Today in OpenGov: Shutdown Stories


In today's edition, we look at how the ongoing government shutdown is hindering access to federal websites, journalists ask for a little less secrecy around a special counsel subpoena dispute, a battle of watchdog vs. watchdog in the EU, California's new iterative approach to procurement, and more. 

shutdown stories

The federal government has been partially shutdown for 20 days. Given that the government is literally closed and, with the holiday season firmly in the rearview mirror, now seems like a good time to examine the shutdown's effect on the issues of open government, access to information, ethics, etc. that we care so much about. 

Sunlight's Web Integrity Project team put out a call on Twitter for #ShutdownStories: 

Check out the full thread and submit your own experience trying to access federal Web resources or data during the shutdown here

Elsewhere, in shutdown related news:

  • The Shutdown has postponed the release of a key dataset for the agriculture industry. "As the U.S. government shutdown postpones the Jan. 11 release of monthly market-moving agriculture data, forecasting firms and traders are trying to plug the gap with their own crop estimates. Gro Intelligence, a closely held data and analytics company, will endeavor to fill the void in two days with its own version of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s giant data dump at noon New York time. The agency last week postponed its monthly World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates, or WASDE, because of the shutdown, approaching a third week." (Bloomberg)
  • Does the government actually cost more when it's closed than when it's open? "A federal government shutdown might seem like a great way to save money: When agencies aren’t open, they aren’t spending tax dollars. But history shows us that closing the government actually costs more than keeping it open. Shuttered parks can’t collect entrance fees. Furloughed workers will ultimately get paid for not showing up to work. And the government will wind up having to pay interest on missed payments to some contractors." (New York Times)
  • Most government-owned tourist attractions in Washington, DC are closed during the shutdown, but not the one inside President Trump's hotel. "One of the very few government-owned tourist attractions that's still open is just a few blocks away, in the clock tower of the historic, 1899-vintage Old Post Office building. Three park rangers are on duty, guiding visitors up two elevators and onto an observation deck that provide dramatic views of downtown Washington. There's a also a historic set of bells that ring regularly. The Old Post Office is owned by the federal government, which leases the building to the Trump International Hotel, itself operated by President Trump's Trump Organization." (NPR)


Billionaire mega-donor Tom Steyer will pour a reported $40 million into his anti-Trump group after deciding to forgo a 2020 presidential run. 
  • Billionaire donor Tom Steyer opts out of 2020 presidential run. Will focus his resources on push to impeach President Trump. "Tom Steyer, a California-based billionaire who has poured millions of dollars into Democratic campaigns, will not run for president and will instead focus on his effort to impeach President Donald Trump. He announced that his group Need to Impeach will soon hold town halls, a summit in Washington, DC, and launch a public education campaign." (BuzzFeed)
  • Journalists push court to lessen secrecy around special counsel subpoena. "An organization representing journalists took legal action Wednesday to pare back the secrecy blanketing a grand jury subpoena dispute in which a foreign-government-owned corporation appears to have squared off with special counsel Robert Mueller. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press filed motions at the Supreme Court and the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals urging the public release of more details about the legal showdown, which has been playing out in various federal courts in Washington since August." (POLITICO)
  • President Trump nominates former industry lobbyist Andrew Wheeler to run the EPA permanently. "President Donald Trump has formally nominated Andrew Wheeler to be EPA administrator, cementing the no-nonsense former attorney as his pick to carry out his deregulatory agenda, the White House announced today. The nomination was expected after Trump announced his intention in November." (POLITICO)
  • Nonprofit group set up to boost former EPA head Scott Pruitt's nomination is revealing some of its donors…7 months after Pruitt resigned in disgrace. "A dark-money group supporting Scott Pruitt's confirmation as EPA administrator raised nearly a half-million dollars from at least one oil company and other donors who did not have to identify themselves, according to documents obtained by POLITICO. Protecting America Now, a nonprofit incorporated in Delaware the day after President Donald Trump announced Pruitt's nomination, is only now revealing basic information about itself, two years after the former Oklahoma attorney general was successfully confirmed to lead EPA and seven months after he resigned under a cloud of ethics scandals. POLITICO received the documents through a records request." (POLITICO)

states and cities

California Governor Gavin Newsom signs an executive order on his first day in office. Via the California Office of the Governor
  • California's new governor announced an effort to improve the state's technology procurement on his first day in office. "Having run his campaign on a tech-heavy platform, newly sworn-in Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order Tuesday turning public-sector procurement on its end. The executive order stretches the role of the state Department of General Services (DGS) and the California Department of Technology (CDT) [and]…promotes a new procurement tool that allows for solution development and collaboration on the front end of the process, instead of requiring payment before service delivery." (Government Technology
  • President Trump's anti-press rhetoric has hit local reporters especially hard. "…a number of instances during the midterms and beyond in which local reporters with longstanding community ties were shunned, spurned, harassed, and otherwise treated with disdain by elected officials. As President Trump’s press bashing continues unabated, such incidents seem to suggest his example is being taken up at the local level… in the past year, such acts of aggression appear to be both more common and more calculated." (Columbia Journalism Review)
  • In Massachusetts, the oversight structure for quasi-governmental entities is uneven. "Taxpayer funds are a key part in sustaining public services and our overall government. Our democracy is responsible for government oversight and ensuring the process of checks and balances works. But with some entities operating in both the public and private sectors, many quasi-government entities opt for the secrecy afforded to private companies…Although some entities might have a governing board, not all quasi agencies have a state required entity in which they must disclose financial summaries to. In turn, this causes problems in oversight and accountability to the public." (MuckRock)

around the world

Image via Pixabay.
  • British members of the European Parliament are set to benefit from lucrative payouts amid Brexit. "British MEPs departing the European Parliament because of Brexit will receive a payout worth tens or even hundreds of thousands of euros. According to a 22-page document obtained by POLITICO titled 'British Members end of mandate,' the British legislators who are due to leave on March 29 can claim a 'transitional allowance' of €8,611.31 per month before tax for up to two years, depending on their length of service." (POLITICO)
  • Germany's top news magazine tries to move forward following a fabrication scandal. "Spiegel—and the German media world writ large—is still reeling from German journalism’s biggest scandal in its modern history: Claas Relotius, a 33-year-old Spiegel writer who was long the envy of his peers, fabricated part or all of many of his biggest stories. His perfectly crafted articles from the United States and elsewhere were, it has become clear, literally too good to be true." (The Atlantic)
  • Two EU watchdogs face off over fight against fraud in EU spending. "One of the EU’s fiercest watchdogs is under fire — from another EU watchdog. The European Court of Auditors published a report on Thursday criticizing the European Commission and the bloc’s anti-fraud agency, OLAF, for their handling of the fight against fraud in EU spending." (POLITICO)


Tired of your boss/friend/intern/uncle forwarding you this email every morning? You can sign up here and have it delivered direct to your inbox! Please send questions, comments, tips, and concerns to We would love your feedback!