GSA FACA Database and Reform

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(from the Open House Project blog)

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee recently held a hearing on reforming the laws that govern the creation of Federal Advisory Committees. The Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) governs the creation and disclosure of advisory committees. This is no small legislative or logistical task, since there are about 65,000 people appointed to federal advisory committees. The issues surrounding this law are new to me, and I’m also excited to find that the General Services Administration (GSA) runs a database of Federal Advisory Committee information, available here, which includes advisory committee charters, members, transcripts, and other information.

While there doesn’t appear to be any option to bulk download or API access, the database should be potentially combinable with other data sources, and should prove to be a rich collection of information, since people appointed to advisory committees are often business leaders or governmental employees, who have a stake in the subject matter they’re advising on.

This situation presents a strong potential for conflicts of interest, which congress correctly responded to by instituting a disclosure regime, demanding transparency and accountability of the committees and their participants. The problem is that these disclosure requirements are far from perfect, and many loopholes exist that allow advisory committees to skirt the disclosure requirements. For FACA loopholes and reform ideas, see this GAO document, or this expert testimony from Sidney Shapiro, or this testimony from the GSA, who runs the FACA database.

While the measures intended to patch up and reform FACA to demand accountability from advisory committees, we should familiarize ourselves with the data the act liberates, and understand the power relationships it describes.

I’d also like to point out that I’m only aware of this issue because Waxman’s committee has an RSS feed (which I watch), and because I called the committee to request copies of the testimony. I wonder how much more coverage the issue would get if there were a transcript and video of the hearing readily available, along with posted copies of the testimony? (One would think there are at least 65,000, since that’s how many appointees are covered by the act’s requirements.)

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