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Senate Expenses to be PDF'd

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We've just gotten the following document, which gives us the latest on the Senate's plan to post official Senate expenses online this Congress.

Sunlight has been anticipating the first ever digital release of Senate expenses since 2009, when the new policy was passed, as a result of Senator Coburn's amendment, which followed on Speaker Pelosi's new policy.

It looks like the first view of the disclosures will happen in November, and cover April to September. Most disappointingly, the information will be disclosed as a PDF. The legislation was rather clearly intended to create the release of actual data, not data in the difficult-to-reuse form of a paper document. Unfortunately, PDF documents can meet the standard of searchable (as long as the text is exposed), and itemized (if the items are listed), so the Senate is getting by on a technicality, and reaching for the lowest common denominator.

You can expect us to continue to try to get this released as a proper dataset -- more often than semi-annual, and perhaps most importantly, as structured data.

This should still be a big step forward, since the Senate expenses were only released before as a semi-annual book that almost no one knew about. We'll also be watching to be sure that the information available is at least as detailed as the information contained in the old, print edition of these disclosures.

Here's the letter:

Senate Expenses PDF