Today in OpenGov: Lapses in Judgement


In today's edition, a tough year for journalists is recognized, Amazon ups its lobbying presence in the Big Apple, removes information on how to apply for Affordable Care Act benefits, and more. 

washington watch

Four separate covers highlight various journalists highlighted in TIME's Person of the Year issue.
  • Murdered and threatened journalists named TIME's "Person of the year." "Worldwide, a record number of journalists—262 in total—were imprisoned in 2017, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, which expects the total to be high again this year. This ought to be a time when democracy leaps forward, an informed citizenry being essential to self-government. Instead, it’s in retreat. Three decades after the Cold War defeat of a blunt and crude autocracy, a more clever brand takes nourishment from the murk that surrounds us. The old-school despot embraced censorship. The modern despot, finding that more difficult, foments mistrust of credible fact, thrives on the confusion loosed by social media and fashions the illusion of legitimacy from supplicants…In 2018, journalists took note of what people said, and of what people did. When those two things differed, they took note of that too. The year brought no great change in what they do or how they do it. What changed was how much it matters." (TIME Magazine)
  • These agencies failed to report on their attempts to limit improper payments. "By the government’s best estimate, major agencies running 90 programs wrongfully paid out about $141 billion in fiscal 2017. But at least three—the Treasury, Labor and Agriculture departments—have fallen short in complying with the six reporting criteria spelled out in the 2010 Improper Payments Elimination and Recovery Act, according to the latest Government Accountability Office review of inspector general reports released on Friday." (Government Executive)
  • Former nonprofit head pleads guilty to helping conceal foreign government funding for 2013 Congressional trip. "The former president of a Houston nonprofit pleaded guilty Monday to charges of concealing that a 2013 congressional delegation trip to Azerbaijan was funded by that country’s government. The Justice Department indicted Kemal Oksuz, aka Kevin Oksuz, 49, in September, alleging that he lied on disclosure forms filed with the House Ethics Committee prior to and following a privately sponsored congressional trip to Azerbaijan. Oksuz was extradited from Armenia." (Roll Call)
  • Senate set to vote on criminal justice reform bill that has White House, bipartisan support. "Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky reversed course on Tuesday and said that the Senate would vote on a criminal justice bill before the end of the year, stiff-arming some of his hard-line conservatives and teeing up a bipartisan policy achievement that has eluded lawmakers for years." (New York Times)
  • Amid new misconduct allegations, North Carolina Congressional election may be headed for a re-run. "The North Carolina Republican Party said Tuesday that a new election should be held in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District if a new allegation regarding the leak of early-voting results before Election Day is proven. The results of the race between Republican Mark Harris and Democrat Dan McCready have already been held up over allegations of election fraud against a contractor for one of Harris' campaign consultants. But the state Democratic Party has highlighted another incident in the inquiry into the House race, releasing a signed affidavit from a Bladen County poll worker alleging that the results of early votes were shared improperly before the election." (POLITICO)

states and cities

Image Credit: Dan Eckert.
  • Re-imagining Los Angeles' procurement process with Open Contracting. "It is clear from the 360 degree view from the City Hall Observation Deck that Los Angeles is in the midst of a transformational period — a once-in-a-generation moment of change. With billions of dollars a year in spending on public contracts, openness and opportunity are at the heart of the City’s procurement process. As the City continues to make investments to better serve its residents, it is essential to create an inclusive, diverse, and dynamic economy where everyone can share in the opportunities Los Angeles creates. As part of the City’s efforts to modernize and open up the procurement process, the Mayor’s Office, Sunlight Open Cities, and Open Contracting Partnership (OCP) are collaborating to transform how businesses compete for opportunities. Clear and usable open data on the contracting process is critical to keep businesses, officials, and other stakeholders apprised of upcoming and ongoing opportunities, and prevent folks from missing out on contracts." (Sunlight Foundation)
  • Civil liberties groups sue California over retention of non-convicted individuals's DNA profiles. "Accusing the government of violating constitutional privacy rights, a trio of civil liberties groups is suing the California Department of Justice over its practice of collecting and retaining the DNA profiles of people who were arrested for alleged felonies but never convicted. California police agencies have been collecting DNA profiles at the time of a felony arrest since 2009. But recent advances in DNA analysis technology — where results come back in a matter of hours rather than weeks — and the passage of a related congressional bill last year have significantly raised the stakes on the issue." (Government Technology)
  • Amazon boosts its lobbying presence in the Big Apple as it prepares for headquarters hearing… "Amazon is trying to quell rising opposition to its plan for offices in New York, hiring well-connected lobbyists to make its case in the corridors of power even as it mounts a block-by-block neighborhood effort against the grass-roots network that helped push Representative-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to victory…The extent of their reach could be felt at City Hall on Tuesday where two newly hired lobbyists, Mark Weprin, a former Queens city councilman, and Ed Wallace, another former councilman, conferred with city officials in the soaring marble rotunda and made the case for the company. The timing was not coincidental: Amazon executives are expected to face withering questioning before the New York City Council at a public hearing on Wednesday." (New York Times)
  • …Meanwhile, New York City released details on its winning bid for part of Amazon's "HQ2." "New York City released its winning Amazon HQ2 bid Monday night, the Wall Street Journal reported. The city launched a website dedicated to the new headquarters where it released the bid, the appendix with site details, the memorandum of understanding between the state, city, and Amazon, plus other documents and general information." (MuckRock)


A side-by-side of a previous version of the “Apply for Health Insurance” page from November 14, 2018, and a new version of the page from November 22, 2018. Snapshots captured by the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine.
  • update removes some information about ways to apply for ACA benefits as Open Enrollment period nears close. "A few weeks after the start of the Open Enrollment period to sign up for Affordable Care Act (ACA) coverage, which runs from November 1 to December 15, 2018,’s “Apply for Health Insurance” webpage was altered. Information about two ways to apply is now missing and has been replaced by a new list of application options and links, including a link for “Help On Demand,” a third-party consumer assistance referral system, operated by a for-profit software company, BigWave Systems." (Sunlight Foundation)
  • This Trump appointee recently decided to stop lobbying for Saudi Arabia. "One of President Donald Trump’s administration appointees has stopped representing Saudi Arabia to the U.S. government, according to filings with the U.S. Department of Justice. Richard F. Hohlt, a longtime lobbyist who has served on the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships, a part-time advisory body, since Trump appointed him to the post in June 2017, suspended his representation of the Saudi government on Nov. 1, according to Foreign Agents Registration Act filings he submitted to the Department of Justice on Nov. 30." (Center for Public Integrity)
  • Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner pushed for this tax break to help encourage investment in underserved communities that might also boost their bank accounts. "At an Oval Office gathering earlier this year, President Donald Trump began touting his administration's new real estate investment program, which offers massive tax breaks to developers who invest in downtrodden American communities. He then turned to one of the plan's strongest supporters…The Opportunity Zone program promoted by Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner — both senior White House advisers — could also benefit them financially, an Associated Press investigation found. Government watchdogs say the case underscores the ethical minefield they created two years ago when they became two of the closest advisers to the president without divesting from their extensive real estate investments. Trump and Kushner jointly own a big stake in a real estate investment firm, Cadre, that recently announced it is launching a series of Opportunity Zone funds that seek to build major projects under the program from Miami to Los Angeles." (U.S. News


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