Today in OpenGov: Under review.


In today's edition, reaching across party lines in Congress to support agency FOIA compliance, informing the public amid an evolving public transportation ecosystem, threatening potential leakers at the Department of Homeland Security, cracking down on corruption in Kenya, and more. 

washington watch

Image via Pixabay.
  • The poll is in: Americans don't think very much of our campaign finance laws. "As major presidential hopefuls release their fundraising numbers from the first quarter this week, recent polling finds just 1 in 5 Americans say they are satisfied with the nation's campaign finance laws. The January Gallup poll found that exactly 20% of Americans were OK with how the US handles campaign finance. That's tied with its poll in 2016 for the lowest who have said so since it started tracking in 2001." (CNN)
  • A bipartisan request from Congress urges the GAO to review agency FOIA compliance. "Representatives Elijah Cummings and Jim Jordan were joined by Senators Dianne Feinstein, Patrick Leahy, Chuck Grassley, and John Cornyn in sending a letter to the Comptroller General at the Government Accountability Office requesting the GAO 'conduct a comprehensive review of agency compliance with the Freedom of Information Act.' (NSArchive)
  • "Dozens" of Trump administration whistleblowers are working with Democrats on the House Oversight Committee… "Tricia Newbold set an important mark when she became the first official currently serving in Donald Trump’s White House to take accusations of wrongdoing to Congress—and to put her name publicly behind them. But Democrats on Capitol Hill say that beyond Newbold, a small army of whistleblowers from across the government has been working in secret with the House Oversight Committee to report alleged malfeasance inside the Trump administration." (Government Executive)
  • …Speaking of oversight, this constitutional law scholar explains its importance to American democracy. "Oversight allows Congress to ensure the executive is properly carrying out the laws as Congress intends…Congress is asking the administration important policy questions. Are adequate rules, resources and incentives in place to reunite families who have been separated at the border? Are the nation’s anti-trust laws being used to achieve political rather than legal ends? Are student loan providers being held accountable for their failure to treat students fairly? Why have energy efficiency improvements slowed down or reversed?" (Government Executive)
  • The Center for Public Integrity names a new CEO. "Susan Smith Richardson, an award-winning editor with over three decades of experience as a newsroom leader producing innovative, powerful journalism, has been named Chief Executive Officer of the Center for Public Integrity. Richardson will take the helm of one of America’s oldest nonprofit investigative journalism organizations as it celebrates its 30th anniversary." (The Center for Public Integrity)

states and cities

Session topics at TransportationCamp DC 2019.
  • Open data is crucial for an informed public as urban transport evolves. Greg Jordan-Detamore explains, "earlier this year, I attended TransportationCamp DC, an “unconference” centered on topics in urban transportation, with a particular focus on technology. As it occurs just before a major international transportation conference, it brings together people from all over the country and world. One thing that was clear from the many session topics is that the world of transportation is rapidly changing in ways that are hard to predict. In the face of this, it’s crucial for the public to have as much data on transportation as possible in order to be able to be informed participants in government decision-making." (Sunlight Foundation)
  • Special interests hold deep influence over state legislatures thanks to model legislation. "Each year, state lawmakers across the U.S. introduce thousands of bills dreamed up and written by corporations, industry groups and think tanks. Disguised as the work of lawmakers, these so-called “model” bills get copied in one state Capitol after another, quietly advancing the agenda of the people who write them. A two-year investigation by USA TODAYThe Arizona Republic and the Center for Public Integrity reveals for the first time the extent to which special interests have infiltrated state legislatures using model legislation." (Center for Public Integrity)
  • Philadelphia releases large database of city government payment information. "Philadelphia has released a new data set that makes available almost a quarter-million lines of payment information from nearly 60 city departments, commissions, boards and government offices, the city announced this week. This release of city payments data — which Philadelphia’s former chief data officer described as 'the most complex data set we ever encountered' in a tweet — covers Philadelphia’s fiscal year 2017 and includes totals 238,894 lines representing $4.2 billion in payments." (Government Technology)
  • New York City just bought 17 buildings for $173 million dollars. The lawyer for the buildings' former owners? A close ally of Mayor Bill de Blasio. "Two years ago, the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio decided to buy 17 buildings, which it planned to use for affordable housing, from a pair of notorious landlords with an extensive record of violations. City officials first estimated the total value of the buildings at about $50 million. A private appraiser later hired by the city determined the value was $143 million…The city closed a deal on Thursday to pay the landlords $173 million for the buildings…At the center of the deal was Frank Carone, the lawyer for the landlords, and an influential figure in the Brooklyn Democratic Party and a longtime ally of Mr. de Blasio’s. As negotiations were continuing with the city over the buildings’ sale last fall, Mr. Carone donated the maximum $5,000 to the mayor’s federal political action committee, Fairness PAC, which Mr. de Blasio is using to explore a run for president. Then, as the parties prepared to close on the deal, Mr. Carone turned to others to boost the mayor’s PAC." (New York Times)


Image via Pixabay.
  • Department of Homeland Security employees were warned that they would face legal consequences for leaking information. "Department of Homeland Security employees were warned Thursday not to disclose “nonpublic information” or potentially face criminal, civil, or administrative consequences, a senior agency official said in a department-wide email to staff and obtained by BuzzFeed News…The memo warning against leaking information suggested there may have been a significant unauthorized disclosure, a former DHS official said." (BuzzFeed)
  • President Trump's pick to head up the Interior Department kept lobbying after he said he'd stopped, according to newly disclosed documents. "A previously undisclosed invoice indicates that David Bernhardt, President Trump’s choice to lead the Interior Department, continued to lobby for a major client several months after he filed official papers saying that he had ended his lobbying activities. The bill for Mr. Bernhardt’s services, dated March 2017 and labeled “Federal Lobbying,” shows, along with other newly disclosed documents, Mr. Bernhardt working closely with the Westlands Water District as late as April 2017, the month Mr. Trump nominated him to his current job, deputy interior secretary. In November 2016, Mr. Bernhardt had filed legal notice with the federal government formally ending his status as a lobbyist." (New York Times)
  • Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has addressed some potential ethics issues raised by his wife's business, still won't certify his 2018 financial disclosure. "The executive branch’s chief ethics watchdog today declined to certify Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s 2018 personal financial disclosure report, citing an issue raised by his wife’s film company, but said the concern has now been addressed by revisions to Mnuchin’s ethics agreement…Rounds noted however that  Mnuchin had been following advice from ethics officials at the Treasury Department, and…Mnuchin has modified his ethics agreement, and 'OGE is satisfied' that the changes will enable him to comply with applicable conflict of interest laws, Rounds wrote." (Center for Public Integrity)
  • The Congressman who helped open the VA up to private contractors is now lobbying for them as a private citizen. Jasper Craven tells a long, strange, and concerning tale about private influence at the VA during the Trump administration. It starts like this…"The Indian Treaty Room is a grand two-story meeting space in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next to the White House, with French and Italian marble wall panels, a pattern of stars on the ceiling and the image of a compass worked into the tiled floor. Over the years, it has hosted signing ceremonies for historic foreign policy pacts such as the Bretton Woods agreement and the United Nations Charter. On Nov. 16, 2017, it hosted a different kind of gathering: an intimate meeting called by the White House to discuss the future of the Department of Veterans Affairs. In the 10 months since Donald Trump had taken office, his administration had been pushing a bold and controversial agenda to privatize more of the VA’s services." (POLITICO Magazine)

around the world

Photo via Nasser Weddady on Twitter
  • Two Mauritanian bloggers are facing defamation charges after reporting on government corruption. "Mauritanian authorities arrested two bloggers, Abderrahmane Weddady and Cheikh Ould Jiddou, for reporting on corruption. Weddady and Jiddou were arrested on March 22, after they appeared before Mauritania’s Economic Crimes Unit to respond to a summons. Both had investigated and reported on allegations of corruption involving the country’s president, Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz. Prior to their arrests, they both wrote on Facebook about the alleged ties of Ould Abdel Aziz to a US $2 billion bank account in Dubai. According to media reports, Emirati authorities had frozen the account at the request of the US Department of the Treasury, in its fight against money laundering." (Global Voices)
  • Earlier this week we shared a report on WhatsApp's "fact-checking service," for upcoming Indian elections. Turns out it's not really a helpline at all. "One day after WhatsApp launched a tip line to combat misinformation ahead of a general election in India, the company running the project in partnership with the Facebook-owned messaging service revealed that its primary goal is to collect research, rather than immediately crack down on fake news in the world's biggest democracy…As BuzzFeed News tests show, and Proto’s own website confirms, users should not rely on the tip line to get a determination on suspicious information they send in. BuzzFeed News sent two links, three text samples, and three images, all related to Indian politics, to the dedicated phone number but received no determination on the contents’ veracity after more than 24 hours." (BuzzFeed h/t to Micah Sifry at Civicist for the link)
  • Kenya's president is vowing to continue a corruption crackdown that has led to the questioning of several cabinet members. "Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said his government will continue a crackdown on corruption that has brought some of his most senior ministers into investigators’ sights. The authorities are intensifying their efforts to curb graft, which Kenyatta has described as a threat to national security, to make more funds available for the president’s so-called Big Four agenda — a plan to boost manufacturing and farm output, as well as access to housing and healthcare." (Bloomberg)


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