Today in OpenGov: Close to home.


In today's edition, Congress considers the consequences of an increase in FOIA requests, ICE's questionable use of license plate data, a loss and a win for one embattled Massachusetts mayor, Wilbur Ross testifies about the Census citizenship question, and more. 


Visualized discussion on how to fix FOIA from Transparency Camp 2014Visual mapping of a discussion on how to fix FOIA from Transparency Camp 2014. Image credit: Tony Webster. Visualization credit: Barbara Siegel (@look2listen).
  • House committee considers surge in FOIA requests during Sunshine Week hearing. "Three key players in the governmentwide effort to improve Freedom of Information Act responsiveness were summoned to a House hearing on Wednesday of the annual Sunshine Week…Requests for fiscal 2018 are already up by 90,000 govenmentwide, though final numbers won’t be compiled for perhaps a month, Melanie Ann Pustay, director of Justice’s Office of Information Policy, told a House Oversight and Reform subcommittee. She predicted a new record in public requests for agency documents, adding that the Trump administration in fiscal 2017 reduced the FOIA backlog by about 3 percent." (Government Executive)
  • Strengthening FOIA is key to ensuring an open, accountable government. Nate Jones writes, "This week is Sunshine Week, an annual celebration of the right of historians, journalists and all Americans to access government information. Perhaps the most important tool enabling Americans to ensure that their government is open and, therefore, accountable, is the Freedom of Information Act, a 52-year-old law that requires the federal government to release nonexempt information when it is requested…But despite FOIA’s power and importance, the administration of the law is deeply flawed." (Washington Post)
  • The Pentagon will go to trial in a long running FOIA dispute. "After years of litigation, a small business advocacy group has succeeded in forcing the Defense Department into a trial over its obligations under the Freedom of Information Act to release data requested from major contractors detailing their questionable use of subcontractors. On March 8, U.S. District Judge William Alsup in San Francisco rejected, in part, a Justice Department attorney's request for the dismissal of a case brought by Lloyd Chapman of the Petaluma, Calif.-based American Small Business League." (Government Executive)
  • ICYMI: Last week, Sunlight joined forces with American Oversight to sue HHS for documents related to online information removals. "Advocacy groups’ efforts to monitor the Trump administration’s subtle changes to agency websites expanded this week with a lawsuit demanding Health and Human Services Department documents on the decision to remove online materials on women’s health issues and with the unveiling of a new central portal for tracking website changes governmentwide. On March 8, the nonprofit Sunlight Foundation and American Oversight jointly filed suit in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to compel HHS to release records on how its Office of Women’s Health quietly removed or obscured fact sheets on such issues as lesbian and bisexual health and low-cost screenings for breast cancer." (Government Executive)

washington watch

Magnifying glass with papersImage via Pixabay.
  • The ranking member of the House Oversight Committee wants to block a funding boost for the panel. "As House Democrats ramp up their oversight investigations into President Donald Trump’s administration, businesses, and 2016 campaign, at least one Republican has found a new battleground to push back: funding for the House Oversight and Reform Committee. That panel’s chairman, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, asked the House Administration Committee on Tuesday for a funding increase of 4 percent this year and 10 percent next year over funding levels from the previous, GOP-controlled 115th Congress. But Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, the top Republican on the Oversight panel, opposed Cummings’ budget request, citing the national debt and criticizing Democratic committee members’ investigative priorities." (Roll Call)
  • The Department of Labor moves to comply with the OPEN Government Data Act by creating a chief data officer, data board. "The Labor Department announced the creation of a chief data officer Wednesday in accordance with the Open, Public, Electronic and Necessary Government Data Act, which President Trump signed into law in January. In a statement, the agency—among the first across the federal government to comply with the Open Data Act—also announced the establishment of a Data Board, which will serve as the agency’s data enterprise oversight body. The OPEN Government Data Act calls for agency heads to 'designate a nonpolitical appointee employee' as chief data officer." (NextGov)
  • ICE employees have access to a controversial private license plate database. "Immigration and Customs Enforcement allows thousands of employees to access a controversial license plate database with questionable legal safeguards in place to prevent abuse, the American Civil Liberties Union said today as it published thousands of pages of agency documents. The documents, which were obtained through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit and include emails as well as internal ICE policies, detail the agency’s access to a massive private database that civil liberties advocates have criticized as unduly invasive." (The Verge)
  • Watchdog group files FEC complaints over "zombie" campaign spending. "Another complaint about a former Florida congressman misusing campaign money has hit the desk of the Federal Election Commission. The Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan watchdog group in Washington, filed a federal complaint Monday against a political action committee created by Jacksonville Republican Ander Crenshaw, saying the group spent Crenshaw’s leftover donations on Apple products, expensive dinners and a $5,000 trip to Disney World." (Tampa Bay Times)

states and cities

Image credit: Tony Webster.
  • The LAPD's data driven policing program needs to improve according to new IG report. "The Los Angeles Police Department, an early adopter of data-driven policing, needs tougher standards for data collection, recordkeeping, and communicating its policies to the public to guard against targeting minorities and certain neighborhoods, a new report from the department’s inspector general said. The 48-page report from the office of Inspector General Mark Smith, issued on March 8, said data tracked by the department is inadequate for determining the impact of specific programs on crime." (MuckRock)
  • The acting-mayor of this Florida town was arrested just 20 days after his predecessor. "Another mayor is behind bars. This time it’s acting mayor Terance Rowe, 64, who was arrested Wednesday by Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents on charges of obstruction of justice, conspiracy to commit obstruction of justice and use of a two-way communication device to facilitate the commission of a crime. Rowe was the second mayor in this town to be arrested in 20 days." (Tampa Bay Times)
  • This embattled Massachusetts mayor lost a recall election against him, but won the race to replace him. "Big development in Fall River. Mayor Jasiel F. Correia II (D), who is under indictment for stealing from investors and tax fraud, lost the recall run overwhelmingly, 7829-4911. However, Massachusetts allows a candidate facing a recall to run in the replacement race (not that uncommon a provision). In this case, Correia was one of five candidates. He came in first with about 35% of the vote, beating out City Councilor Joseph Camara, School Committee member Paul Coogan, School administrator Kyle Riley and Erica Scott-Pacheco. An editorial in the Boston Globe noted this possible result." (Recall Elections Blog via Election Law Blog)
  • He filmed a controversial police killing. The NYPD didn't forget it. "Ramsey Orta filmed the killing of Eric Garner. The video traveled far, but it wouldn't get justice for his dead friend. Instead, the NYPD would exact their revenge through targeted harassment and eventually imprisonment — Orta's punishment for daring to show the world police brutality." (The Verge)


Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.
  • Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross will testify before Congress about the Census citizenship question today. "Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is set to face tough questioning from lawmakers Thursday about why he approved including a citizenship question on the upcoming 2020 census. Ross, who oversees the Census Bureau, has agreed to appear voluntarily before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Capitol Hill to testify about preparations for national head count." (NPR)
  • Paul Manafort is indicted on state charges in New York. "Less than an hour after a federal judge in Washington, DC, handed down Paul Manafort's latest sentence out of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. announced that a grand jury had indicted Manafort on 16 new state charges…The New York case concerns allegations of fraud that were included in one of Mueller's cases against Manafort — in federal court in Virginia — but the indictment accuses him of different violations of state law. Vance reportedly has been concerned about the possibility of President Donald Trump issuing a pardon to Manafort. A presidential pardon can only apply to federal crimes, so Trump would not be able to help his former campaign chair if Manafort were convicted in a state court." (BuzzFeed)
  • Democratic lawmakers reintroduce Journalist Protection Act, citing President Trump's anti-media rhetoric. "Three Democratic lawmakers reintroduced a Journalist Protection Act that intends to designate "certain attacks on those reporting the news" as a federal crime…The lawmakers said they were introducing the bill as a response to President Trump's "climate of extreme hostility" toward the media." (The Hill)


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