Today in OpenGov: Blocked.


In today's edition, the Trump Organization loves putting pictures of the White House on its merchandise, Michigan looks likely to pass powerful transparency legislation, the OMB is running into trouble implementing a key open data law, the broader impacts of China's press freedom crackdown are explored, and more. 


The "Cherry Blossom Bar Soap Set" being sold by the Trump Organization. MachineThe "Cherry Blossom Bar Soap Set" being sold by the Trump Organization. Via Machine.
  • The Trump Organization is selling merchandise that heavily features pictures of the White House. "Several items currently on sale at the official Trump Store online and, reportedly, at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC, feature images of the White House, including two t-shirts, a mug, and a soap set…Experts were quick to note the ethical dilemma of potentially using the presidency for monetary gain. Walter Shaub, former director of the Office of Government Ethics, an independent agency watchdog, tweeted Thursday that the product line is part of the president’s ongoing 'conflicting financial interest' in running the hotel." (Mother Jones)
  • President Trump really wants to be allowed to block his critics on Twitter. "U.S. President Donald Trump doesn’t take kindly to his Twitter critics, and like many users of the social network he’s used the block function to prevent them from engaging with him. But for much of the past year, Trump has been constrained by a federal judge’s ruling that he couldn’t block users because his account is a public forum. On Tuesday, lawyers for the president will urge an appeals court in Manhattan to overturn that ruling, arguing that the account belongs to him personally and isn’t controlled by the government." (Bloomberg)
  • 6 House committee chairs are pushing the Justice Department to share Robert Mueller's full report with them in the coming week. "Top Democrats demanded that Attorney General William Barr turn over the report by April 2, while Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee strongly hinted that they were prepared to issue a subpoena if Barr doesn’t hand over the full report by next Tuesday. In a letter to Barr, the leaders of six key House committees said the attorney general’s four-page summary of Mueller’s findings was “not sufficient,” arguing that Congress must obtain all of the underlying evidence from the Mueller probe because the special counsel declined to make a determination on whether Trump obstructed justice." (POLITICO)
  • Will the conclusion of Robert Mueller's investigation pave way for renewed attention on other Trump administration conflicts and scandals? "The allegations at the center of Robert Mueller’s just-completed investigation, electoral collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government and obstruction of justice, were rightly considered the biggest presidential scandal in a generation, and perhaps in all of United States history. They were also, for the purposes of congressional oversight, a monumental distraction…[a long] list of controversies during the first two years of Donald Trump’s presidency is largely unrelated to the Russia probe. Some have been uncovered by journalists and, to varying extents, litigated in the courts or scrutinized by inspectors general. But what they have in common is that none have been the sole subject of a single hearing before Congress." (The Atlantic)

states and cities
The Michigan House of Representatives chamber.

The Michigan House of Representatives chamber. Via Wikimedia Commons.
  • Michigan is poised to pass a significant open records expansion. "A bill package that would expand some open records requests to include the executive branch passed through a House committee last week and is likely to receive support in the Legislature and from the governor. Legislators hope the bills will improve Michigan’s poor standing among other states in transparency." ( iosco News via NFOIC)
  • A new review of academic research on police body cameras raises questions about benefits. "For years, many people hailed body-worn cameras as a potential key to improving police transparency and strengthening often-fractured relationships with the communities they serve. But so far, academic research suggests the technology largely hasn't lived up to those expectations. That’s the conclusion of a new report from the Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy at George Mason University. Researchers reviewed 70 empirical studies on body cameras' effects, ranging from officer and citizen behavior to influences on law enforcement agencies as a whole. While much of the research remains mixed, it counters some promised benefits of body cameras at a time when departments are increasingly adopting the technology." (Governing)
  • How President Trump's behavior on Twitter is trickling down to local politicians. "How the First Amendment applies to the accounts of elected officials, including the president’s, is an evolving area of law. But Trump’s Twitter habits on his @realDonaldTrump account already have influenced how other elected and government officials nationwide interact with constituents online. The debate about raucous social media exchanges between citizens and their government leaders is unfolding as digital spaces expand the public square." (Washington Post)
  • This Florida city is proactively publishing some of its mayor and city commissioners' emails. "The feature was first introduced in 2014 with the goal of increasing transparency and accountability on the part of Gainesville, Fla., government. The site contains emails sent and received by all six current city commissioners as well as the mayor. It also has the messages of some previous commissioners…Not all messages are included in the archive, so it therefore is not an attempt to comply with Florida Public Records Law. One still has to submit a public records request to view emails if they contain things like personally identifying information." (Government Technology)

washington watch

Image via Wikimedia Commons.
  • New GAO report finds OMB struggling to effectively maintain DATA Act standards. "The agency that makes the rules for publishing federal spending data lacks a clear process for revising those standards and doesn’t publicize when changes are made, according to a congressional watchdog. The Data Accountability and Transparency Act requires agencies to publish spending data using consistent standards created by the Office of Management and Budget and the Treasury Department. But nearly five years after the legislation was enacted, OMB still hasn’t hammered out its data governance process, auditors found. In a report published Friday, the Government Accountability Office said OMB’s approach to managing and enforcing DATA Act standards remains largely unorganized. While Treasury has policies in place for managing and communicating updates to its guidance, it said OMB does not." (NextGov)
  • With regulator OK, banks are looking at how AI can aid regulatory compliance and fight money laundering "Encouraged by a recent green light from regulators, the financial services industry is exploring new ways of using artificial intelligence to help them comply with banking regulations and to better detect fraudulent transactions used by criminals and terrorists." (Government Technology)
  • Should Congress boost its own funding to help prevent organizational decay? Yes, says bipartisan coalition. "Ten former lawmakers, both Democrats and Republicans, joined more than three dozen groups to pen letters to House and Senate appropriators asking that the Legislative Branch slice of the federal funding pie get a bit larger. Christopher Shays of Connecticut and Eva M. Clayton of North Carolina were among the former members to sign the letter, which was led by the advocacy organization Demand Progress." (Roll Call)
  • Inside the Pentagon's efforts to hide Google's work on its drone program from the eyes of FOIA. "According to a Pentagon memo signed last year, however, no one at Google needed worry: All 5,000 pages of documents about Google’s work on the drone effort, known as Project Maven, are barred from public disclosure, because they constitute 'critical infrastructure security information.' One government transparency advocate said the memo is part of a recent wave of federal decisions that  keep sensitive documents secret on that same basis — thus allowing agencies to quickly deny document requests." (The Intercept)


Image via RSF
  • How China's crackdown on press freedom threatens democracies across the world. "China’s crackdown on press freedom poses a direct threat to democracies worldwide, press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said in a report released on March 25, 2019. The 52-page report titled “China’s Pursuit of a New World Media Order”, outlines the ways that Beijing has sought to exert its political influence on international media in order to deter criticism and negative coverage – from exporting its censorship model to autocratic states to silencing dissidents through intimidation." (Global Voices)
  • A new Russian law marks the latest step in Vladimir Putin's crackdown on dissent. "This week, Putin signed into law new rules that criminalize any “disrespect” for Russian society, the government, official symbols, the constitution, or any state body, as well as what the authorities deem to be “fake news.” Watchdogs fear that the laws will be used to stamp out the limited pockets of dissent here, drowning out what were previously legal forms of protest." (The Atlantic)
  • Today, the European Parliament is set to vote on a controversial copyright agreement that could limit Internet freedom. "MEPs will today vote on a controversial copyright crackdown that could restrict internet freedoms for millions of people. After years of negotiation, the final vote will be held on reforms that could result in automatic ‘upload filters’ which restrict what can be posted on social media platforms like YouTube. More than 5.1million people have signed a petition to ‘save the internet’, and scores of protests attended by tens of thousands of people were held across Europe at the weekend. While entertainment footage such as video game clips or copyrighted songs are most likely to be affected, academics fear it could also restrict the sharing of knowledge." (Open Knowledge)


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