The Obama administration dreamed that its health insurance exchanges--the websites that were supposed to make it easy to buy health insurance--would function as smoothly as online consumer sites like Expedia or Amazon.com. But as head-scratching continues about how a famously web-savvy administration could have flubbed its Internet homework so badly, an examination by the Sunlight Foundation shows the administration turned the task of building its futuristic new health care technology planning and programming over to legacy contractors with deep political pockets.
Visit the Reporting Group blog to read more about the 47 contractors working on the ACA. Also read our analysis on how HealthCare.gov likely cost $70 million to build.
Elsewhere in the Sunlight network
- IRS takes aim at $300 million campaign influence industry Sunlight Reporting Group
- Happy Thankgiving! How does campaign cash affect the food on your plate? Sunlight Reporting Group
- Christie brings his clout, fundraising chops to new role as RGA head Sunlight Reporting Group
- Stockman campaign goes for campaign finance hat trick Sunlight Reporting Group
- Bakers group happy to win exemption from food safety law Sunlight Reporting Group
- Patriot Majority, a union-backed liberal "nonprofit", spent more than $23 million on politics last year. Despite touting themselves as a grassroots group, most of their money came from large donations, including one $6 million gift. (Public Integrity)
- Agencies are starting to tout their efforts to comply with President Obama's open data Executive Order. The Department of Transportation has more than 2,000 data sets on data.gov, although they didn't all translate to the agency's compliance with Project Open Data. (Executive Gov)
- Want to learn more about the Extractives Industry Transparency Initiative? Check out this podcast detailing the initiative, some of the challenges it faces, and POGO's involvement in it. (POGO)
- As part of efforts to combat financial crimes in their country, France recently launched a new Central Office Against Corruption, Financial and Fiscal Offenses. (The FCPA Blog)
State and Local News
- A state lawmaker in Ohio is pushing a new initiative designed to make it easier for citizens to find and understand information about state and local government. The DataOhio Initiative is a series of bills that promote open standards in state and local data. (ThisWeek Ohio)
- Recent revelations suggest that the city of Ottawa waffled between an open data competition and a traditional contractor to build their new smart phone traffic app. They eventually chose the contractor, who charged $95,000 for a disappointing product. (Tech President)
On Thursday November 21st, Montgomery County, Maryland hosted an Open Data Town Hall to solicit feedback from citizens about what data they would like to see prioritized for release online under Montgomery County’s open data law. The Sunlight Foundation’s Alisha Green and Rebecca Williams of the Sunlight Municipal Policy team and Sunlight Labs’ Developers Jeremy Carbaugh and Kaitlin Devine (many of whom are Montgomery County residents) were in attendance to praise Montgomery County for their unique public participation route to prioritizing open data release and most importantly to: chat data.
Scout, the Sunlight Foundation's government search and alert system, is now delivering daily alerts on federal court opinions. Court opinions will be included by default — along with regulations, legislation, speeches, and reports — for any alert based on search terms.
If you've already set up alerts on Scout for search terms, and your alert ranges across all of our data types, you don't need to do anything: we've updated existing general search alerts to include opinions too.
We're able to do this because of the fantastic data and services offered by CourtListener. In November, the Free Law Project announced CourtListener's new API for court opinions. CourtListener is a search engine and data provider for a staggeringly large collection of millions of opinions across hundreds of jursidictions at the federal and state level. The Free Law Project is a California-based non-profit that operates CourtListener, and is run by Michael Lissner and Brian Carver.
While CourtListener has offered its data in bulk to the public for some time, the addition of an API meant that we could integrate Scout directly with CourtListener, without having to manage a gigantic database of court opinions ourselves. CourtListener's support of advanced search queries and highlighted search result snippets means we could plug it into Scout without needing to add any additional features. While bulk data is always a top priority, an API greatly lowered the barrier to reuse CourtListener's court opinions.
For the moment, we're limiting results to federal appellate and special courts, but we'll expand this over time. When we do, CourtListener's simple API will make this very straightforward for us.
Thanks to the Free Law Project for support during the integration process, and for providing such an outstanding national resource.
Today, the Knight Foundation, along with the data analytics firm Quid, released a fascinating analysis analyzing the financial investment in nonprofits and for-profit organizations that create civic technology apps and platforms through technology. If you include many of the new P2P platforms such as AirBnB and the like (which are private businesses not primarily focused on promoting civic outcomes), there has been a whopping $430 million invested in civic technology, including open government organizations. (Full disclosure, the Sunlight Foundation has received several grants from the Knight Foundation.) It is concerning that the bulk of venture capital and other non-philanthropic investment in civic technology goes toward companies whose primary goals are not to empower citizens in democratic engagement nor to foster government openness and accountability.
The big picture presented by Knight and Quid shows that there is momentum in growing an echelon of financial investors to buttress the nascent civic start-up movement. This peek behind the curtain of the philanthropic and commercial investment world is welcome transparency and very helpful analysis.
- The Office of Congressional Ethics is five years old and, despite heavy criticism from both sides of the aisle, doesn't appear to be going anywhere. Click the link for more detail, but be prepared for the ad that is set to play automatically at an annoyingly high volume. (The Hill)
- Campaign finance reform group United Republic did some polling and found that support for campaign finance reform, already strong, jumps to over 70 percent when changes to the legal structure are pitched as "anti-corruption laws". (Public Integrity)
- Today in things that make you go "Did he really just say that?" Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) told an interviewer for the New Republic that he offered to go easy on Scott Brown (R-MA) in the 2012 election in exchange for a "yes" vote from Brown on the DISCLOSE Act. Brown, apparently, said no and the bill eventually went down to a slim defeat. Meanwhile, Elizabeth Warren knocked Brown from the seat in 2012. Could Chuck have stopped her if he'd tried? Your guess is as good as mine. ( Washington Post)
- Transparency International released their 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index yesterday. The report, which tracks how corrupt countries are perceived to be, shows widespread belief that countries are super corrupt, with more than two-thirds scoring less than 50 out of 100 possible points. (Tech President)
- Amsterdam, Barcelona, and San Francisco are teaming up on a new data sharing platform, called Cityzenith 5D Smart City. The cities are hoping to pool resources and share best practices. (Future Gov)
State and Local News
- New York State's Moreland Commission issued their report into the "pay-to-play" political culture in the state on Monday night. The report, commissioned by Governor Andrew Cuomo, focuses mainly on problems in the legislature and recommends a host of changes, many suggested by good government groups. (NY Daily News)
- A brief review of "The Foundation for an Open Source City," that looks at the topic through the lens of the author's experiences in Raleigh, North Carolina. (govfresh)
In a legislative meeting today, DC council members unanimously approved a bill that moves campaign finance in the District toward greater transparency. The legislation requires electronic filing of campaign finance information and the publication of that information online within 24 hours -- language that Sunlight's local team recommended in the bill's drafting process.
Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie, who moved the bill through Council, thanked Sunlight for our role in this win for transparency:
Thanks also to the @SunFoundation for their input on transparency reforms that are cornerstone of this DC campaign finance reform— Kenyan R. McDuffie (@CM_McDuffie) December 3, 2013
The first major deadline for agency compliance with President Obama's open data Executive Order arrived this past Saturday. Agencies were required to, among other things, provide the Office of Management and Budget with an "Enterprise Data Inventory" and release a list of all their public data via a /data page on their websites.
We had hopes that some agencies might choose to publicly release their entire Enterprise Data Inventories, providing a full picture of their data holdings. Unfortunately, so far, that does not seem to have happened. Until the full inventories are available, the public will still be stuck in the dark, not knowing what we don’t know about government data holdings.
Nonetheless, most cabinet level agencies, as well as a number of independent agencies that were not required to comply, have taken steps to publicly fulfill the other aspects of the Executive Order. Levels of compliance have been varied, but we will try to highlight some of the worst and best examples below.
First, there was Black Friday, then Cyber Monday and now there is #GivingTuesday, a day dedicated to inspiring individuals, families, communities and businesses to give back and to raise awareness about charitable activities. So, take this opportunity to give back to the opengov movement with a donation to Sunlight today!
So, in the midst of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, don’t forget to give back! Donate $10, $25, $50 or more to Sunlight! Whether it’s a little or a lot, participating in #GivingTuesday will bring us closer to the open government we seek while raising awareness about philanthropic activity worldwide.
With more and more civil society organizations in the open government universe recognizing that “thorny issues” -- such as political finance transparency or surveillance -- need to be tackled somewhat more vehemently, we are eager to seize the momentum and start a hopefully constructive dialogue around an embarrassingly under- or unregulated area: lobbying disclosure. A few weeks back, with the support of our friends at the Open Knowledge Foundation, we took the first steps to create a community of interested advocates, activists and academics, and launched a public working group around the world of influence.
Today, we are excited to announce our draft lobbying disclosure guidelines and invite the community to provide input on these recommendations.
- Ceasars' Casino needs to get its PAC money right, according to FEC auditors. The auditors found that the PAC had under-reported its receipts by over $150,000 and its expenditures by more than $90,000 over a two year period. (Roll Call)
- Journalists and free-press advocates are keeping up the pressure on the White House a week after close to 40 news outlets filed a formal complaint over the Obama Administration's policy limiting access to photographers. (Washington Times)
- The Spanish Senate approved a "transparency" law last week, despite widespread opposition from civil society groups and political organizations who argued that the bill ignored international standards for right to information laws. (Access Info)
- Austria and Bosnia have joined the growing ranks of countries making budget information available online. Austria's recently launched system covers all of the country's 2,356 municipalities while Bosnia's aims to help citizens understand the tax system and how funds are spread across the government. (International Budget Partnership)
- The Speaker of the British House of Commons is setting up a Commission on Digital Democracy to explore ways to further modernize parliament and government more broadly. (Global Center for ICT in Parliament)
State and Local News
- The Iowa Public Information Board is up and running, but it might be heading backwards when it comes to ensuring government transparency. The board has already made a series of decisions that hinder journalists and members of the public. (Columbia Journalism Review)
- New York's Moreland Commission, set up to investigate corruption in the state, is set to issue its report next week. In the meantime, the New York Public Interest Research group urged the commission to consider a series of campaign finance reforms. (Rochester Democrat and Chronicle)