Today in OpenGov: Celebrate the right to know


In today's edition, celebrating International Right to Know Day, investigating the removal of LGBT content from federal websites, expanding the subpoena power of inspectors general, using data to help cities embrace multimodal transportation policies, and more. 

The right to know is international

Image credit: Scott McLeod. Via mySociety.
  • Today is International Right to Know Day. Why does it matter? "Today is International Right To Know Day. Right to Know Day was started back in 2002 by international civil society advocates, and has since been officially adopted by UNESCO with the more formal title of ‘International Day for the Universal Access to Information’. To mark this day I wanted to highlight some of the reasons why having the Right to Know/access to official information is so important, and give examples to illustrate these reasons." (mySociety)
  • A group of Indian activists will remain on house arrest following top court's decision. "India’s top court has extended the house arrest of a group of activists and lawyers who were swept up in a nationwide police operation that human rights groups have said was aimed at intimidating critics of the government. The Supreme Court ordered their home detention to continue for another month. The action comes amid growing concerns about rising nationalism and a crackdown on dissident voices ahead of general elections next year. Other activists and academics had challenged the arrests with a public interest litigation at the Supreme Court of India." (Bloomberg)
  • This dataset on the world's politicians is being used to uncover corruption. "Since 2015, mySociety have collected and shared open data on the world’s politicians via the EveryPolitician project…it’s really useful for us to hear how the data is being put to use, so we were very pleased when Global Witness sent us their report, The Companies we Keep. This fascinating read shares the results of their analysis of the UK’s Persons of Significant Control Register (PSC) in which Global Witness used EveryPolitician data to see if there are politicians who are also beneficial owners of a company registered to the UK." (mySociety)


The White House. 
  • LGBT content has been disappearing from federal websites. As Samantha Allen explains, "the Trump administration spent much of 2017 rolling back LGBT rights, so it’s no wonder that government websites are now closely tracked for any alterations. Nearly two years into the Trump presidency, those changes—spread across multiple federal agency websites—tell a clear story." Rachel Bergman, co-director of Sunlight's Web Integrity Project added some context, explaining that "We’ve seen a general reduction in the prominence of LGBT content across Health, Labor, Education, Housing—even the White House itself…At best, this is definitely a signal that LGBT concerns have been significantly de-prioritized and, in the worst cases, they’re actively being undermined." (The Daily Beast)
  • Governor of Indiana ordered to turn over emails related to negotiations between President Trump, Vice President Pence, and the head of Carrier Corp. "Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb's office has been ordered by a judge to turn over emails between then-Gov. Mike Pence, President-elect Donald Trump and Carrier Corp. about Trump's negotiations to prevent the company from moving most of its operations from Indianapolis to Mexico." (Bloomberg)
  • The EPA is planning to eliminate an office that advises the agency head on science. "The Environmental Protection Agency plans to dissolve its Office of the Science Advisor, a senior post that was created to counsel the E.P.A. administrator on the scientific research underpinning health and environmental regulations, according to a person familiar with the agency’s plans. The person spoke anonymously because the decision had not yet been made public." (New York Times)

washington watch

The United States House of Representatives Chamber. Image via the Speaker of the House.
  • The House passed a bill that would make it easier for inspectors general to issue subpoenas. "The House on Wednesday advanced fulfillment of a longtime wish of the inspectors general community by passing a bill that would enhance the watchdogs’ subpoena power. The IG Subpoena Authority Act  (H.R. 4917), which cleared by voice vote, was introduced last February by Rep. Steve Russell, R-Okla. Russell noted that the watchdogs in fiscal 2016 identified $45 billion in waste, fraud and abuse, half of which came through their investigative activities." (Government Executive)
  • The House also passed a bill that would standardize government grant data. "The House on Wednesday approved by voice vote a bill to require 26 agencies to work with the Office of Management and Budget to establish governmentwide standards for information reported by grant recipients so that the data can be centralized on a public website. The Grant Reporting Efficiency and Agreements Transparency (GREAT) Act (H.R. 4887), introduced last January by Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., cleared the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee earlier this year. It comes at a time when reform of the government’s $662.7 billion in annual grants spending has been on the national agenda. The Trump administration has set a goal of compiling and standardizing data elements to help establish an overarching taxonomy for core grant information." (Government Executive)
  • 19 Representatives vow to tie their votes for Speaker of the House to rule changes. "Trying to show their push to amend House rules to create more bipartisan legislative processes is serious, the Problem Solvers Caucus announced Thursday that 19 of its members are willing to oppose any speaker candidate who won’t bring about change. The bipartisan caucus unveiled a package of proposed House rules changes in July called “Break the Gridlock” and has been coalescing support for it on both sides of the aisle. Some of the caucus members have decided to add some oomph to their sales pitch by pledging not to support a candidate for speaker unless that person commits to enacting the rules package." (Roll Call)
  • This cryptocurrency coalition is planning to pay its lobbyists with…cryptocurrency. "A group of financial technology companies is banding together to lobby lawmakers and regulators on cryptocurrencies — and they plan to pay their Washington advocates partly in digital coins. The firms, all based in the San Francisco area, include digital money transfer company Ripple and several startups. They’re announcing Thursday that they’ve started a coalition and are retaining the Klein/Johnson Group, a bipartisan lobby shop that specializes in technology and financial services issues." (Bloomberg)
  • The National Archives will reopen public comment on a controversial records plan that would let ICE destroy potentially sensitive records. "The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) will re-open a 15-day public comment period for a controversial Immigration and Customs Enforcement records schedule that would have allowed the agency to designate as temporary (and then destroy) a wide array of sensitive immigrant detainee information. The proposed records schedule that ICE (and every agency) must submit to NARA for approval, sought to destroy records on sexual abuse claims filed by detainees while at ICE facilities and investigative records on detainee deaths. NARA received thousands of comments, as well as letters signed by members of both the Senate and the House, opposing the plan…" (NSArchive)

states and cities

Image via Pixabay.
  • If cities want to enforce multimodal transportation policies they need good data. "Movement through cities is becoming more multimodal — taking the form of bikes, scooters, trams and more — and the management of these transportation options is becoming more complex, driven by a relentless supply of data…Cities like San Francisco, Columbus, Ohio, and others are requiring that e-scooter operators place the devices in underserved or economically disadvantaged neighborhoods. Meanwhile, nearly all cities are being explicit in their demands that scooters and bikes do not block sidewalks, doorways, parking spots and other areas in the public space. To achieve these goals, companies like Remix are stepping in and suggesting they can help enforce rules and maintain oversight. By gathering location data from scooter, bike-share or other sources like public APIs, Remix is able to present key pieces of data to city transportation departments in real-time to allow officials to see what devices are in demand, where they are being used and whether they are available to disadvantaged or other communities." (Government Technology)
  • Six states respond to request for post-incarceration employment data. "Last week, MuckRock submitted requests to Departments of Correction throughout the country for any policies and materials these agencies might have related to the post-incarceration opportunities available to inmates once they’ve been released back into the general population. The requests were submitted in response to inquiries from our readers, who wanted to know more about what options firefighting inmates on the West Coast would have once released. Thus far, we’ve received responses from six agencies, though the materials provided relate more to in-custody employment than post-incarceration occupations." (MuckRock)
  • How Colorado cities are dealing with rapid growth in part by engaging communities online. "As one of the nation’s eleven megaregions, the front range of Colorado is challenged to make quick and thorough decisions amidst growth rates as high as 2.8% annually. Denver alone has grown by over 100,000 in seven years. Population growth and stress on current infrastructure translates into residential division between newcomers and long-timers. It also places increasing demands on local governments to provide comprehensive online tools for a public voice. Colorado is embracing online community engagement practice, setting the stage for learning and development of best practice in the field." (Governing)
  • Chicago's new and improved lobbyist data. "We have revamped the presentation of data about lobbyists on our Open Data Portal. People lobbying the City of Chicago are required to register with the Board of Ethics and file periodic reports through its Electronic Lobbyist Filing System (ELF), which began collecting data in 2012. The data structures are complex and previous attempts to recombine data about lobbyists, their employers, their clients, and their lobbying activity on behalf of these entities into tabular datasets ended up being difficult to understand. In our new approach, we are publishing the data in a way that more closely matches the structures in the source system." (Chicago Digital)


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