Today in OpenGov: Diversionary tactics.


Editor's note: We'll be off for the next week and a half to celebrate Independence Day and enjoy some summer sun. We'll be back on July 15th with all the latest #OpenGov news and notes. 

In today's edition, we consider the future of open government, President Trump appears to give up on the Census citizenship question, assessing the state of FOIA in the wake of a recent Supreme Court decision, and more. 

states and cities

Image credit: Code for America.
  • Reflecting on the future of open government in the wake of OGP and Code for America 2019. "Two of the largest gatherings for open government advocates and civic technologists took place in May of this year. Thousands of civic technologists, open government advocates, government officials, and representatives of NGOs traveled to Ottawa for the annual Open Government Partnership Summit and Oakland, California for the Code for America Summit. While the two convenings differ in terms of scale and audience, both convenings asked attendees to pause and reflect on the values and goals at the heart of their movements.  As open government and civic tech evolve, Sunlight and its partners will need to adapt to a new field in which funders and citizens alike are increasingly interested in impact, equity, and intentional design." (Sunlight Foundation)
  • Using data and maps to teach policy innovation. "Here at Harvard Kennedy School the curriculum endeavors to prepare future public servants to tackle such challenges. I was the Course Assistant this year for 'Urban Innovation: Using Technology to Drive Change' taught by Professor Stephen Goldsmith, director of Data-Smart City Solutions. A core theme of the class was how location intelligence and the layering of variables could lead to pattern recognition and, in turn, innovation. In an effort to drive towards a more holistic analysis and understanding of public challenges for students in the class, I worked with international and domestic classmates on exercises designed to help them think more deeply about the questions above using the tools of data and technology." (Data-Smart City Solutions)
  • Grand Rapids, Michigan opens up its data vault. "A growing number of cities have bought into the idea of open data; the attempt to make great quantities of the information they gather available to the citizenry at large, businesses, civic leaders, advocacy groups and so on…in 2017, Bloomberg’s What Works Cities project stepped in with council that helped get the vast majority of the 40 Grand Rapids departments to make their data widely available. So far about 155 data sets are accessible; by the end of the year the hope is to add yet another 100. All of this information is on the city’s open data portal. The city has a very deliberate, intentional process for making as much data as possible available on the portal, as long as the sharing of the data is not prohibited by law." (Governing)
  • Despite new law, California police agencies are still withholding police misconduct records. "Sex, lies and bullets flying wildly. Then there are the stolen drugs, illegal chokeholds, planted evidence, falsified reports and a police officer who lied to move up the adoption list for a puppy. Those are among the misadventures uncovered during the first six months of disclosures under California’s new police transparency law, Senate Bill 1421, which took effect Jan. 1. The statute requires police to release long-secret records about officer shootings, use of force, sexual misconduct and dishonesty. Yet those disturbing examples of police misconduct have come from a only a smattering of law enforcement agencies around the state." (OC Register via NFOIC)


A page from the DHS IG's report on conditions at border detention centers. Via the New York Times
  • DHS Inspector General report sheds light on squalid conditions at border detention centers. "Overcrowded, squalid conditions are more widespread at migrant centers along the southern border than initially revealed, the Department of Homeland Security’s independent watchdog said Tuesday. Its report describes standing-room-only cells, children without showers and hot meals, and detainees clamoring desperately for release." (New York Times) You can read the full report hereOur take? Congress's failure to prevent, and now to adequately respond to this, should give us all an immediate sense of urgency and shame. The rhetoric and policies of dehumanization so plainly present in the White House, national discourse, and our politics present an urgent crisis. Protecting human dignity must be fundamental to every agency's mission and work.
  • The Trump administration appears to be backing down on the Census citizenship question. "The Trump administration will carry out the 2020 Census without a citizenship question, according to an email the Justice Department sent Tuesday to groups that sued over the question, marking a huge victory for Democrats and civil rights advocates. In the email, which was announced via Twitter by civil rights lawyers and independently obtained and verified by BuzzFeed News, a Justice Department trial attorney notified lawyers for the challengers about the administration's decision." (BuzzFeed)
  • The House of Representatives is suing the IRS and Treasury Department for President Trump's tax returns. "The House sued the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service on Tuesday, demanding access to President Trump’s tax returns and escalating a fight with an administration that has repeatedly dismissed as illegitimate its attempt to obtain the financial records. The lawsuit moves the dispute into the federal courts after months of sniping between the Democratic-led House Ways and Means Committee, which requested and then subpoenaed the returns, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin." (New York Times)
  • The National Parks Service will divert close to $2.5 million to help pay for President Trump's July 4th party… "The National Park Service has reportedly been directed to divert nearly $2.5 million in funding to the Washington, D.C., 'Salute to America' event planned by President Trump for the Fourth of July…The figure transferred from the Park Service is reportedly a fraction of the total cost of this year's event, which will also feature appearances by the Annapolis-based Blue Angels and a B-2 bomber. It has already vastly outpaced the total cost the Park Service has spent in past years on the annual July Fourth celebration, which an official told the Post usually reaches about $2 million per year." (The Hill)
  • …Meanwhile, the White House will provide VIP guests with special seats close to Trump's Lincoln Memorial speech. "President Trump's 'Salute to America' event on the Fourth of July will feature a VIP area near the Lincoln Memorial populated by guests of the White House. The National Mall will be open to the public for Independence Day festivities on Thursday, but the area near the stage where Trump will speak will require tickets to gain access. A senior administration official told The Hill that the ticketed area will include VIPs, friends and family of the administration, government officials, and members of the military." (The Hill)

washington watch

The United States Supreme Court building. 
  • Supreme Court decision deals blow to FOIA, but some flexibility remains thanks to recently passed law. "Last Monday, the Supreme Court prevented release of government spending data to a South Dakota newspaper, handing down a ruling that is expected to limit the public’s understanding of how tax dollars are spent in the private sector…However, taking into consideration FOIA legislation passed in 2016 and the actual text of the law, the lower courts and Congress could mitigate some effects of the 6-3 Food Marketing Institute v. Argus Leader Media decision." (MuckRock)
  • Softening stance on Huawei correlates with strong lobbying effort. "Lobbying efforts by several telecommunications corporations may have paid off following President Donald Trump’s negotiated ceasefire with China over trade alongside last week’s G20 conference. On May 15, Trump banned telecommunications giant Huawei from doing business in the U.S. as the trade war with China ramped up and the U.S. attempted to extradite Huawei’s CFO from Canada on fraud charges…U.S. chip makers, which did an estimated $11 billion worth of business with Huawei last year, including Qualcomm and Intel, reacted by deploying lobbyists to federal agencies and Capitol Hill in an attempt to receive exceptions to the President’s order." (OpenSecrets)
  • Russia paid this radio broadcaster $1.4 million to broadcast propaganda in Washington, DC. "The Russian government sent more than $1.4 million to a Florida-based company airing Kremlin propaganda in the nation’s capital over the last two years, according to recent foreign agent registration records. Florida-based company RM Broadcasting LLC has officially registered as a foreign agent with the Justice Department after a federal judge ordered it to do so in May." (OpenSecrets)


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