The House Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee just scheduled four budget hearings for next week, none of which will be webcast (according to their public notices). Just like last year, the hearings will be held in a tiny room in the Capitol that is often crowded past capacity. The public has a right to attend these meetings, and House Rules require that they be webcast (whenever practicable).
So what does "practicable" mean? When we surveyed how frequently committees webcast their hearings last year, we found that House Appropriators stood out for the absence of transparency of their proceedings.
The Sunlight Foundation tracked 200 House hearings over 20 days to determine whether they were webcast live, plus 407 hearings from January 17 to April 2 to determine whether video from the proceedings were archived online. Twenty-five percent (48 of 200) of the hearings were not live-streamed, and 22 percent (91 of 407) were not archived on committee websites.
Of the 48 hearings that were not live-streamed, 47 were Appropriations Committee hearings (Armed Services was the other one). Similarly, of the 91 hearings that did not have video archived on the committee website, 74 were Appropriations Committee hearings.
This is an intensely frustrating and longstanding problem.
I'm singling out the Legislative Branch Appropriations Committee's budget hearings on GPO, LOC, GAO, and CBO because we at the Sunlight Foundation care a lot about the legislative support agencies, particularly as they empower a lot of federal transparency. (And they've been actively working on government transparency issues, and there's more that we'd like them to do.)
But it's unfair to single them out. A quick look at the upcoming hearings and meetings for the Appropriations Committee finds meeting after meeting that won't be webcast. The hearing on nuclear nonproliferation? Won't be webcast. Indian education? Nope. Army Corps of Engineers? Out of luck. Of the ten upcoming hearings that indicate webcasting status, 2 will be webcast and 8 (including a closed hearing) will not.
With the budget crisis, impending sequester, and questions about federal spending, how is it that the committee most responsible for spending money is the one that's least likely to put its meetings online? We've seen a commitment from the House leadership to do better, and I hope that the Appropriations Committee will find a way to make that happen.