D.C. coalition reflects on open government in wake of riot

Fritz Mulhauser |  

DC Open Government Coalition 

We put aside year-end reflections on D.C. affairs as two events consumed the city this week— initially, Wednesday’s (6) news about the election in Georgia that changed the balance of power in the U.S. Senate and, not least, that could increase the possibility of D.C. voting rights. Then that night, unthinkable incitement by the President resulted in a riotous mob storming the Capitol to disrupt the final step of certifying the national election results. Few could miss how the disorganized and seemingly tolerant early police response so obviously differed from the massive force of troops, Humvees and helicopters that met Black Lives Matter marchers this summer.

But open government issues are everywhere. The huge Capitol Hill Police department with a budget over $500 million and 2,000 sworn officers has been so secretive for so long about its work that Congress ordered a half dozen transparency improvements in the latest spending bill just signed. Daniel Suchman in the First Branch Forecast blog from Demand Progress summarizes findings from two years of reviewing the agency here.

Transparency and accountability will come. The Washington Post editorial board called Friday night (8) for “robust investigation,” joining Members and the public demanding to learn how plans for handling a long-predicted crowd came up so short. Chief Steven Sund, along with both chambers’ sergeants at arms, two of three members of the nonpublic Capitol Police Board he reported to, are gone already.

To all supporters of the D.C. Open Government Coalition and readers of this blog, thanks for your support over the past ten difficult months. Traditional meanings of open government adapted in 2020 as never before as so much of life became virtual—at work and school, shopping, exercise, in court, even dating.

To do the work that all of you do, we know you share our concern to maintain key tools of transparency — public access to meetings, records and data – that are all more vital than ever during times of enormous stress on government at all levels. Full understanding of what government is up to is part of building shared facts for discussion and decision.

The District government legislative branch new year began with Council members sworn in last weekend (2) and a new committee structure adopted Monday (4) to fit new members into the work. (Jonetta Rose Barras offered a detailed rundown — and evaluation — in her latest column.)

The ten committees and the executive branch shortly will start the annual oversight review, which means weighing effects of the virus across all D.C. agencies, looking ahead to assess the financial outlook affecting the 2021-22 budget to be voted at midyear, and considering ways to cushion the massively unequal impacts of the pandemic on those most vulnerable.

The 2020 Open Government Headlines

Looking back, here are some notable open government stories of 2020. “Go deeper” links connect to earlier Coalition blog posts on each (and one to a news story on records the Coalition obtained):

Read more at D.C. Open Government Coalition.