Today in OpenGov: Let’s keep this brief


In today's edition, big tech heads back to the Hill, more on President Trump's pick to head the office of Science and Technology Policy, election issues in Zimbabwe, and more. 

washington watch

Image via Pixabay.
  • Facebook, Twitter, and Google executives are slated for Senate testimony in September… "Senior executives from Facebook Inc.Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Twitter Inc. will testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Sept. 5 to discuss their efforts to prevent Russian meddling in November elections as internet researchers warned that Moscow still has active social media accounts designed to influence U.S. politics." (Bloomberg)
  • …News of the hearing comes as Facebook tries to prove it's cracking down on misinformation and political manipulation. "Facebook has put on what amounts to a full-court press over the past several days, a move that appears to be aimed at convincing Congress it is working hard to crack down on misinformation ahead of the upcoming US midterm elections. But is it really? Tuesday’s announcement that the company shut down 32 accounts for what it calls “inauthentic behavior” sounded impressive, and the blog post describing the move was filled with colorful details. On closer examination, however, the shutdown looks like fairly small potatoes, which makes the whole thing feel more like a PR campaign than anything substantive." (Columbia Journalism Review)
  • Meanwhile, experts told lawmakers that online platforms need to be more transparent. "Online platforms need to be more transparent with government to help fight increasingly sophisticated online misinformation campaigns led by Russia and other adversaries, social media experts and internet analysts told lawmakers on Wednesday…Experts…placed significant onus on tech companies, calling on platforms to proactively cut off the channels used to spread misinformation and be more transparent when they discover questionable behavior." (NextGov) Our take? We agree that platforms like Facebook and Twitter need to do more to be transparent. They have taken some positive steps on their own, but self-regulation will never be enough. Congress needs to take action. 
  • Mueller probe and Manafort trial are exposing Washington's shadowy culture of foreign lobbying. "The mandate given to Robert S. Mueller III and his team was broad: to investigate not just Russian election interference but also any related crimes they might unearth. So when this group of seasoned prosecutors began rooting around Washington, they pounced on a ripe target — lobbyists taking millions of dollars from foreign governments. At the trial of Paul Manafort, an unflattering picture has emerged of lawyers, lobbyists and consultants from both political parties winning big paydays for work on behalf of a Kremlin-aligned former Ukrainian strongman." (New York Times)


Sarah Huckabee Sanders briefing the White House press corps, an increasingly rare sight. Image via VOA News.
  • White House press briefings ground nearly to a halt in July. "In July, President Donald Trump met with Russian President Vladimir Putin, floated a get-together with Iran’s leaders to discuss a new nuclear deal, bragged about strong economic growth and threatened to shut down the federal government. In that time, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders held just three briefings for reporters to ask questions about the activity of a hectic administration." (POLITICO)
  • EPA chief Andrew Wheeler shares some new details about his past as an energy lobbyist. "The acting chief of the Environmental Protection Agency, Andrew Wheeler, has come under scrutiny for his years spent as a powerful energy lobbyist. He has represented an electric utility, a uranium producer, and, most significantly, a coal magnate who paid Mr. Wheeler’s former lobbying firm more than $2.7 million over eight years…In an interview, Mr. Wheeler provided fresh details about his lobbying activities, including specifics not included in his government-required disclosure forms, which have been criticized for their lack of detail." (New York Times)
  • Did this federal contractors break the law with a big donation to a pro-Trump super PAC? "A politically connected contractor made a $500,000 contribution this spring to a pro-Trump super PAC the day after it received a payment of almost the same amount as part of a Department of Defense contract, a watchdog group said…The donations represent rare violations of a 75-year-old ban on campaign contributions from federal contractors, said Brendan Fischer, director of the federal reform program at the Campaign Legal Center." (Roll Call)
  • Exploring the qualifications of Kelvin Droegemeier, President Trump's pick to head the Office of Science and Technology Policy. "The directorship is as close to a Cabinet-level position in science and technology as there is. It has also gone unfilled for the 19 months since Donald Trump took office—an unprecedentedly long time in the OSTP’s 42-year history. For comparison, George W. Bush set the previous record for the longest delay when he took four months to choose his nominee, while Barack Obama made his pick a month before his inauguration. Though late, Droegemeier’s nomination comes as a rare spot of welcome news for the scientific community. Many of Trump’s choices to lead or advise scientific agencies have been criticized either for lacking relevant qualifications, or for being diametrically opposed to the organization they were tapped to run. By contrast, Droegemeier has impeccable scientific credentials." (The Atlantic)

around the world

Image via The Independent.
  • At least three people are dead following demonstrations in the wake of Zimbabwe's presidential election. "Two days after a historic election and before the results are in, Zimbabwe's military has taken over the streets of the capital city, Harare. They're trying to quell protesters…the demonstrations…started out peaceful but tense. The successor to longtime ruler Robert Mugabe faces a popular challenger. And international observers raise serious questions about the vote. Protesters gathered outside of the election command center and other locations, prompting security forces to move in. The government cracked down, clearing the streets with tear gas and gunfire and later announced that three people were killed." (NPR)
  • Walmart and the US Government can't come to an agreement related to an international bribery probe. "Walmart set aside nearly $300 million last fall for a possible resolution with the U.S. government over international bribery allegations, a sign that an end to the years-long investigation was imminent. But eight months later, the sides are deadlocked, three people familiar with the matter said. It’s not about the money: One source of tension is prosecutors’ insistence that Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, admit to certain misconduct as part of any deal, one of the people said." (Bloomberg)
  • Belgium faces backlash for decision to charge journalists for EU summit access. "A Belgian decision to charge journalists €100 per year to attend summits of EU leaders was criticized by unions and the European Commission. Journalists were informed this week by the European Council that they will need to pay €50 every six months to gain accreditation to EU summits. The decision came into force through a Belgian Royal Decree on May 8. Journalists were not consulted by the Belgian government on the fees. On Wednesday, the European Commission said it objected to the policy and that, as the guardian of the treaty that governs the EU, it would examine any complaint filed on the subject." (POLITICO)


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