Sunlight is very proud to share the news that the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation will award us $4 million over the next three years to increase our ability to make more government data more accessible, especially on the state and local level. With this new support, we will focus more on making more government data accessible to more and more people -- not just journalists and experts. This new funding from the Knight Foundation will undoubtedly go a long way toward giving us more resources to make online government transparency a reality, enabling us to continue to build tools to bring that data to the public and share with the growing open government community lessons learned from our work.
We're excited to share the news that Google.org just announced a $2.1 million grant for Sunlight to expand our mission to open government data. The work will include everything from extending our policy and data work to the municipal level to supporting the creation of policy case studies that demonstrate the power and success of tech-driven transparency to improve civic engagement and people's lives. Thanks to Google.org's support we will also be able to expand our mini-grant program to grow the community working towards a common goal.
This backing is an affirmation of our goals, and we're thrilled to have Google.org support.
We're eager to get started on this work and honored that another organization has found the Sunlight Foundation's work worthy of support. Thank you Google.org! You now join the ranks of our many funders, which readers can check out on our funding page.
Stay tuned for more updates about how you can get involved.
House Appropriators released draft legislation [PDF] on Wednesday that appears to increase funding levels for the Electronic Government Fund, the source of financial support for government financial and data transparency websites, in a hint of things to come at tomorrow's mark-up. The e-gov fund suffered a huge cut from $34m in FY 2010 to $8m in FY 2011, which put many of its programs on life-support and terminated others, and has been the subject of a campaign by transparency advocates (including Sunlight) to restore full funding. The legislation was released 24-hours before a House Appropriations Committee Financial Services Subcommittee mark-up, scheduled for some time on Thursday morning. UPDATE 6/16: the subcommittee approved the legislation without amendment.
In a legislative twist, funding for the Electronic Government Fund appears to have been combined with funding for the Office of Citizen Services, making it difficult to figure out how much money will actually go towards e-gov websites. My best guess is that the legislation would increase the money available for e-gov to $13m from the $8m appropriated in FY 2011, which is still far off from the $34m available in FY 2010.
Where does this guess come from? Well, the draft legislation would appropriate $50m to e-gov and OCS, and last year OCS was cut from $37m to $34m. If we assume that OCS has been returned to a $37m funding level, that leaves $13m for e-gov. (It could be that OCS funding will not be fully restored, so more money would go towards e-gov, but there’s no way to know.) Combining these two funds together may have some logic to it, as the GSA’s Office of Citizen Services and Information Technology maintains projects built under both of those funds.
What does this mean in practical terms? Were the House Appropriations Subcommittee’s text to be untouched during mark-up and adopted into law, the e-gov fund would marginally improve, moving from life support to critical condition. Enough money might be available to either make some improvements to its existing transparency programs, or perhaps to add a new program, but not much more than that. Progress on improving transparency websites and access to data would be slow, fitful, and uneven -- but possible.
A critical test for the funding level comes this Thursday morning, when the House Appropriations Subcommittee will mark-up the text, meaning that it will review, amend, and (likely) vote to approve the legislation. This is the best opportunity in the House for real changes to be made to the bill. Hopefully the e-gov fund will receive a financial boost during this process.
Unfortunately, the hearing will take place in a tiny room in the Capitol, so it is very difficult for members of the public to attend. It won’t be webcast, despite House rules requiring committees to “provide audio and video coverage … in a manner that allows the public to easily listen to and view the proceedings,” so you can’t watch the action online. We’ve run into this problem before. My colleague Melanie will try to attend, but given the space constraints and significant interest in the mark-up, odds are slim that she’ll be able to get into the room.
Assuming the bill is passed out of subcommittee this week, it will go to the full Appropriations Committee next week, which will likely simply endorse the actions of the subcommittee, although there is a slim chance for amendment. After that, it will advance to the floor of the House for a final vote, and then go to the Senate. The whole process will start again, and we have hope that the Senate will fight to fully fund e-gov.
Of course, we’ll be following this each step of the way. And everything could change during mark-up.
Here’s the legislative language from the House Appropriations Subcommittee text:
INFORMATION AND ENGAGEMENT FOR CITIZENS For necessary expenses of the Office of Citizen Services, including services authorized by 5 U.S.C. 3109, and 24 to carry out the E-Government Act of 2002 (Public Law 25 107–347), $50,000,000: Provided, That the revenues and collections deposited into the Federal Citizen Services Fund shall only be available for necessary expenses of Federal Citizen Services activities in the aggregate amount not to exceed $60,000,000: Provided further, That revenues and collections accruing to the Fund during fis-cal year 2012 in excess of such amount shall remain in the Fund and shall not be available for expenditure except as authorized in appropriations Acts.
As Americans watch their lawmakers bicker and pontificate on how to fix the budget, we thought it would be helpful to gather some of the possible services that would slow or stall if the government shuts down. Of course, 'shutdown' isn't a wholly accurate term, as many vital government services will continue to function and the United States will not become an anarchy overnight. As the final and frantic negotiations take place on the Hill, government offices are quietly prepping for the shutdown that would start after midnight this Friday. We will not know the specifics for this shutdown until each agency releases their individual updated plans, which the American Federation of Government Employees union is currently suing OMB to obtain.
The following examples are based on previous shutdowns and many services are up in the air, as many services can be labeled essential. Note these are examples are for federal services, not local or state government operations - though everyone will be hurting during a shutdown. Essentially, the determination still needs to be made over excepted activities and personnel. It looks like most congressional staff will report for work. Paychecks for salaried government employees will likely be delayed, even for those considered essential, and while the pay is not guaranteed, budgets passed following a shutdown traditionally provided backpay, though questions remain if that will happen now.
Members of the military and senior government officials like the President, members of Congress and presidential appointees will continue to be paid. Essential employees who are asked to 'volunteer' their services must fall under three categories (via OPM Furlough 2011 and Committee on House Administration):
- Activities that entail or directly support Members’ performance of their constitutional responsibility
- Activities that entail the safe-guarding of human life
- Activities that entail the protection of property
Here's a rundown of government services that could remain open or be crippled by congressional inaction. The main sources, if not linked, are the OMB Furlough Memos, which update the OMB Memo on November 17, 1981.
Likely to Remain Open:
- President, members of Congress and senior government officials - with most of their staff
- The military - regardless of stationing location
- Justice system including federal courts (at least for 10 days) and correctional facilities
- Firefighters, police and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
- Border, coastal protection and surveillance
- Medical care of inpatients and emergency outpatient care
- Medicare and Medicaid - delayed checks possible
- Air traffic control and Transportation Security Administration (TSA)
- Public utilities
- Emergency and disaster assistance
- Personnel involved in the 'essential elements of the money and banking system' - (so, still pay your taxes, but the refunds will likely be delayed)
- Personnel involved in the 'orderly suspension of agency operations'
- Food inspections and pollution monitoring
- Congressional Research Service
- Federal Reserve (does not rely on appropriations)
- US Postal Service (self-funded)
- Government websites (will remain online but non-essential sites will not updated)
Likely to be Slowed or Closed (CRS Report - 2/8/11):
- Processing of benefits for Veterans and Social Security
- New applications for Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security or Veterans benefits
- Closure of national museums and parks (estimated loss of 9 million visitors during the last shutdown)
- Smithsonian Institution and National Zoo (thankfully animal manure management has improved)
- White House will be 'significantly lower staffing levels'
- Patent and Visa processing (Last time 20,000-30,000 applications by foreigners per day and 200,000 U.S. applications for passports were not processed)
- Two-thirds of the State department would be furloughed and diplomatic travel restricted
- New permit applications through the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
- Bureau of Indian Affairs completely closed last shutdown (assistance payments and oil royalties delayed)
- National Archives and the Library of Congress (during the last shutdown they even took down the website)
- New federal home loan guarantees or loans/loan guarantees from the Small Business Association
- New energy leases
- Cleanup at Superfund/toxic waste sites (609 sites stopped in the 95-96 shutdown)
- New clinical research and disease hotlines at National Institutes of Health (NIH)
- Unknown amount of government contractors (would unlikely get retroactive pay)
- Food and Drug Administration's new device and drug approvals
- Department of Homeland Security's e-Verify
- As DC is a federal territory, the city will suffer greatly without federal funds, including no libraries, trash pickup, parking enforcement, DMV, non-emergency transportation projects or new permits (full DC shutdown plan)
Experts estimate the looming shutdown could furlough around 800,000 federal employees. The Smithsonian says around 500,000 visitors will be turned away just over the weekend and who knows what will happen to the 23,000 people who already bought IMAX tickets. Like many political beings around the world, we are watching this situation very closely.
Image via flickr user Pak Gwei.
I’m thrilled to announce that the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation just announced a new $1.2 million two-year grant to us to support Sunlight in our nascent “National Data Apps” initiative that allows us to give you access to more government data that affects you in your daily life. The funding also allows us to further expand our award-winning Sunlight Live real-time accountability platform that combines streaming video, government transparency data, journalistic background and social media coverage of major events in Washington. (Be sure to tune in on Election night, when we’ll cover the results of this year’s mid-term elections.)
Our Sunlight Labs will design -- along with our Reporting Group -- the National Data Apps and issue reports on the government’s track record for making this kind of data available to the public. Additionally, the Sunlight Foundation Reporting Group will train journalists, bloggers and other members of the media on how to use the National Data Apps when they are launched in early-2011. (Use the comments below to let us know if you’re interested in this kind of training, or send us an email.)
Knight’s previous funding of Sunlight has supported our creation of Poligraft, Influence Explorer and our free embeddable Politiwidgets about members of Congress that you’ve seen used in our blog posts and on some of your hometown newspapers’ websites.
By now, you've heard of Diaspora, the Kickstarter-funded effort to build an open, privacy-minded alternative to Facebook. In recent weeks, helped by a widely-circulated New York Times article, the project has raised over $180,000 from 5,000 backers. Considering that the project, while well-thought out by four undergrads at NYU, has not produced a single line of code, these figures are surprising to say the least. But hoping for the best, assuming that this project does deliver something tangible and useful at the end of the summer, it would inform a workable funding model for open source software projects.