Today in OpenGov: Could the best offense be no defense?


In today's edition, the FEC won't defend itself, multiple Interior Department officials may have violated President Trump's ethics agreement, the difference between open data governance and open governance, and more. 

washington watch

FEC Chair Ellen Weintraub gives an interview in 2018. FEC Chair Ellen Weintraub gives an interview in 2018. Image credit: IVN News.
  • In a bold attempt to break gridlock at the Federal Election Commission, its chair won't allow FEC lawyers to defend it. "Fed up with the Federal Election Commission’s gridlock that has given violators of election law a free pass, the agency’s new chair says she won’t allow FEC lawyers to defend the government when the FEC has been sued for not enforcing the law. This drastic step, which one former FEC lawyer called the “nuclear option,” is effectively an effort to sabotage her own agency in order to enforce the law and create more campaign finance disclosure. Ellen Weintraub, a commissioner with the agency since 2002 who became chair in January, has become increasingly frustrated by the FEC’s lack of enforcement of the law, which has led to less disclosure, less transparency, and more dark money within the campaign finance system." (Mother Jones)
  • Agencies are scrambling to digitize their records ahead of 2022 deadline. "From routine office paperwork to giant airplane blueprints, against a deadline just three years away, the records of the federal government are being scanned into digital form. After Dec. 31, 2022, the National Archives and Records Administration will accept only electronic records from agencies. By the end of this year, agencies are expected to manage their documents electronically in preparation for the 2022 deadline." (FedTech)
  • Coast Guard officer arrested for allegedly planning attacks against prominent Democrats, news media personalities. "A Coast Guard lieutenant living in a Washington suburb stockpiled weapons and plotted to kill prominent Democratic politicians, including several presidential candidates, as well as television news personalities, federal prosecutors said…Those included House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democratic Senators Tim Kaine of Virginia; Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts; Kamala Harris of California; Kirsten Gillibrand of New York Cory Booker of New Jersey and Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. Also on the list were Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York; former Representative Beto O’Rourke of Texas; Joe Scarborough, the former Florida congressman and MSNBC host; and Chris Hayes, who also has a program on the network; and Chris Cuomo, Don Lemon and Van Jones of CNN." (Bloomberg)
  • President Obama's unique approach to his presidential library causes some concern for researchers, archivists. "The Obama Presidential Center promises to be a presidential library like no other…the center, which will cost an estimated $500 million, will also differ from the complexes built by Barack Obama’s predecessors in another way: It won’t actually be a presidential library. In a break with precedent, there will be no research library on site, and none of Mr. Obama’s official presidential records. Instead, the Obama Foundation will pay to digitize the roughly 30 million pages of unclassified paper records from the administration so they can be made available online…as awareness of the plan has spread, some historians see a threat to future scholarship on the Obama administration — and to the presidential library system itself. Without a dedicated repository, they argue, the rich constellations of related material found at the other libraries — papers donated by family members, cabinet members and aides, as well as pre-presidential and personal papers — could end up scattered, or even uncollected. And without help from specialized archivists, the promised digital democratization could just as easily turn into a hard-to-navigate data dump." (New York Times)


The White House, behind a restricted area sign. The White House.
  • Complaint alleges that six high ranking Interior Department officials violated President Trump's ethics pledge. "Six senior Interior Department officials violated President Donald Trump’s ethics pledge by dealing with former employers and clients while in office, according to a complaint filed by the Campaign Legal Center. The complaint names three officials who participated in meetings with organizations they worked for or represented before joining the government. Under rules issued by Trump in January 2017, administration appointees are barred from participating for two years in particular matters with former employers or clients." (Bloomberg)
  • Shortly before he became one of Trump's top air pollution regulators, Bill Wehrum's lobbying firm signed on to fight Obama-era environmental rules. "The nation’s biggest coal-burning power companies paid a top lobbying firm millions of dollars to fight a wide range of Obama-era environmental rules, documents obtained by POLITICO reveal — shortly before one of the firm’s partners became President Donald Trump’s top air pollution regulator. Now that ex-partner, Bill Wehrum, is aggressively working to undo many of those same regulations at the EPA, where he is an assistant administrator in charge of issues including climate change, smog and power plants’ mercury pollution." (POLITICO)
  • President Trump renews attacks on the New York Times and the media more broadly in series of tweets. "President Donald Trump on Wednesday labeled The New York Times 'the enemy of the people' in a tweet, attacking the newspaper over a report in which it spelled out the president’s alleged efforts to influence ongoing investigations into his campaign and allies…Trump did not refute any specific parts of the Times report in the tweet…The president also railed against the press on Twitter earlier Wednesday, saying it has 'never been more dishonest' and echoing cries against the media he has made often throughout his presidency." (POLITICO)
  • President Trump claimed that he ordered officials to cut off disaster relief funds to California. He never bothered to give them the message. "Although President Donald Trump tweeted that he had ordered his administration to cut off disaster aid to wildfire victims in California, federal officials confirmed on Wednesday that they never received any such directive. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, which helps survivors of national disasters recover, told BuzzFeed News for the first time that Trump never issued an order to stop sending money to California." (BuzzFeed)

around the world

President Ilham Aliyev's interview with REAL TV on February 12. Screenshot from REAL TV's YouTube channel.President Ilham Aliyev's interview with REAL TV on February 12. Screenshot from REAL TV's YouTube channel, via Global Voices.
  • Azerbaijan's President has led the country for 15 years. He just gave his first-ever interview to local TV. "How often should a country's leader give interviews to the local media of that country? Once a week? Once a month? Rulers of authoritarian countries might sometimes settle on a very controlled interview with state media once a year or less. The answer to this question in Azerbaijan is quite extraordinary. Earlier this month, President Ilham Aliyev, who became Azerbaijan's leader in October 2003, gave his first-ever interview to local television." (Global Voices)
  • Exploring the interplay and disconnect between open data and open governance. "The presence of open data often gets listed as an essential requirement toward “open governance”. For instance, an open data strategy is reviewed as a key component of many action plans submitted to the Open Government Partnership. Yet little time is spent on assessing how open data itself is governed, or how it embraces open governance. For example, not much is known on whether the principles and practices that guide the opening up of government – such as transparency, accountability, user-centrism, ‘demand-driven’ design thinking – also guide decision-making on how to release open data." (Open Knowledge)
  • This journalist helped reveal a massive tax fraud scheme. Why is he being prosecuted? "When I met Oliver Schröm at the Berlin offices of, the investigative journalism non-profit he co-founded in 2014, I was his third interview of the day. It’s been like that, he told me, with a trace of outrage in his voice, since news broke last December that he’s being investigated by prosecutors in Hamburg in connection with a series of stories he reported on a tax fraud scheme." (Columbia Journalism Review)
  • Top judges among those arrested in Lithuanian corruption crackdown. "Lithuania arrested 26 people Wednesday, including eight top judges and five lawyers, in an anti-corruption crackdown that Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis said called time on the 'untouchables.' Prosecutor General Edvinas Pasilis told reporters that the authorities had uncovered a 'system' of corruption…Zydrunas Bartkus, director of Lithuania's anti-corruption agency, said evidence showed bribes ranging from €1,000 to €100,000 had been given to influence the outcome of administrative, civil and criminal court cases." (POLITICO)


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