Today in OpenGov: Charged up


In today's edition, the FCC looks to pass the buck on consumer complaints, Rudy Giuliani represents foreign clients but doesn't see a conflict, we try to keep up with Kavanaugh, Facebook gets hit with a fine over data sharing, and more. 

washington watch

  • The FCC doesn't want to bother reading informal consumer complaints any more. "On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission will be voting to ensure they won’t have to read your complaints anymore — and Democratic House members are not happy about it. Two high-ranking Democrats on the Energy and Commerce Committee sent a letter addressed to the Commission’s chairman Ajit Pai earlier today to voice their disapproval of a proposed rule that, if approved, would send informal consumer complaints directly through to the company in question…If the consumer isn’t happy with the outcome of the informal complaint, their only other option would be filing a formal complaint and paying the $225 to do so. The fee for a formal complaint isn’t new, but under these rules, it’s the only option to get your opinion to the FCC’s staff." (The Verge) This article left us asking why does the FCC want to avoid hearing from its constituents and why does is cost so much to file a formal complaint in the first place? 
  • The Department of Defense is looking for tools to help automate classification, control distribution of restricted information. "Figuring out what information should be classified and controlling access to it has been an eternal headache for defense and national security organizations…So the Department of Defense is looking for some help from machine-learning systems. The DOD has issued a request for information (RFI) from industry in a quest for technology that will prevent the mislabeling and accidental (or deliberate) access and sharing of sensitive documents and data." (Ars Technica)
  • Embattled chief of staff to Rep. Dave Schweikert resigns to "pursue other opportunities" as a "maritime captain." "U.S. Rep. David Schweikert's chief of staff quit Monday amid a House Ethics Committee investigation of both men. Oliver Schwab, who has been with the Arizona Republican since his successful 2010 congressional campaign, is stepping down to have surgery and work as a U.S. Coast Guard licensed maritime captain…Last month, the ethics committee unanimously voted to create a special subcommittee to investigate Schweikert and Schwab for misspending and other issues." (AZ Central)
  • As inspectors general celebrate their 40th birthday, the acting secretary of the VA is under fire for trying to intimidate his IG. "Turning 40 is a good time to examine life, and that’s what’s being done for the government’s inspectors general…Inspectors general are an odd sort, not personally but in terms of their place in government. They are part of the agencies they serve yet stand apart as they investigate their colleagues and probe their agencies for waste, fraud and abuse. Nominally under top political leadership, they often find fault with the programs and policies the agency leadership promotes. It can be a tricky situation that can threaten the independence critical to the IGs’ mission. The most recent example is the naked attempt by the acting secretary at the Department of Veterans Affairs to control, if not intimidate, its inspector general." (Washington Post)


Rudy Giuliani. Image credit: Gage Skidmore.
  • Rudy Giuliani is working for foreign clients even as he serves as President Trump's personal attorney. "Rudolph W. Giuliani continues to work on behalf of foreign clients both personally and through his namesake security firm while serving as President Trump’s personal attorney — an arrangement experts say raises conflict-of-interest concerns and could run afoul of federal ethics laws…His decision to continue representing foreign entities also departs from standard practice for presidential attorneys, who in the past have generally sought to sever any ties that could create conflicts with their client in the White House." Giuliani doesn't think its a big deal because he isn't charging the President for his services. (Washington Post
  • It took months of mounting scandals for Scott Pruitt to resign as head of the EPA. Does that mean ethics laws are getting weaker? "By the time Scott Pruitt resigned, his conduct as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency had become the subject of 12 to 18 investigations, audits and inquiries. It's hard to know the precise number, as only some of the cases are public, but Pruitt may have set some kind of ethics-in-government record. Ethics advocates are asking how he stayed long enough to trigger that many probes." (NPR)
  • Meanwhile, Pruitt's replacement probably won't change course on major policies, but may bring more transparency to the job. "The Environmental Protection Agency's efforts to roll back rules issued under President Barack Obama will likely continue without its ousted leader, Scott Pruitt. One thing that may change: The way the agency talks about its deregulatory work. The EPA's new chief, Andrew Wheeler, says he wants a fresh start with the reporters who have aggressively covered both the agency's policies as well as the proclivities of Pruitt. The acting administrator is vowing to be more transparent with reporters and other members of the public." (Washington Post) Our take? We read similar stories when Mike Pompeo replaced Rex Bannon as Secretary of State and we'll say the same thing now as we did then. We hope that Wheeler's embrace of transparency is more than part of an initial charm offensive, but we won't be holding our breaths. 
  • Administration releases draft principles for federal data strategy focused on stewardship, quality, and improvement. "The administration's federal data strategy met its first milestone, the release of an initial set of draft principles. The goals of the strategy, as outlined in the President's Management Agenda, include leveraging data as a strategic asset to grow the economy, increase effectiveness of the federal government, improve oversight and promote transparency. So far, the strategy consists of 10 draft principles across three main pillars: stewardship, quality and continuous improvement." (Federal Computer Week) Do you have thoughts on the federal data strategy? Don't forget that you have until July 27th to provide feedback! 

keeping up with kavanaugh

Brett M. Kavanaugh.
We'll be doing our best to track how Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh might rule on #OpenGov issues including campaign finance, access to information, the rule of law, separation of powers, privacy, surveillance, and more.
  • Caroline Fredrickson and Norm Eisen explored questions around rule of law and separation of powers that should come up in Kavanaugh's confirmation hearings. The central issue? "Does he have the requisite independence from President Trump to serve as a check on his abuses of power?" (New York Times) Kavanaugh's views on investigations into sitting presidents are particularly relevant given the ongoing Mueller probe. (POLITICO)
  • Kavanaugh's views on surveillance and national security has the potential to cause a confirmation clash with  libertarian-minded Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). (Roll Call)
  • In a dissent last year, Kavanaugh argued that net neutrality violates the first amendment. "President Trump's Supreme Court nominee argued last year that net neutrality rules violate the First Amendment rights of Internet service providers by preventing them from "exercising editorial control" over Internet content. Trump's pick is Brett Kavanaugh, a judge on the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The DC Circuit twice upheld the net neutrality rules passed by the Federal Communications Commission under former Chairman Tom Wheeler, despite Kavanaugh's dissent." (Ars Technica)

around the world

Nawaz Sharif, former Prime Minister of Pakistan. Image credit: United Nations Women.
  • Former Pakistani prime minister will return to country to appeal corruption verdict. "Pakistan's former prime minister Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif is set to return to Pakistan from the United Kingdom (U.K.) after a Pakistani Accountability Court has sentenced him to ten years in prison for impropriety in the ownership of certain properties in the U.K. Sharif's daughter Maryam Nawaz announced in London, England that she and her father will return to Islamabad, Pakistan on July 13, 2018, just a few weeks before Pakistan's general elections on July 25. They plan to file an appeal against the corruption verdict announced on Friday, July 6." (Global Voices)
  • Facebook faces fine in Britain over Cambridge Analytica scandal. "It’s more bad news for Facebook. The social networking giant faces a fine of a half a million pounds in Britain for failing to protect people’s online data connected to the Cambridge Analytica scandal, according to a report published by the country’s privacy watchdog on Wednesday. The financial penalty would represent the first levy worldwide against the tech giant for its role in the alleged abuse." (POLITICO)
  • Poland may force dozens of top judges to "retire." "The United States has been consumed with the one vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court. Just imagine the media storm in Poland, where 18  of 73 Supreme Court seats may become open. Among them is the seat of Chief Justice Malgorzata Gersdorf. On July 4, Gersdorf went to work doubting she would be let into the building. Three months earlier, Poland’s Parliament, led by the majority Law and Justice party (PiS), passed a bill to reform the Supreme Court — which would effectively relieve 27 judges of their duties, regardless of whether a judge’s six-year term had expired." (Washington Post)


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