Today in OpenGov: Emolumental Avoidance


In today's edition, we take another look at the government shutdown's impact on federal websites and data, an inspector general has some emolumental opinions about President Trump's hotel, the Supreme Court might expand a FOIA exemption, Iowa considers giving former felons their right to vote back, and more. 

shutdown stories

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration website is among those impacted by the government shutdown. 
  • The Shutdown is pulling a range of government digital services offline. "Numerous federal websites, digital processes and data streams are down as a result of what has become the longest government shutdown in history. Now in its 26th day, the shutdown is limiting agencies’ ability to conduct the day-to-day operations needed to maintain their online systems. Digital services like websites and data feeds are among the most direct ways for citizens to interact with the government, but without funding, many of those connections have been cut off. And beyond sites going offline, a number of online portals are becoming less secure as their encryption certificates expire." (NextGov) Eric Mill dug into the topic, noting that while the short term security risks are minimal, "…the bigger user impact is being locked out of federal services, and of course how it weakens trust in federal agencies to show security warnings to users. The culprit here is a severe lack of automation across agencies: certificate renewal should never need manual intervention."
  • The government shutdown is making the FEC even more dysfunctional than normal. "The partial government shutdown, the longest in U.S. history, is affecting the Federal Election Commission’s ability to enforce campaign finance laws and investigate possible infractions, Democrats on the Senate Rules Committee wrote to the FEC on Wednesday. Ninety percent of the agency’s 300 employees have been furloughed, forcing it to skip its first scheduled meeting of the year, according to the letter, which was first reported by The Washington Post." (POLITICO)
  • The government shutdown has delayed the release of widely used climate data from NASA and NOAA. "If you want official numbers on how 2018 ranks in the annals of recent record-breaking temperatures, you’ll have to wait. One result of the government shutdown, now in its fourth week, is that NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are unable to issue their annual temperature analysis. And, because that data is so widely used, neither can some other governments." (New York Times)
  • Are powerful interest groups getting preferential treatment during the government shutdown? "A wide range of interests across the economic spectrum are jeopardized. But not all interests are suffering equally: Wealthier and more powerful interest groups have been granted preference by the government…Looking at what happened to the NFIP, said Fugate, gives a lot of insight into the priorities of the government when it comes to the shutdown. Federal workers in the Transportation Security Administration, the Secret Service, and other agencies are expected to work without pay. Public lands are being destroyed by garbage and misuse in the absence of rangers. Those effects haven’t spurred the president or Congress to act…But when the unintended consequences of the political struggle affect the rich, the rich apply pressure. And the government doesn’t even allow half a week to go by before fixing the problem." (The Intercept)


The Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.
  • Inspector general faults GSA for ignoring emolumental questions while considering the lease on President Trump's D.C. hotel. "The General Services Administration “ignored” constitutional questions surrounding the lease of government property to the Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC, the agency’s inspector general concluded in a report released Wednesday. The GSA entered into the lease in 2013, before President Donald Trump was a candidate. But the Inspector General’s Office said his election in 2016 and ongoing financial interest in the hotel after he became president raised constitutional issues that the agency was wrong not to address head-on." (BuzzFeed)
  • Ever since announcing a merger that needs Trump administration approval, T-Mobile executives have been regulars at Trump's D.C. hotel. "Last April, telecom giant T-Mobile announced a megadeal: a $26 billion merger with rival Sprint, which would more than double T-Mobile’s value and give it a huge new chunk of the cellphone market. But for T-Mobile, one hurdle remained: Its deal needed approval from the Trump administration. The next day, in Washington, staffers at the Trump International Hotel were handed a list of incoming 'VIP Arrivals.' That day’s list included nine of T-Mobile’s top executives…They were scheduled to stay between one and three days. But it was not their last visit. Instead, T-Mobile executives have returned to President Trump’s hotel repeatedly since then, according to eyewitnesses and hotel documents obtained by The Washington Post." (Washington Post)
  • Andrew Wheeler, the acting head of the EPA, has helped raise money for the Senator at the helm of the committee deciding if he can keep the job permanently. "When Andrew Wheeler, acting administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), appears Wednesday before the committee considering his nomination to become administrator, his hearing will be led by a Senator who received thousands of dollars in contributions from corporations with business before the agency. In fact, many of those checks were cut by corporations in response to a fundraiser hosted by Wheeler himself. In May 2017, Wheeler hosted a fundraiser for Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) on behalf of Faegre Baker Daniels, the lobbying firm where Wheeler worked representing clients including energy companies." (Project on Government Oversight)

washington watch

The United States Supreme Court. 
  • The Supreme Court is set to hear a case that could make it easier for corporations to block FOIA. "Does your right to know which companies are receiving your tax dollars outweigh those companies’ rights to competitive secrets? That’s the question at stake in an upcoming Supreme Court case set to be heard in April, and the result could either cement the public’s right to know or severely restrict the ability to track the flow of tax dollars into private companies." (MuckRock)
  • Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, recently announced 2020 presidential contender, won't accept support from an individualized super PAC. "Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand rejected support from an individualized super PAC in her first public comments since joining the 2020 presidential race, staking out a position on campaign finance that’s defining the early stage of the Democratic primary. The New York Democrat joins a handful of other likely presidential candidates who have made the same commitment, as Democratic activists place increasing importance on how candidates finance their campaigns. Earlier this month, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren called on other 2020 candidates to reject super PAC support; Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who’s considering his own presidential run, did the same in his 2018 Texas Senate run. But some candidates are likely to have outside groups backing them in the primary." (POLITICO)
  • These members of Congress rely on corporate PACs for more than 70% of their fundraising. "Despite the energy around rejecting corporate PACs, many representatives have chosen to stick by their corporate donors and rely on their generosity to finance their campaigns. The representatives who rely most heavily on corporate PAC contributions tend to receive very little funding from small donors and individuals, and they also tend to be powerful incumbents who have positions in party leadership and hold top roles on important committees.  Here are the eight House representatives who took more than two-thirds of their overall campaign funding in the 2018 cycle from PACs representing corporations and corporate trade associations…" (Sludge)
  • New authority allows government offices to tap open source resources via GitHub. "Government IT offices now have access to a vast range of open source software resources and developers since GitHub gained FedRAMP operating authority for its Business Cloud, according to a new special report. The authorization from the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program means government agencies can move beyond GitHub’s licensed platform for internal enterprise software development and take advantage of a wider universe of cloud-based open source development resources, knowing they meet federal security guidelines." (FedScoop)

states and cities

The Iowa State Capitol. 
  • Iowa's governor is set to propose a constitutional amendment that would restore voting rights to convicted felons. "Gov. Kim Reynolds will propose a constitutional amendment restoring voting rights to convicted felons in a Condition of the State address that highlights 'the beauty of grace' and second chances…Reynolds will give the annual Condition of the State address to members of the Iowa Legislature at 10 a.m. Tuesday. It's her first such address after being elected in November, and it represents a fresh start for Reynolds as she seeks to define her own agenda separate from former Gov. Terry Branstad. The felon voting proposal, if approved, would overturn a ban on felon voting Branstad enacted through executive order in 2011 and would further distance Reynolds from her predecessor and mentor." (Des Moines Register)
  • Want to request records in New Jersey but don't live in the state? It might be tricky. "It’s a hit or miss for out of state requesters looking for records in the Garden State. While most states have clear guidelines over whether out of state requests can be rejected, others aren’t so clear – in New Jersey, the Open Public Records Act and governing entities often have contrasting views." (MuckRock)
  • When should your city decide to hire a chief innovation officer? "The prevalence of chief innovation officers in city halls — as well as within state houses and at the county level — has certainly risen of late, with the position being basically unheard of just a few years ago. What chief innovation officers do varies between agencies, with a fairly wide range separating some from others. In general, though, a chief innovation officer is someone focused on keeping pace with the uses and capabilities of technology, harnessing it in a way that allows government to solve problems and become more efficient." (Government Technology)


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