPA pulls public access to documents about its opaque transparency policy.  "Internal emails that revealed the Environmental Protection Agency has been pursuing a plan to restrict the type of scientific research the agency uses to write environmental policy have been removed from an online portal that made the documents publicly accessible. The emails, obtained via Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests made by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), were briefly hosted on FOIAOnline, a hub offered by the US government that allows the general public to file requests for and view documents from a number of federal agencies. The files from the EPA were first made accessible Tuesday, April 17th and were removed from the portal Friday, according to UCS. " (Gizmodo).

The good people at the Union of Concerned Scientists have since published most of the documents here

Our take? Between his push for “transparency” that would prevent science from being used in environmental regulation and efforts to censor information that informs the public about how a fauxpen government policy was formed in secret, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt's approach to open government doesn't look very open

  • Despite denying it, new disclosures show that the Lobbyist whose wife rented condo to Scott Pruitt lobbied the EPA. "The prominent lobbyist whose wife rented a condominium to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt lobbied the agency while Pruitt was leading it, contrary to his and Pruitt’s public denials that he had any business before the agency, according to a Friday filing by his firm. The disclosure from the lobbying firm Williams & Jensen contradicts Pruitt's public statement last month that the lobbyist, J. Steven Hart, had no clients with business before the EPA, and came hours after Hart’s resignation from the firm." (POLITICO)
  • Scott Pruitt has at least 4 EPA email addresses, now the agency is checking to see if they were all included in FOIA responses. "The Environmental Protection Agency is reviewing all of its Freedom of Information Act responses under Administrator Scott Pruitt to ensure that they included all four of Pruitt's email accounts. Steven Fine, the EPA's deputy chief information officer, told Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman John Barrasso, R-Wyo., in a letter released Thursday that the agency's long-held policy is to search all emails, secondary or otherwise, in responding to FOIA and congressional requests. Nevertheless, Fine said the agency will conduct a review of all searches made in response to FOIA requests as long as Pruitt has been head of the agency." (Washington Examiner)
  • Scott Pruitt's scandal-plagued tenure at the head of the EPA has echoes from earlier in his political career. Steve Eder and Hiroko Tabuchi explored some of Scott Pruitt's early dealings as a politician in Oklahoma. They write that, "at the E.P.A., Mr. Pruitt is under investigation for allegations of unchecked spending, ethics lapses and other issues, including his interactions with lobbyists. An examination of Mr. Pruitt’s political career in Oklahoma reveals that many of the pitfalls he has encountered in Washington have echoes in his past." (New York Times)

washington watch

Image credit: Glyn Lowe.
  • K Street's winning streak continues under President Trump. The latest lobbying disclosures are in and they show that K Street is " winning big under President Trump. Although the first three months of 2017 was a busy time for K Street, the first quarter of Trump’s second year proved to be even busier. Hot off the heels of Congress pushing a massive tax-reform bill through, lobbyists were called in to work with lawmakers on fixes, in addition to working on burning issues in technology and trade." (The Hill)
  • New Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar is leaning heavily on industry insiders. "If someone is known by the company they keep, Secretary Alex Azar is making clear his ear is closely attuned to the health industry as he pursues his vision for the Department of Health and Human Services. In the first few months of his tenure, Azar has surrounded himself with industry insiders whose résumés boast combined decades of influence in the insurance, pharmaceutical and medical provider sectors." (Washington Post)
  • In updated doctrine on "homeland defense" DoD admits that overclassification can be a bad thing. Steve Aftergood explains, "the Joint Chiefs of Staff last week issued updated doctrine on homeland defense, including new guidance on cyberspace operations, unmanned aerial systems, defense support of civil authorities, and even a bit of national security classification policy…Effective homeland defense, whether abroad or at home, requires sharing of information with civilian authorities, international partners, and others. In an odd editorial remark, the new DoD doctrine says that DoD itself keeps too much information behind a classified firewall to the detriment of information sharing. (Federation of American Scientists) You can read the updated document here.
  • Late changes to the Census, including controversial citizenship question, could affect survey quality.  A senior Census official warned that "late changes to the 2020 census form, including a controversial citizenship question, could take a toll on the success of the population count. That's the word from the Census Bureau itself. Assistant director of Decennial Census Programs Directorate James Treat announced the addition of the new 'red' risk area covering the late survey changes to its list of major operational concerns at an April 20 program management review." (Federal Computer Week)

states and cities


 
  • How open data helped identify an illegal parking ticket trend in NYC and boost trust in government at the same time. Amen Ra Mashariki, former Chief Analytics Officer for New York City, explained what happened when Ben Wellington, creator of the IQuantNY blog, shared his open data fueled realization that "the NYPD was systematically ticketing legally parked cars to the tune of millions of dollars." (GovLoop) Our take? The ultimately positive outcome is a glimpse of how open data can help rebuild public trust. 
  • Florida embraces local budget transparency with municipal XBRL. Our friend Marc Joffe explains a new Florida law that "empowers the Sunshine State’s Chief Financial Officer to create an XBRL taxonomy (a dictionary of accounting concepts) for Florida local government financial reporting, to instruct municipalities and special districts to switch from PDF reports to XBRL filings, and to update its statewide local financial data collection and reporting system – known as LOGER – to accept the new XBRL data. Ten years after the SEC began moving corporate reporting into the 21st Century, Florida has kicked off a similar transition for local government financial reports." (Data Coalition) Our take? States and cities should follow Florida's lead and enact common sense 21st century sunshine laws that mandate annual financial audits to be disclosed as XBRL, not PDFs for printing. Open data will save taxpayer money and help to manage the risks of insolvency.
  • Missouri Governor Eric Greitens indicted over alleged misuse of charity fundraising list. "St. Louis prosecutors filed criminal charges against Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens on Friday over his handling of a donors list for his veterans charity, the newest controversy for the governor, who is facing separate allegations of blackmail and sexual assault and a felony charge alleging invasion of privacy. Missouri’s attorney general, Josh Hawley, announced on Friday that St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner had found probable cause to file criminal charges against the governor in the case. Prosecutors allege that Greitens improperly used the donor list for his charity organization, The Mission Continues, during his 2016 political campaign." (POLITICO)

around the world


An image from last week's protests in Budapest, Hungary. Screenshot of a video posted by Ben Aris. 
  • Hungarians organize second mass protest in two weeks over attacks on civil society, free press. "Tens of thousands of Hungarians marched in opposition to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán for the second week in a row on Saturday night. Demonstrators called for a free media and independent civil society, with an NGO leader and a former reporter from Magyar Nemzet — an oligarch-owned newspaper critical of the prime minister that closed down days after Orbán’s landslide election victory earlier this month — addressing the crowd." (POLITICO) Columbia Journalism Review has a roundup of Orbán’s actions targeting the press.
  • International Monetary Fund will probe the role of advanced economies in spreading corruption. "The IMF will review the role advanced nations play in bribery and other forms of corruption as part of a revised framework on governance around the world. Under the new system, the International Monetary Fund will assess areas such as budget management, financial-sector oversight, central bank controls, market regulation, and the rule of law. Officials will estimate the economic impact of governance weaknesses and provide policy recommendations, the fund said Sunday." (Bloomberg)
  • This South African anti-graft panel has a major task ahead of it. "A South African judicial commission faces a daunting task in investigating allegations that members of the Gupta family and their allies connived with former President Jacob Zuma and his son Duduzane to loot billions of rand from state coffers. Its success or failure will go a long way in determining whether South Africa can put behind it years of mismanagement and plunder during Zuma’s scandal-ridden administration that undermined investor confidence and stymied economic growth." (Bloomberg)

 

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