Today in OpenGov: Peace, Love and Understandable Government Websites


In today's edition, federal agencies need to get more understandable, the Trump administration needs to reveal some documents, Washington, D.C. needs to take another look at its open government oversight nominees, and more. 

Today's roundup is brought to you by Elvis Costello & The Attractions.

Washington watch

Image via Pixabay.
  • New report shows that federal agencies are struggling to communicate with the public in understandable language. "An independent research group found federal agencies still don’t communicate with the public in language everyday people can understand—if anything, they’re using more jargon. The Center for Plain Language on Friday issued its seventh annual report card on agencies on their use of concise, understandable writing. The center also graded agencies on their compliance with the 2010 Plain Writing Act, which requires organizations to train employees to write clearly and follow other best practices." (NextGov)
  • Corporate leaders are increasingly speaking out on specific policy issues, affecting consumers and employees alike. "An era of a new kind of CEO activism appears to be in full swing. Think of Nike CEO Mike Parker's decision to feature ads with Colin Kaepernick, the former NFL quarterback turned racial justice activist. Or Dick's Sporting Goods CEO Ed Stack, who in February pulled assault-style weapons from store shelves and raised the minimum age to buy guns to 21. Corporate leaders, who historically stayed silent on policy are increasingly speaking out. Their statements are directed at consumers, but employees are also responding and it is affecting morale and company culture to recruitment." (NPR)
  • House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy's brother-in-law made more than $7 million via federal contracts based on his disputed claim of Native American identity. "A company owned by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy's (R-Calif.) in-laws was awarded more than $7 million in federal contracts based on McCarthy’s brother-in-law's disputed claim of Native American identity, according to a Los Angeles Times investigation published Sunday. The Times reported that McCarthy's in-laws were awarded the contracts through a federal program that aims to help minorities for a company called Vortex Construction, which is owned by William Wages, the brother of McCarthy’s wife." (The Hill)


Image via Pixabay.
  • President Trump's campaign and closest consultants are looking to leverage his email database for political gain and profit. "Early in his presidential campaign, Donald J. Trump dismissed political data as an 'overrated' tool. But after he won the Republican nomination, his team began building a database that offers a pipeline into the heart of the party’s base, a comprehensive list including the email addresses and cellphone numbers of as many as 20 million supporters. Now, consultants close to the Trump campaign are ramping up efforts to put that database — by far the most sought-after in Republican politics — to use, offering it for rent to candidates, conservative groups and even businesses." (New York Times)
  • Unsurprising, political motivation behind the Census citizenship question emerges in newly released emails. "When Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross instructed the Census Bureau earlier this year to include a question on the decennial census about the citizenship of residents, he offered a specific rationale. Having data on citizenship, he wrote, would allow the government to better enforce the Voting Rights Act, Civil-Rights-era legislation meant to protect voting from discriminatory policies. This rationale was quickly treated with skepticism…So what was the rationale? Newly released emails from the Commerce Department offer an unsurprising answer…What the Kobach email reveals, though, is that the political effects of asking the question on immigration were part of the calculus on deciding whether to include it — in case there was any question in that regard." (Washington Post)
  • Lawmakers push for release of unredacted memo around family separation policy. "Two prominent Democrats are asking the Trump administration to turn over to them an unredacted government memo that justified the separation of hundreds of immigrant families at the border. Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York and Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California wrote to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen requesting an unredacted version of the DHS memo and all its attachments. A redacted copy of the memo was released earlier this month in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from the group Open the Government and the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) and shared with BuzzFeed News." (BuzzFeed)
  • Is the Department of Energy trying to hide a report that casts doubt on the Trump administration's plan to prop up the coal and nuclear industries? "A report commissioned by the Energy Department failed to reach conclusions favoring the Trump administration’s efforts to prop up coal and nuclear power — and remains under wraps six months after submission…The analysis by the University of Texas’s Webber Energy Group was delivered six months ago and debunks the administration’s primary argument for taking extraordinary measures to keep coal plants operating…" (Bloomberg)

states and cities

The John A. Wilson District Building in Washington, D.C. 
  • Nominees to the board overseeing Washington, D.C.'s open government office appear to lack required expertise. "Rewriting the law to end the independence of the D.C. Office of Open Government this summer, the D.C. Council at least mandated that the new overseers, the Board of Ethics and Government Accountability (BEGA), include one member equipped with experience in the challenging terrain of law and policy as government responds to 21st century citizen expectations of government access. But it's not happening. The five-member board previously concentrated on investigating complaints and punishing government employees who violated ethics rules (for example, misuse of authority or property, conflicts of interest, improper political activity,). Its only role in open government (as the Council had provided in law) was to appoint the office director…Now the law says at least one member 'shall have particular experience in open government and transparency.'…Unfortunately, the law seems to have had no effect." (D.C. Open Government Coalition)
  • Reformers are turning to state ballot initiatives in effort to clean up government. "The ballot effort, known in North Dakota as Measure 1, is part of a wave of choices billed as good-government initiatives that will go before voters in the November midterms. In Colorado, Utah and other states, there’s a move to change how congressional districts are drawn. Reformers in Missouri want to reduce how much statehouse candidates can accept from individual donors. And in Florida, there’s a push to give voting rights to more than 1.4 million felons in time for the 2020 presidential election." (POLITICO)
  • Highlighting the need for better crime reporting statistics across the United States. "St. Louis only ranks third for homicides in the U.S. by rate, but it’s the No. 1 most dangerous city. So by what metric does the government measure “most dangerous” – and why is Trump’s focus concentrated on Chicago and not St. Louis? As a statistician studying how people can manipulate numbers, particularly crime data, it is clear to me that the way crimes are currently counted in the U.S. can easily confuse and mislead." (Government Technology)


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