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Agencies Begin to Post Recovery Lobbying Contacts

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Some executive branch agencies are beginning to post lobbyist communications as required by the March 20th White House memorandum on the distribution of Recovery Act funds. So far, only eight out of the twenty-eight agencies listed as receiving recovery funds maintain a list of lobbyist contacts online. Some of the disclosures are far superior to others. While seeing these meetings posted online is encouraging overall, there are a few areas that could use improvement, most notably on structure, presentation, and centralization.

The agencies posting lobbyist contacts are as follows: Army Corps of Engineers (ACE), Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), Department of Energy (DOE), Department of Transportation (DOT), Federal Communication Commission (FCC), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the Small Business Administration (SBA).

Of these agencies the most commendable are the FCC and DOE. The FCC provides, perhaps, the best example as the lobbyist contact page uses an easy to read chart that collects not just lobbyist contacts, but the docket number for the proceeding on which the FCC was contacted, the summary of the lobbyist contact, and links to any filing or presentation submitted along with a lobbyist contact. This goes above and beyond the requirements outlined in the March 20th memorandum. DOE contains many links to lobbyist communications and e-mails related to recovery act programs. These disclosures are well catalogued, but not as well as the FCC's lobbyist communications.

One of the biggest downside's to this disclosure effort is self-evident: there is no centralized disclosure location. (In many ways, these are near identical problems when compared to House earmark disclosures.) To find all of these I had to search all 28 agency recovery sites for any listing of lobbyist communication. Recovery.gov should host a page that either collects all of these disclosed communications or provide links to the agency site pages providing links to the communications.

Another problem is the lack of a common name to describe the communications. For the eight agencies already posting communications I found some variation in naming. "Communications with Registered Lobbyists," "Lobbyist Communication," "Communications with Interested Parties," and "Registered Lobbyist Communications" are some of the variations that I've encountered. A useful way to simplify disclosure would be require one name for all agencies to use to describe these communications.

And the greatest problem that we encounter in this type of disclosure is the lack of standardization. Some disclosures are e-mails, others comply with the form proscribed by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in a recent memo, others are a combination of submitted projects, e-mails, and letters, and some are vague and undescriptive (example). This is a larger problem across government, where important information is disclosed in .pdf files or .xls spreadsheets. While it's great that the information is out there, it is useless to the people who can add depth to it. If there was standardized disclosure in a standardized format, it would be a lot easier for programmers to create a useful database that uses all of this new information, providing context and content.

Here's a full list of agencies and their lobbyist communications pages (or lack thereof). Hopefully we can update this as more agencies begin posting their communications:

Agencies Posting American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Communications With Registered Lobbyists
Agency Site
Army Corps of Engineers Visit site
Corporation for National and Community Service Visit site
Department of Commerce none
Department of Defense none
Department of Education none
Department of Energy Visit site
Department of Health and Human Services none
Department of Homeland Security none
Department of Housing and Urban Development none
Department of Interior Visit site
Department of Justice none
Department of State none
Department of Transportation Visit site
Department of Treasury none
Department of Veterans Affairs none
Environmental Protection Agency none
Federal Communication Commission Visit site
General Services Administration none
National Aeronautics and Space Administration Visit site
National Endowment for the Arts none
National Science Foundation none
Office of Personnel Management none
Railroad Retirement Board none
Small Business Administration Visit site
Smithsonian Institution none
Social Security Administration none
US Department of Agriculture none
USAID none
And a description of the origin of these communications:

On March 20, the White House issued memorandum setting guidelines for discussions by agency officials with registered lobbyists about funds coming from the America Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). The memorandum states that agency officials cannot meet with registered lobbyists about a specific program or specific funds, but can accept written communication that must be posted online. Agency officials can, however, meet with registered lobbyists if discussing general policy related to the recovery, with the official then recording the meeting to be posted online. The various agencies must then place all of these communications onto one page on their sites, most likely on their individual Recovery sections of their sites.