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Earmark Reform: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

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Taxpayers for Common Sense, a grantee of the Sunlight Foundation, last week released the first of two reports on what can only be described as the good, the bad, and the ugly of earmark reform. Their first analysis gives a roundup of what actions the House took and didn't take.

TCS gives credit to the House for the volume of information now available but takes the House to task for the way it has provided it. The data dumps allowed TCS to get its its excellent databases up before the final vote on almost every bill but frankly they had to work too hard to do it. I mean, if the House and Senate are going to provide this infomation why not just do it in a database form themselves? Why do nonprofits have to take raw data and put the data in a form so real people can actually use it?

In short here are some of problems with how the House disclosed the data:

  • Each appropriations subcommittee disclosed its relevant earmark information in a slightly different format.
  • Subcommittees also made it hard to match member to earmark by listing the earmark projects and dollar amounts in one spot and the earmark requesters in an entirely separate spot. Most subcommittees also took the process one step further, by organizing one list alphabetically by project name and the other list alphabetically by member name.
  • Request letters for the earmarks in the bill were provided, as required, but they came in large tomes available only at the committee offices, instead of in an easy to navigate and easily accessible online format.
The point of creating these databases is to get the information out to the public quickly and efficiently and in a usable format. TCS and Sunlight are working on a new database structure which we will glad give to the House to use, if they want it.