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Organizing a cycling day trip on the margins of the OPG summit in Tbilisi

I'm organizing a 100 km road cycling trip in Tbilisi on July 20th, 2018 after the Open Government Partnership global summit wraps up. And I want you to come with me.

Here’s what to expect:

- A 100 kilometer “out and back” ride from Tbilisi to Manglisi (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manglisi) and then back to Tbilisi.

- A support van/car + riding guide + water from Geo Riders (https://www.georiders.ge).

- Total elevation gain of around 1,200 meters, or roughly 4,000 feet. I would classify this ride as “some climbing” but nothing crazy or exceptionally difficult, especially with the climbing spread out over 100k. From Geo Riders: “The route is mix going up and going down, left and right, we take 1200 meter altitude up, it's going in amazing nature.”

- A rental road bike (from Geo Riders: “Canyon - Scott - CBT Italia – Giant”).

- We will stop for lunch somewhere during the ride (our guides will sort it out for us). Lunch is included in the cost.

- Exact start/end times are TBD, but assume we’ll leave after breakfast and be back before dinner. And I presume the pick-up/drop-off point will be at one of the main summit hotels; we’ll confirm that closer to the date.

- Cost will be around 100 euros. This includes the rental bike, guide, van support, water, and lunch. 

Who this ride is good for:

- Crazy people like me who ride a road bike regularly/way too much and are comfortable with rides of this length/duration (or more).

- Semi-regular cyclists who’ve gone at least 60-70k before and who want to accomplish something new! If you’ve done 60-70k before and are generally comfortable with a bit of climbing, this is your chance to do something great! If you hit your limit during the ride, you can always hop in the van for the remainder of the journey.

- Riders who ride with “clipless” shoes and pedals. This is not an ideal ride for sneakers + flat pedals.

- Riders who aren’t completely anxious riding on roads (as opposed to dedicated bike paths). Once we leave Tbilisi I imagine the roads will be generally quiet. But if you’ve never ridden on roads with vehicles before, this probably isn’t the first road ride you want to do!

Things I don’t yet know (but will confirm before July):

- Whether you’ll need to bring your own helmet or whether Geo Riders can provide helmets (plan to bring cycling shoes + your pedals regardless).

- Whether you’ll need to bring water bottles or whether Geo Riders can provide bottles.

- Whether we’ll receive .gpx files ahead of time for Garmins and other bike nav devices.

I’m pretty excited that this will be a unique and fun experience; when else are we going to have a chance to ride with support in Georgia?!

Interested and want to join? Please email me to confirm a slot/ask questions: nathaniel@integrilicio.us

The new DC Wawa is a magnet for illegally parked emergency responders

I'm fortunate enough to work right above DC's first Wawa, which opened in December to great fanfare. It has a cult-like following in parts of the mid-Atlantic region and cheap, better-than-your-regular-convenience store food and coffee. Since the Wawa opened, it's been one of my go-to options for an ultra-quick, ultra-cheap lunch, snack, or coffee during the day. And it's open 24/7. What's not to love?

Apparently, I'm not the only one who digs this shiny new calorie and caffeine option. Since it opened, and particularly since New Year's, I've noticed a steady stream of emergency responders - police, uniformed Secret Service (they have an office around the corner), firefighters, and ambulance personnel - gravitating to the Wawa for early-morning breakfast and coffee, particularly before 8:00 am. Which is great, except for the fact that they routinely park their vehicles - patrol cars, ambulances, and even full-sized fire trucks - on 19th street to make their coffee/food runs. Which is less than cool since a) there is no curb parking at any time of the day on three-lane 19th, and b) 19th is already an overly congested and important artery connecting Dupont Circle to downtown Washington. As a cyclist, it's particularly worrying given how many cycling commuters use 19th to get to work in the morning; those parked vehicles create major traffic disruptions and pose a non-trivial safety hazard to drivers and bikers alike.

This is a typical morning at around 7:00 or 7:30 am outside of the Wawa:

 DCPD loves Wawa

DCPD loves Wawa

On this particular morning, these three vehicles remained on the curb for nearly 45 minutes while their drivers/officers had a morning coffee at Wawa's front seating bar:

IMG_5169.jpg

And I've noticed that as more emergency responders begin parking on the curb in the morning, it sends a signal to others that it's ok to do the same. Taxi and Uber drivers, construction workers, and other commuters have gotten the message:

IMG_5194.jpg

This morning, we reached new heights when an ambulance pulled over at the corner of 19th and L (a super busy east-west downtown corridor), turned on his flashing emergency lights, exited the ambulance, and then strolled to Wawa to presumably grab breakfast at around 7:15 am as I was walking into the office:

 Is getting coffee an emergency? I mean sometimes, but...

Is getting coffee an emergency? I mean sometimes, but...

Before anyone accuses me of being mean-spirited, I'm the first to acknowledge and celebrate the sacrifices made by first responders in doing their jobs. They work terrible hours, are generally paid poorly, and have to put up with all sorts of insanity and stress that us office workers never have to face. Tip o' the hat.

But: we're all supposed to play by the same rules, right? And those rules include common sense public safety standards, like not blocking a downtown artery in rush hour because there's cheap coffee inside. I did a cursory search around the DC Code online to try and understand if emergency responders are granted some sort of parking exemption that allows them to park any/everywhere, at least in carrying out official duties. I didn't come across anything. Then again, I'm no expert in DC law and regulation, and if readers know of such an exemption, please shout in the comments below so that I can reel in my frustration. But until then: what the heck, DC emergency responders?!

Opening Reception Remarks at #OGPArgentina, November 20 2017

As delivered in Spanish at the top; English version below.

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Distinguidos invitados, damas y caballeros, amigos y colegas:

Es un honor profundo y un privilegio tener la oportunidad de dirigirme a Uds. al celebrar el inicio de esta semana tan importante aquí en Buenos Aires. Como suele suceder en los eventos de la Alianza para el Gobierno Abierto / Open Government Partnership (OGP), veo tantos amigos en el salón que siempre me siento muy en casa cuando asisto una reunión de la OGP, sin importar en qué ciudad o país estemos.

A diferencia de nuestras reuniones anteriores, sospecho que esta semana nos enfocaremos no solo en soluciones nuevas e innovadoras para promover la transparencia, la rendición de cuentas y la participación en el gobierno, sino también en los desafíos que enfrentaremos colectivamente durante los meses y años venideros.

Señoras y señores: la luna de miel para el gobierno abierto ha terminado. De muchas maneras, esta semana marca el principio del siguiente capítulo dentro del movimiento para el gobierno abierto, en que se pondrán a prueba nuestra resiliencia y nuestros principios como nunca antes.

Las elecciones de 2015 aquí en Argentina nos demostraron la velocidad con que la agenda de gobierno abierto se puede revitalizar con el liderazgo político que abraza los valores medulares de la OGP. El trabajo actual que se está haciendo en Argentina para que se abra el gobierno –en ambos niveles, federal y local– nos inspira a todos. Me emociona tener a tantos amigos de la sociedad civil que están actualmente sirviendo a sus conciudadanos argentinos en su carácter de empleados públicos dedicados. Es un testimonio excepcional de los principios de acción colectiva y co-creación que son fundamentales para la OGP.

Mi propio país, Estados Unidos, ofrece una historia aleccionadora. Justamente nos recuerda lo rápido que los logros alcanzados en muchos países pueden ser minados por los cambios de liderazgo político. Estados Unidos solía poner el ejemplo para todo el mundo en cuanto al gobierno abierto, pero hoy nuestro gobierno federal ha abandonado la agenda de apertura a pocos meses de haberse iniciado un nuevo mandato. Su liderazgo actual desprecia abiertamente los principios consagrados en la Declaración de Gobierno Abierto. El que fue alguna vez ejemplo inspirador para el gobierno abierto se ha convertido en una especie de sombra de sí mismo, que se deteriora rápidamente al ser golpeado por fuerzas políticas de toda índole.

Si los últimos años nos han enseñado algo, es que las cosas no se mantendrán estáticas durante el viaje hacia un gobierno más abierto en ningún país. Con el tiempo, Estados Unidos se restablecerá, y sin duda Argentina enfrentará algunos retrocesos en el futuro. Algunos de los que estamos en esta sala ya no estaremos en las próximas reuniones regionales y cumbres de la OGP. Apenas la semana pasada, recibimos la triste noticia de que Radu Puchiu, secretario de estado en Rumanía, quien participó en el comité directivo de la OGP durante muchos años y aportó un liderazgo increíble, fue despedido sin aviso. Podemos esperar más cambios repentinos como este en años venideros, no menos.

En medio de toda esta fluidez, ¿cómo podemos llevar adelante con éxito los cambios increíblemente complejos y de larga duración que buscamos en nuestros gobiernos y nuestras sociedades?

Mi respuesta es sencilla: la fuerza más grande de la comunidad de gobierno abierto está en sus valores. Estos valores son inmutables y forman los cimientos de nuestra estabilidad. Valoramos la transparencia y la apertura. Valoramos el derecho de todas las comunidades y los ciudadanos a participar en la toma de decisiones que afectan sus vidas. Y comprendemos la importancia de hacer que los que detentan el poder rindan cuentas sobre el cumplimiento de las promesas que han hecho a nuestras comunidades.

Esos valores –consagrados en la Declaración de Gobierno Abierto– sobrevivirán a cualquiera de nuestras administraciones públicas o nuestra temporada en la dirección de las organizaciones de la sociedad civil. Son más fuertes que nuestros adversarios y que aquellos que quisieran cerrar las instituciones de gobierno y regresar a una era de secretismo, abusos del poder e impunidad. Esos valores son poderosos porque son justos y atinados, y hoy más que nunca nuestros conciudadanos esperan que nos atengamos a ellos.

Al iniciar esta semana de aprendizaje e inspiración compartidos, no se olviden de los valores fundamentales de la OGP. Cuando las políticas reformistas hacen que nuestros esfuerzos parezcan imposibles, recuerden la esperanza y la aspiración que nuestros valores nos proporcionan. Cuando nos sintamos solos y aislados en nuestra labor, recuerden esta sala llena de luchadores y agentes de cambio que comparten nuestros valores comunes y están listos para echarnos la mano. Y cuando nuestros adversarios pongan obstáculos en nuestro camino, recuerden: nos temen por la fuerza de nuestros valores. Los valores del gobierno abierto son nuestro escudo, pero también nuestra lanza. Ha llegado el momento de usarlos.

Muchísimas gracias.

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Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, friends and colleagues:

I’m deeply honored and privileged to have the opportunity to address you this evening as we celebrate the beginning of this important week here in Buenos Aires. As with all Open Government Partnership (OGP) events, there are so many friends in the room that I always feel like I’m coming home when I come to an OGP gathering, regardless of the city or the country we’re in.

Unlike previous OGP gatherings, I suspect this week will be one where we focus not only on new and innovative solutions to promoting transparency, accountability, and participation in government, but also on the challenges we collectively face in the months and years to come.

Ladies and gentlemen, the honeymoon period in open government is over. And in many ways, this week marks the beginning of the next chapter in the open government movement, one in which our resilience and our principles will be tested like never before.

Elections in 2015 here in Argentina showed us how quickly the open government agenda could be reinvigorated by renewed political leadership that embraced OGP’s core values. The current work to open up government being pioneered here in Argentina -- at both the federal and local levels -- is inspiring to us all. I’m thrilled to have so many friends from civil society now serving their fellow Argentinians as dedicated public servants. It’s a remarkable testament to the principles of collective action and co-creation that are at the heart of OGP.

My own country, the United States, offers a more cautionary tale. It reminds us of just how fast the gains we have made in many countries can be undermined by those same changes in political leadership. Once an important leader on open government around the world, the United States federal government abandoned the openness agenda just months after its term began. Its leadership openly flouts the principles enshrined in the Open Government Declaration. What was once a beacon of inspiration for open government is now an increasingly disfigured memorial of sorts, rapidly decaying as political elements pound it from all sides.

If the past several years has taught us anything, it is that things will not remain static during the journey towards a more open government in any country. The United States will eventually rebound, and Argentina will undoubtedly face future setbacks. Some of us in this room will not be here at the next OGP regional meetings and summits. Just last week, many of us received the sad news that Radu Puchiu, a state secretary in Romania who served on the OGP steering committee for many years and provided incredible leadership, had been suddenly sacked with no warning. We should expect more of these sudden changes in the years to come, not fewer.

In the midst of all of this fluidity, how can we possibly manage to navigate the incredibly complex and long-term changes we seek in our governments and in our societies?

My answer is a simple one: the open government community’s greatest strength is its values. Those values are immutable and are the bedrock of our stability. We value transparency and openness. We value the right for all communities and citizens to participate in the decision making that affects their lives. And we understand the importance of holding duty bearers to account when they violate their promises to our communities.

Those values – which are enshrined in the Open Government Declaration – will outlive any of our public administrations or our time leading civil society organizations. They are stronger than our opponents and those who would seek to close government off from the public and return to an era of secrecy, abuses of power, and impunity. They are powerful because they are just and they are right, and our fellow citizens have come to expect them of us.

As we begin this week of learning and inspiration from one another, do not forget OGP’s core values. When the politics of reform make our work feel impossible, remember the hope and aspiration our values provide us. When we feel alone and isolated in our work, remember this room full of champions and reformers who share our common values and are ready to lend a helping hand. And when our opponents throw up obstacles in our path, remember: they fear us because of the power of our values. Those open government values are both our shield and our spear. It’s time we used them.

Thank you very much.

  

The Case Against a US OGP National Action Plan in 2017

Earlier this week, holdover US administration officials convened a standing meeting of domestic Open Government Partnership (OGP) stakeholders to share thinking and plans for how to move forward on the country’s OGP agenda this year. Per OGP’s calendar, the US is due to “co-create” a new OGP National Action Plan this year (its fourth), delivering one by June 2017. While I personally couldn’t attend the meeting due to scheduling conflicts, a number of friends and colleagues did, and from the summaries that were shared with me, there was unsurprising angst and questioning as to how an open government plan could be pursued this year in light of ongoing political transitions in the United States.

Carryover staff from the previous administration (bless them) indicated to attendees that they were carrying on with business as usual until new bosses and/or different guidance were in place. While I sympathize with the desire to maintain a certain degree of momentum on the open government agenda in 2017, I don’t believe that attempting to produce an OGP National Action Plan this year is necessarily a great idea. Here’s why.

1) Misalignment of core values. Suffice it to say that thus far, the Trump administration has in many respects been openly hostile to core values that lie at the heart of open government and OGP.  These include, but are certainly not limited to:

- Dismissing basic transparency norms: Candidate Trump was the first candidate in modern US political history who refused to release his personal tax returns to the public. He promised to do so after his IRS audit was complete, but then immediately backtracked on that promise during the transition period, with a chief advisor publicly stated that the tax returns would in fact never be released. Lying about a commitment to core transparency norms violates the spirit of the Open Government Declaration, to which the US is a signatory.

- Flouting common sense conflicts of interest provisions: The President’s unwillingness to shed himself of his business interests before taking office, despite overwhelming advice to the contrary from outside ethics experts as well as the US government’s own internal ethics watchdog, is an affront to common sense conflicts of interest safeguards, tenets that are central to open government. It has also landed the president in court, with additional lawsuits undoubtedly to come, all arguing that the president has violated constitutional conflicts of interest and anti-bribery provisions. The Open Government Declaration states, “We commit to having robust anti-corruption policies, mechanisms and practices, ensuring transparency in the management of public finances and government purchasing, and strengthening the rule of law. We commit to maintaining or establishing a legal framework to make public information on the income and assets of national, high ranking public officials.” This does not describe the Trump administration thus far. At all.

- Intimidation of and open hostility towards the media: The president and his team have made no attempt to hide their disdain for mainstream media, openly describing the media as their primary political opponent and “some of the worst people” Trump has met. While the press, as a whole, has not shown signs of abdicating its watchdog role, we have seen how, in other countries, constant berating of the press and independent watchdogs (including civil society organizations) has a chilling effect over time. This antagonistic approach to the media flies in the face of the Open Government Declaration’s exhortation to, “[protect] the ability of not-for-profit and civil society organizations to operate in ways consistent with our commitment to freedom of expression, association, and opinion.”

- Rolling back existing open government commitments: The administration’s early gutting of Dodd-Frank’s Section 1504 extractives transparency measures, themselves enshrined in previous US NAPs, was a body blow to domestic open government reforms. The repeal was almost certainly a “gift” to US oil and energy companies and the new US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, former head of energy giant ExxonMobile. (Fun fact: the US Secretary of State has historically been quite involved in US leadership around OGP. That should make things interesting moving forward, to say the least.) I can hardly think of a move better designed to signal outright hostility towards open government than rolling back 1504 so early in a new administration.

Co-creating an OGP National Action Plan under these conditions runs major risks for civil society in the United States, who by participating in the creation of a fourth NAP might inadvertently “open wash” an administration that currently has little to no respect for the basic tenets of open government. Publishing a 2017 OGP National Action Plan would tacitly endorse and normalize many of the administration’s norms-busting policy positions, something to be strongly avoided. Should the administration release the president’s tax returns, satisfactorily resolve his conflicts of interest, and rebuild bridges with the media, US civil society might indeed consider linking up to co-create a new NAP. But until those litmus tests are passed, it’s hard to fathom the upside to moving ahead with a new US NAP.

2) It’s ok to skip an Action Plan cycle, especially during political transition periods. Were the US to skip a NAP cycle in 2017, it certainly wouldn’t be the first country to do so. More importantly, OGP would carry on uninterrupted despite the US’ important role as an original founding country of the partnership.

I sit on OGP’s Criteria and Standards subcommittee, which deals with (among other issues) countries that have missed their NAP deadlines. It happens dozens of times each year, whether countries filing late NAPs themselves or missing deadlines for submitting self-assessments tracking their progress against specific NAP commitments. OGP takes a non-punitive approach to dealing with those missed deadlines, and in recent years has even formalized an approach to giving countries 12-18 additional months to resolve their delays, when merited.  In many cases, the reason for missed deadlines is political, and often linked to recent political transitions. Sound familiar? Both the Trump administration and US civil society should think long and hard about taking advantage of that flexibility, buying more time for the new administration to settle in and for some of the “litmus test” issues flagged above to hopefully improve.

3) There’s no one to co-create with. The new administration has been playing catchup ever since the transition when it comes to filling key leadership positions in the Federal government, including those traditionally in charge of open government and transparency programs. While a few erstwhile holdovers have performed an amazing public service by continuing to serve in the first few months of the Trump administration, it seems nearly impossible to create a meaningful new NAP absent new leaders in (among other key offices and departments) the US Chief Technology Officer’s office, the Office of Management and Budget, an administrator and top officials at the US Agency for International Development, key Under and Assistant Secretaries of State and Treasury, and key officials serving at the National Security Council (where one assumes there will be renewed staff upheaval following Michael Flynn’s recent ignominious ouster as National Security Advisor). Creating a new NAP without sufficient senior leadership buy-in feels like wasted effort, and the commitments contained in that half-baked NAP would be particularly susceptible to poor implementation in the out-years.

What to do instead of a fourth NAP this year? For one, simply wait. Sure, things might get worse, but they also might stabilize throughout the course of 2017. With more senior officials in place later this year and in early-2018, the time might be more ripe to consider co-creating a NAP, particularly if progress has been made on the litmus test challenges.

Second, look to the cities and states for progress on open government in 2017. There’s a terrific team of open government reformers in Austin, Texas under Mayor Steve Adler’s leadership who have crafted some excellent open government reforms as part of the OGP “Pioneers” tier of subnational governments; New Orleans is also part of OGP’s subnational program.

Third, spend the time building out alliances with less-usual suspects that might support the open government agenda in the years to come, particularly in the interior states of the US (much of the open government community in the country has been historically clustered in Washington,  Chicago, New York City, and San Francisco). If we’re to continue building a resilient “movement” of open government boosters in the United States, it has to grow beyond high-income urban areas.

Fourth, focus on implementation of existing NAP commitments. As OGP’s own Independent Reporting Mechanism points out, there are a number of existing US OGP commitments that need stronger implementation. Using this transition year to help Federal departments strengthen their implementation of existing commitments might be the best use of time and (limited) political capital, as opposed to pouring resources into a difficult NAP process.

What’s your opinion; NAP or no NAP in 2017? Sound off in the comments section below.

OGP Bingo at the summit plenary on Wednesday Dec. 7

Dear friends – As part of my role serving as OGP steering committee member provocateur, I’m following through on a high-level political commitment to develop “OGP Bingo” for this year’s summit.

Summits are moments for political commitment and create the space to drive ambitious reforms. Their opening plenaries can also be painfully dull, crammed with dry and unambitious speeches. Ennui and hunger set in, interest fades, and momentum can be lost. How best to combat those challenges? Bingo!

How to play

- Attached are downloadable bingo cards customized with many of your favorite open government/OGP buzzwords.

- Choose one (and only one!) card to be your own; either print it out or have it available on your laptop during the opening plenary.

- As the opening plenary speeches begin, listen closely to the speeches for the invocation of the buzzwords listed on your card. As you hear a phrase/word that appears on your card, place an “X” in that cell. Everyone gets the “Free” space in the middle.

- There will be four winners: a) First to get any line (up, down, left, right, diagonally) b) First to get all four corners c) First to get two diagonal lines through the middle (an "X"), and d) First to get a "blackout" (all squares)

- When you have reached any of the above four Bingo goals on your card, use the #OGP16 and #OGPBingo hashtags on Twitter to announce your success, and include a screenshot or photo of your card as proof.

Winners will receive my unending affection and heaps of praise from your peers on social media.