WASHINGTON, DC - The Sunlight Foundation unveiled today Real Time Investigations (realtime.sunlightprojects.org/), an unprecedented open source journalism effort that instantaneously reveals the behind-the-scenes research involved in petitioning the federal government to make its information more accessible to citizens, constituents and journalists.
Just today, Real Time Investigations and The New York Times received exclusive information about the disclosure of personal identification information, including Social Security Numbers, by the federal government. This privacy breach was first discovered by a user of FedSpending.org (www.fedspending.org), an online database of government spending created by OMB Watch, a Sunlight Foundation grantee.
"Real Time Investigations aims to increase Congressional openness by conducting transparent investigations of Congress," said Sunlight Foundation Executive Director Ellen Miller. "Counter to most investigative journalists, Real Time's Bill Allison and Anupama Narayanswamy are blogging about what they're doing and who they're calling. If someone picks up the lead and runs with it, then great."
As an example, today's issue of The Hill reports on a new federal online database that was first disclosed by Real Time Investigations two weeks ago. This story exposed the existence of a searchable database of lobbying disclosure forms by the Justice Department's Foreign Agents Registration Unit.
Real Time Investigations' first major project sheds light on the relationship between Congress and federal agencies by using Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to obtain monthly correspondence logs of letters sent by members of Congress to over 100 federal agencies. This information is posted online as soon as it is received, giving citizens and reporters an insider view of the extent to which members of Congress interact with executive branch agencies and what issues command their attention.
A second ongoing effort tracks a particular government lobbying disclosure form, the SF-LLL, which government contractors and grantees are supposed to file whenever they make a payment to a lobbyist who is attempting to influence government officials in the awarding of a contract or grant. By collecting these forms, Sunlight's investigative team distinguishes between contracts and grants awarded through the normal procurement or grant making process and those awarded with the aid of outside influence.
Real Time Investigations is being led by Senior Fellow Bill Allison, who leads Sunlight's distributed research projects, including "Congress' Family Business," and Investigative Writer Anupama Narayanswmay, who joined the Sunlight Foundation in March after spending a year at the Center for Public Integrity.
Founded in January, 2006, the mission of the Sunlight Foundation is to strengthen the relationship between lawmakers and their constituents. Sunlight puts information and tools in citizens' hands so they can learn more about what Congress and their elected representatives are doing. Its ultimate goal is full transparency by Congress, its Members and staff will help reduce corruption, ensure greater accountability, and foster public trust in this vital institution of democracy.
Since its founding, the Sunlight Foundation has issued nearly $2 million to groups to digitize existing information about Congress and those that use Internet technology to further Sunlight's goals. Additionally, the Sunlight Foundation has fostered its own projects such as Congresspedia, OpenCongress.org and Congress' Family Business.