Today in OpenGov: Open Meetings Sandwich


In today's edition, downloads are the latest open data casualty of the shutdown, Jared Kushner got his security clearance under unusual circumstances, what Elizabeth Warren means when she says she doesn't take any PAC money, and more. 

Today's headline was inspired by MuckRock's reporting on an open meetings fight in Sandwich, Massachusetts. 

shutdown stories

Error message seen when trying to access the database download function on Screenshot via FedScoop.Error message seen when trying to access the database download function on Screenshot via FedScoop.
  • The government shutdown claims an open data casualty in the form of data downloads. "The ongoing partial government shutdown, now in its 34th day, has claimed another open data victim: namely the capacity to download data from central government spending website…The site’s browsing functions, however, are fully available, as is the spinoff Data Lab data visualization site. The API is also still online." (FedScoop)
  • The Shutdown may be driving talent away from government agencies in charge of collecting, cleaning, and publishing vital data… "America’s government shutdown risks inflicting lasting damage at the agencies that collect, parse and publish the country’s data. Census Bureau workers are visiting job-search website at rates 40 percent higher than before the agency’s funding ran out in mid-December, based on the company’s data…Brain drain is a concern across federal departments as shutdowns become a matter of political course in Washington. If the statistical agencies begin to bleed seasoned workers with deep knowledge of complicated surveys and methodologies, it could be a particular loss for American businesses and financial-market participants who rely on their data and analysis." (Bloomberg)
  • …as well as offices responsible for IT and cyber security. "As the 'shutdown' extends into a second month, the economic impact is mounting for federal workers—including civil servants and government contractors working in IT and information security roles for the government—as well as the communities they work and live in. Furloughs have had a real impact on the government's security posture as well. Work at the National Institutes of Standards and Technology on a number of initiatives, including work on encryption, has been suspended." (Ars Technica)
  • The federal court system may run out of money next week if the shutdown continues. "In federal courts around the nation, the wheels of justice may soon be grinding to a halt. The government shutdown has already caused delays and disruptions throughout the federal court system, and officials are bracing for things to get a lot worse next week…courts are scrambling to come up with contingency plans. The Administrative Office of the United States Courts announced Tuesday that funding that had been expected to run out on Jan. 25 will now extend through Jan. 31, "thanks to the continued extraordinary efforts" to cut costs. Courts have been using those savings, plus revenues from court filing fees and some creative accounting, to keep paychecks coming to public defenders, probation officers, interpreters and others, including jurors." (NPR)


Jared Kushner. Jared Kushner. Image via WikiMedia.
  • Two career officials rejected Jared Kushner's top secret security clearance, but were overruled by a supervisor… "Jared Kushner's application for a top secret clearance was rejected by two career White House security specialists after an FBI background check raised concerns about potential foreign influence on him — but their supervisor overruled the recommendation and approved the clearance, two sources familiar with the matter told NBC News. The official, Carl Kline, is a former Pentagon employee who was installed as director of the personnel security office in the Executive Office of the President in May 2017. Kushner's was one of at least 30 cases in which Kline overruled career security experts and approved a top secret clearance for incoming Trump officials despite unfavorable information, the two sources said." (NBC News)
  • …Democrats on the House Oversight Committee quickly confirmed that their probe into White House security clearance procedures "explicitly covers" Kushner. "Rep. Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, said on Thursday that his wide-ranging investigation into the White House's process for issuing security clearances "explicitly covers" Jared Kushner, after a new report characterized the way the White House senior adviser obtained his clearance as unprecedented." (POLITICO)
  • Senate Intelligence Committee subpoena's Michael Cohen after he pulls out of a planned session with the House Oversight Committee. "The Senate Intelligence Committee has issued a subpoena to compel Michael D. Cohen, President Trump’s former lawyer, to appear before the panel next month to formally correct false testimony that he delivered last year about a proposed Trump Organization project in Moscow, one of his lawyers confirmed on Thursday. The subpoena was disclosed a day after Mr. Cohen pulled out of a public hearing scheduled for Feb. 7 before the House Oversight and Reform Committee, citing in a letter from his lawyer, Lanny J. Davis, verbal attacks by Mr. Trump." (New York Times)
  • Continuing 2016 policy, the Koch Network will support GOP House and Senate candidates, but not President Trump in 2020. "The conservative Koch political network has told donors that it plans to once again stay out of the presidential race and will not work to help reelect President Trump in 2020, a move that sidelines a major player that has been pivotal in mobilizing voters on the right for more than a decade. The decision reflects a narrow path that the influential network led by billionaire industrialist Charles Koch has sought to walk in the Trump era: aligning with the president on some policy issues while withholding its electoral firepower on his behalf." (Washington Post)

washington watch

A briefcase full of cash.Image via Pixabay.
  • What does Sen. Elizabeth Warren really mean when she says she doesn't take PAC money? "Warren is not alone in swearing off corporate PAC money. Many other Democrats considered possible presidential candidates in 2020 have said they won’t take corporate PAC money. But there’s less to this than meets the eye. Corporate PACs are not really where the money is…corporate PACs are not much of a player — and they tend to not be especially ideological, supporting mainly incumbents from both parties. The money really comes from people who work at those companies — who may often contribute the maximum amount possible. As we noted, Warren took very little money from business PACs, instead gathering funds mostly from labor and ideological PACs. A Warren campaign aide said she stopped taking contributions from all such PACs after she gave a speech on Aug. 21, 2018, at the National Press Club to announce a bill aimed at reducing the impact of money on politics." (Washington Post)
  • Algorithmic bias is a real thing and it's more complicated than you might know. This op-ed digs into the details. "This is what's important: machine-learning systems—"algorithms"—produce outputs that reflect the training data over time. If the inputs are biased (in the mathematical sense of the word), the outputs will be, too. Often, this will reflect what I will call "sociological biases" around things like race, gender, and class. This is usually unintentional, though malicious individuals can deliberately feed poisoned training data into ML systems (as happened to Microsoft's Tay chatbot). Even with the best intentions, eliminating sociological bias is very hard." (Ars Technica) Algorithmic transparency is only going to become more vital and, as we've argued beforegovernments should be proactively working to make sure that public sector algorithms are just, ethical, equitable, and transparent
  • Is a battle brewing in Congress over Patriot Act reauthorization? "The upcoming expiration of a handful of key provisions in the Patriot Act at the end of the year could set up another high-profile battle in Congress over the size and scope of U.S. intelligence and law enforcement surveillance authorities. In 2015, the Republican-controlled House and Senate extended large portions of the Patriot Act until 2019…The 2015 update, made in the wake of the Edward Snowden disclosures about the extent of U.S. capture of bulk communications data, curbed the collection by the National Security Agency of bulk metadata. That update is scheduled to sunset in December, and one tech-minded member on the House Judiciary committee told FCW he wants the new Democratic majority to take another look at potential reforms to the law." (Federal Computer Week)


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