Today in OpenGov: Regression to the Mean
Before you catch up on the weekend's open government news, we have a quick favor to ask. We appreciate you, our loyal readers, and value your feedback. To that end, we've put together a quick (not even ten questions long) survey. We hope you'll take 5 minutes to consider our questions and help us make this newsletter the best it can be!
That said, please read on for today's edition, in which we check in on open government progress, AT&T drops its top lobbyist, a former New York State power broker gets convicted, Turkish citizens organize over hashtags, and more.
- Independent review of third US National Action Plan for Open Government finds positive change offset by lack of implementation, regression. The Open Government Partnership's (OGP) Independent Reporting Mechanism (IRM) has released its End-of-Term Report on the United State's third OGP National Action Plan for review. Broadly, the review found that "the third United States national action plan was more ambitious than its predecessors, leading to major advances in fiscal transparency, open science, and police data. However, about a third of the plan's commitments saw limited implementation by the end of the action plan. There were also notable regressions in certain areas, such as e-petitions and transparency in the extractives sector." You can read the full report and weigh in on its contents here.
- The Pentagon is struggling in its fight against improper payments, according to new report. "As the agency with the largest budget, the Defense Department continues to make shaky progress in the governmentwide push to reduce improper payments, the Pentagon’s inspector general reported on Friday. The watchdog’s required annual review of fiscal 2017 estimates of significant improper payments showed that the department had complied with only two of six requirements under the 2010 Improper Payments Elimination and Recovery Act and related Office of Management and Budget guidance." (Government Executive)
- Representatives introduce bipartisan bill to boost online delivery of government services. "Reps. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., and John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, have introduced a bill that seeks to improve the delivery of government services to the public through online platforms. The 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act would establish standards for mobile security interfaces across federal websites, according to an article published Thursday on Ratcliffe’s website." (Executive Government)
- AT&T dumps its top lobbyist over Michael Cohen contract. "Revelations that AT&T paid $600,000 to the Trump lawyer who arranged for the hush money payments to Stephanie Clifford resulted in a shakeup Friday of the company’s Washington operation. Robert Quinn, a veteran lobbyist and attorney who’d led the office, was forced out and AT&T’s Chief Executive Officer Randall Stephenson issued a stinging rebuke." (Bloomberg) Meanwhile, at Buzzfeed, Matt Kelly explains how the deals that Cohen entered in to with several companies could have been illegal under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act if they took place abroad.
- Robert Mueller is reportedly investigating foreign-linked donations to President Trump's inaugural committee. "Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team has questioned several witnesses about millions of dollars in donations to President Donald Trump’s inauguration committee last year, including questions about donors with connections to Russia, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, sources with direct knowledge told ABC News…According to a source who has sat with the Mueller team for interviews in recent weeks, the special counsel is examining donors who have either business or personal connections in Russia, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. Several donors with those ties contributed large sums to the non-profit fundraising entity…" (ABC News)
- Explaining the danger inherent in the EPA's recently proposed "transparency" rule. Sean Moulton explains how "the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently issued a new proposed rule entitled 'Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science.' Sounds like a good idea, right? Well, that is the point—to make it sound good. Not as many people would like it if they called it 'Censoring Science in Rulemaking,' which would be much closer to the reality of the new policy’s impact. Essentially the proposed rule would require that the agency only use science for which the underlying data is fully public. Again, it sounds pretty good at first. But there are very valid reasons researchers don’t publish all the underlying data—personal privacy being the biggest one." (Project on Government Oversight)
states and cities
- Former New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver convicted in second corruption trial. "Sheldon Silver, the former powerful Democratic speaker of the New York State Assembly, was found guilty of federal corruption charges on Friday, less than a year after his first conviction on the same charges was thrown out…Mr. Silver was convicted in 2015 on charges related to nearly $4 million he obtained in illicit payments in return for taking actions that benefited a cancer researcher at Columbia University and two real estate developers in New York. The case was among a number of political corruption cases that were overturned after the United States Supreme Court in 2016 narrowed the activity that could constitute corruption. (New York Times) Our take? We applaud this decision. We've argued previously that the Supreme Court's 2016 decision was overly restrictive and would make it more difficult to prosecute official corruption. Silver benefited from that decision during his first trial, getting his original conviction thrown out on a technicality, but his actions were clearly corrupt.
- Cambria County, Pennsylvania boosts public access to budget data. "Software allowing the general public to access Cambria County financial data and other records went live Thursday morning on the county’s website…Last fall, the commissioners approved a 5-year contract with OpenGov Inc. for its Budget Builder and Intelligence software at a rate of $45,690 per year. OpenGov allows the public to access county reports in bar or pie graphs to analyze and compare raw numbers rather than digging through traditional spreadsheets." (Government Technology)
- Florida wants the public to know how much local governments spend lobbying the state legislature, but someone forgot to post the data. "If you want to know how much your local government is spending on private lobbyists to lobby the Legislature, the Florida House has a web page devoted to disclosing it. But though House Speaker Richard Corcoran promised the web page would provide 'transformational' transparency, the House forgot one thing: to post all the data." (Tampa Bay Times)
- How transparent is Austin, Texas? Thanks to the Open Government Partnership, we're set to find out. "The city of Austin will receive a report Tuesday on how open and transparent it is when it comes to some major decisions that impact residents' tax dollars. The report is from an independent organization called Open Government Partnership. It tracks governments around the world. A local researcher spent the last year examining five areas where the city has been trying to make improvements to see if it's working" (KXAN)
around the world
- How a hashtag is helping unite opposition to Turkey's increasingly authoritarian leadership. "On Tuesday, Twitter erupted with tweets using the hashtag #tamam. The Turkish word, in this case meaning “enough is enough,” quickly became the rallying cry of those opposed to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his increasingly authoritarian control over politics and society." (Washington Post)
- How election observers in central and eastern Europe can leverage data and fight misinformation. "While disinformation in traditional media has been used for decades, digital disinformation and computational propaganda, which uses artificial intelligence and political “bots” or pieces of code to manipulate public opinion online, have grown exponentially. An increasing number of elections across Europe and Eurasia are influenced by disinformation tactics. To address this challenge, NDI conducted a four-day academy for 15 citizen election monitoring organizations from 11 countries. The event, which was held in Belgrade in April 2018, provided citizen activists with new strategies, skills, and tools to identify and expose disinformation during elections and to use electoral data to raise the level of fact-based discourse." (NDI)
- NATO, the EU, and the US are teaming up to launch a new commission on election interference. "The United States, NATO and the European Union launched a commission to prevent election interference Friday. Former NATO chief and Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen and former Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff announced the Transatlantic Commission on Election Integrity in Washington at a press conference." (Roll Call)
- UK election watchdog fines Leave.EU over broken spending rules. "The U.K. Electoral Commission today fined campaign group Leave.EU for breaking electoral spending rules. The pro-Brexit campaign group was fined £70,000 for multiple breaches of electoral law during the 2016 Brexit referendum, including exceeding its spending limit and not accurately declaring its funding and spending." (POLITICO)
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