Today in OpenGov: Off to the Races


In today's edition, the government shutdown breaks records as well as federal websites, the Senate considers opening up to photojournalists, we consider what makes a good open data use case, the Trump administration's plan for hospital price transparency kicks in, and more.

Shutdown stories 

  • Federal websites are vulnerable thanks to lapsed security certificates amid the government shutdown. "Dozens of .gov sites are vulnerable because of expired security certificates caused by the partial government shutdown, according to a British internet services company. Webpages at agencies such as NASA, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the Court of Appeals have expired TLS certificates, according to British-based Netcraft in a Jan. 10 blog post." (Federal Computer Week)
  • is down amid the government shutdown. "The website, which is managed by the General Services Administration’s Technology Transformation Service, doesn’t technically host data but plays an important role in the open data ecosystem nonetheless…the landscape of what data is still easily available is a fragmented one. For example, the Center for Disease Control’s open data site is active and data can be downloaded. The U.S. Department of Agriculture also has its own data catalog. Census Bureau data pages, meanwhile, all note that they are not being updated during the shutdown. Existing data sets seem to be available." (FedScoop)
  • The shutdown is keeping several consumer protection websites offline. "As the government shutdown stretches into the record for longest shutdown ever, key websites run by the Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission are still down, leaving consumers more vulnerable. On December 28th, the FTC announced that, while continues to operate, several sites will remain unavailable throughout the shutdown. Among those is, the website for the agency’s National Do Not Call Registry." (The Verge)
  • Ethics rules may stand in the way of furloughed federal employees looking to pick up a second job while they aren't being paid… "As the partial government shutdown enters a third week—and 800,000 federal employees miss a paycheck—nearly 400,000 furloughed employees face hard decisions, including whether to take a second job to make ends meet. According to several attorneys interviewed by Nextgov, furloughed federal employees who moonlight risk running afoul of a hodge-podge of government ethics rules and varying interagency policies that could ultimately cost them their federal jobs or result in other consequences." (NextGov)
  • …Meanwhile, deals being offered to federal employees during the shutdown ARE NOT in violation of federal gift rules. "Federal workers must adhere to strict ethical guidelines for accepting meals and favors, but the deals and discounts popping up around the D.C. region during the shutdown aren’t risking violations. As the partial government shutdown stretches toward being the longest in modern history, dozens of restaurants are offering free and discounted meals to federal workers, many of whom are either furloughed or working without pay. Bars are offering drink discounts and happy hour specials." (Roll Call)

washington watch

Image via Pixabay.
  • Photographers have traditionally been banned from the Senate chamber, but that might change soon for special occasions. "While accredited photographers were granted special access to the House gallery to take colorful shots of Nancy Pelosi returning as speaker, youngsters roaming the floor and the diverse freshman class settling in, the Senate remained a shutter-free zone, as it has been for virtually its entire history. What a loss, thought Senator Roy Blunt, Republican of Missouri, as he surveyed the festivities." (New York Times)
  • Documents indicate that the NRA illegally coordinated with at least three GOP Senate campaigns between 2016 and 2018. "The National Rifle Association appears to have illegally coordinated its political advertising with Republican candidates in at least three recent high-profile US Senate races, according to Federal Communications Commission records. In Senate races in Missouri and Montana in 2018 and North Carolina in 2016, the gun group’s advertising blitzes on behalf of GOP candidates Josh Hawley, Matt Rosendale, and Richard Burr were authorized by the very same media consultant that the candidates themselves used—an apparent violation of laws designed to prevent independent groups from synchronizing their efforts with political campaigns." (Mother Jones)
  • There might not be enough K Street jobs for all of the former members of Congress looking to head through the revolving door this year. "…more than 60 Republicans exited the House this month, and so many of them are considering heading to K Street that not all of them are likely to find work, according to interviews with lobbyists and headhunters…Former Rep. Tom Reynolds (R-N.Y.), who’s now a lobbyist at Holland & Knight and has spoken with departing members of Congress in recent weeks, said there’s more interest among them than ever in becoming lobbyists." (POLITICO)
  • GE to bring a bit of transparency to its corporate political spending. "On Tuesday, General Electric announced it would become more transparent — starting this month — by disclosing any contributions it makes to so-called social welfare organizations. That’s a category of nonprofit groups that often sponsors campaign outreach and political attack ads. In addition, GE pledged to announce when it contributes any dues or payments of $50,000 or more to trade associations in a year. That’s down from its previous $100,000 trigger." (Agenda via Election Law Blog)

states and cities 

  • What makes a good open data use case? "Cities have made great strides in publishing foundational open data, and are constantly working to release more and better data. But many city officials still wonder: what will this data do for the community? Who is actually using it? Understanding how data will be applied in the public domain is a key element of planning and allocating the limited resources dedicated to open data programs. Ground-truthing data in its potential use cases can ensure that when data is opened, it is for a purpose. Data providers can create use cases by using any research methods to better understand who in the community is looking for data, what specific data they are looking for, and why they are looking for the data. Whether data providers are using survey tools, focus groups, one-on-one interviews, or community meetings to understand potential data users’ needs, they should aim to capture specific details in each of these three areas. So what does a use case for open data look like?" (Sunlight Foundation)
  • Texas' unique public records law adds wrinkles to requesting process. "One state in particular stands out as being completely different than the federal statute it was based on. FOIA states that agencies can hold information hostage based on certain exemptions, which in turn press the requester to challenge that action through an appeal. However, the Texas Public Information Act places the onus on the agency to provide its justifications for applying exemptions to the state’s Attorney General…From there, it’s up to the AG to decide if the agency’s justifications are enough. Its a pretty sweet deal for requesters looking to get records out of Texas as they can sit-back, relax and let the process unfold. But as with any bureaucratic process, requesters can find themselves waiting on the AG’s decision for up to 45-business days with an additional 10 business days if the AG decides it needs more time." (MuckRock)
  • This Wisconsin lawmaker wants to prevent his colleagues from destroying public records. "A Wisconsin state lawmaker is introducing legislation that would prevent legislators from destroying public records. Other government agencies are required to keep public records for set periods of time. However, an exception state lawmakers wrote themselves decades ago allows them to avoid such rules. As FOX6 discovered in a recent investigation, state lawmakers regularly delete emails, calendars, and other records that show who is influencing them and how they make decisions." (FOX6 via NFOIC)


President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. 
  • Trump administration effort to bring transparency to hospital prices goes online, but needs some work. "On Jan. 1, hospitals began complying with a Trump administration order to post list prices for all their services, theoretically offering consumers transparency and choice and forcing health care providers into price competition. It’s turning into a fiasco…The data, posted online in spreadsheets for thousands of procedures, is incomprehensible and unusable by patients — a hodgepodge of numbers and technical medical terms, displayed in formats that vary from hospital to hospital. It is nearly impossible for consumers to compare prices for the same service at different hospitals because no two hospitals seem to describe services in the same way. Nor can consumers divine how much they will have to pay out of pocket." (New York Times)
  • President Trump has reportedly gone to great lengths to keep the contents of his meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin private, even from members of his administration. "President Trump has gone to extraordinary lengths to conceal details of his conversations with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin, including on at least one occasion taking possession of the notes of his own interpreter and instructing the linguist not to discuss what had transpired with other administration officials, current and former U.S. officials said." (Washington Post)
  • The latest Trump administration conflicts include the reported FBI investigation into President Trump's Russia ties, Ivanka Trump's possible legal violations, and more. "This week, a watchdog group is accusing Ivanka Trump of violating a conflict of interest law for her involvement in a tax break program, the historic clock tower located in President Donald Trump’s Washington D.C. hotel is open and staffed by federal employees during the partial government shutdown and China’s biggest bank plans to reduce its office space inside Trump Tower in New York City." (Sunlight Foundation)


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