Today in OpenGov: Impediments


In today's edition, EPA security gets physical with a reporter, how an energy company helped foil an Ohio state representative's bid for Congress, tracking the influence that flows through President Trump's D.C. hotel, journalism is under attack in Southeast Asia, and more. 

washington watch

Environmental Protection Administrator Scott Pruitt.
  • The EPA held a summit to discuss a water contamination report that it didn't want released, tried to keep journalists and the public out… "The Environmental Protection Agency temporarily barred journalists and the public from a national summit Tuesday addressing toxic chemicals contamination in drinking water, a week after top agency officials' effort to delay publication of a study on those chemicals came to light. EPA later reversed course and said it would allow reporters to attend the afternoon sessions of the summit, three hours after initially ejecting the media. But that didn't reassure activists from the communities that have been exposed to the chemicals, known as PFAS, who were allowed little access to the summit." (POLITICO) …one journalist was reportedly shoved by an EPA security guard. "A reporter was grabbed and shoved by a security guard at the EPA headquarters in Washington on Tuesday while trying to attend a meeting on water contaminants. Reporters from multiple organizations were barred from attending." (Huffington Post)
  • Major advertising industry group releases online ad transparency principles. "An advertising industry group representing the largest technology companies in the U.S. is urging marketers to disclose more information about who’s paying for online political ads. The Digital Advertising Alliance on Tuesday released a set of principles for its members to adhere to, including displaying a special icon to identify a political ad, along with links to the political advertiser’s name, contact information and a government database with contribution or expenditure records." (Bloomberg) Our take? This is a step in the right direction but, given that it lacks the rule of law, does not preclude the need for the Honest Ads Act
  • A discussion with the NSA's first independently appointed inspector general. "Robert Storch has a big job to do: be the watchdog ready to police one of America’s most secretive intelligence outfits, the National Security Agency. When Storch was confirmed as the NSA’s Inspector General at the end of last year, he became the agency’s first independent appointment in that role. Storch was first nominated to lead the office by President Obama, but not confirmed until after his nomination was re-upped by President Trump…POGO talked with Storch about his vision for providing oversight over the NSA." (Project on Government Oversight)
  • Presidential libraries should be a vital resource for research, but they are hampered by significant FOIA and access to information issues. JPat Brown explains that "Presidential records are in their own special category when it comes to FOIA – the White House, for example, is largely categorically exempt. By providing a single repository of records that should be subject to some ongoing process of declassification, presidential libraries in theory provide a valuable resource for researchers who’d otherwise be chasing documents across various agency archives. In practice, however, that theoretical convenience is severely overshadowed by a processing time that has become infamous in the transparency community." (MuckRock)

states and cities

  • Amazon is actively marketing a facial recognition service to police, raising concerns among civil rights groups. "Amazon is actively courting law-enforcement agencies to use a cloud-based facial-recognition service that can identify people in real time, the American Civil Liberties Union reported Tuesday, citing the documents obtained from two US departments…The ACLU and more than two dozen other civil rights organizations called on Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to stop selling face-recognition services to government agencies." You can read their letter here. (Ars Technica
  • An Ohio state representative voted against a major energy company. Did they react by funneling dark money against her bid for Congress? "A “dark money” organization tied to a major electric company pumped significant cash into an Ohio congressional race in what a losing candidate describes as an act of retribution over a failed financial deal. Christina Hagan, a state representative who was running in the Republican primary for Ohio’s 16th congressional district seat, said a group called the Conservative Leadership Alliance targeted her with a barrage of attack ads after she declined to support legislation Akron, Ohio-based electric company FirstEnergy had lobbied her to help pass." (Center for Public Integrity)
  • Embattled Missouri Governor Eric Greitens is running new ads complaining about press coverage of his various misdeeds. "Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens (R) launched a television campaign ad as he faces criminal allegations and possible impeachment proceedings against him. The advertisement, which is set to air on Wednesday in Joplin, Kansas City, and St. Louis…takes aim at the press' coverage of allegations that Greitens took photos of a woman he had an extramarital affair with, without her consent, and threatened to blackmail her with them." (The Hill)


The Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.
  • President Trump's D.C. hotel is a hub for influence, and a major conflict of interest. "When Donald Trump became president, his Pennsylvania Avenue hotel quickly turned into a Republican power center where foreign governments, political groups, religious organizations and business interests have held dozens of events. The president and his family are regulars there, and the business appears to be flourishing. Trump International Hotel in Washington now figures in a potentially historic legal case alleging that the president improperly receives payments from state and foreign governments through the hotel – payments banned under the Constitution's emoluments clause." (Washington Post) Our take? The fact that Trump still benefits financially from the hotel, and that doing business there is seen as a potential avenue to influence him, represents a significant problem. 
  • The Treasury Department is looking into who leaked Michael Cohen's banking records. "Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Tuesday that someone in his department may have leaked banking records of President Donald Trump's longtime personal attorney Michael Cohen and confirmed that an investigation is underway. Mnuchin also slammed any whistleblowers who leaked suspicious activity reports about Cohen." (POLITICO)
  • How has Ryan Zinke's Interior Department impeded oversight? Let us count the ways. "Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and his aides have engaged in a pattern of disregarding, and perhaps even attempting to evade, oversight and accountability, according to government documents released in the last few months related to three investigations of alleged misconduct involving him and top Interior Department political appointees." (Project on Government Oversight)

around the world

Image credit: Carlos Latuff.
  • Southeast Asia is facing unprecedented attacks on the press. "Save a few exceptions, Southeast Asia has never been known for vibrant journalism. But even with that history as a backdrop, analysts say the last decade has seen an unprecedented rollback of journalistic freedom due to rising authoritarianism and social media’s amplification of hate speech." (Columbia Journalism Review)
  • Japan's Finance Ministry just released thousands of pages of scandal-linked documents that it said had been destroyed. "Japan’s Finance Ministry released records relating to a sale of public land that has sparked allegations of cronyism and undermined support for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. A ministry official told parliament last year they’d been destroyed. About 4,000 pages of documents relating to the scandal were submitted to a meeting of the directors of the lower house budget committee, according to Seiji Osaka, a director and lawmaker with the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan." (Bloomberg)
  • Some tech companies set to extend new European data protection rules around the world. "Microsoft announced Monday that it’s planning to expand the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) requirements beyond its EU customers to its worldwide client base. The move is similar to steps some tech companies have taken in recent weeks as GDPR’s Friday, May 25 enforcement deadline approaches. Under GDPR, companies and organizations that target services and products to residents living in Europe, or have business partners and employees in the EU and UK, are required to inform these users of their privacy rights." (Government Technology)


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