Last week we tumbled into an early daylight savings with a blizzard across the east coast and Sunshine Week, starting with a contest and ending with a push to pass legislation. As Ellen Miller’s email to members described, Sunshine Week was originally started in 2002 as a series of “Sunshine Sundays” by Florida editors who were opposed to rollbacks in Florida’s sunshine laws. Those Sunshine Sundays stopped about 300 provisions from going forward. In the last five years, the week has become a national celebration of openness and a time to push aggressively for more of it, from typically non-political journalists and happily political bloggers. On the first day of Sunshine Week, over 500 papers printed articles and editorials about the need for more open government. Meanwhile, the always industrious Center for Responsive Politics issued several useful suggestions to increase government transparency and the ease of accessing government records.
Here is how the Sunlight Foundation celebrated:
- On Tuesday, March 13, Sunlight held an event at the National Press Club titled “Sunshine in the First Branch: How Transparent is Congress?” The panel consisted of Mark Tapscott (Washington Examiner), John Solomon (Washington Post), Jonathan Salant (Bloomberg), Bill Allison (Sunlight), Rafael Degennero (Read the Bill), and Matt Stoller (MyDD, Open House Project). The event was hailed as a success.
- The Sunlight Foundation offered a $2,000 prize for the best “Web 2.0 Mashup” that displayed information about Congress. The deadline was set at April 15th.
- Sunlight Labs created a neat tool which allowed users to make-their-own “Top Secret redacted congressional document,” in which users could move given words and redactions around to create a new document or browse other people’s documents.
Meanwhile, Sunshine Week prompted a flurry of blogging about open government legislation:
- H.R. 1309, that amends (and strengthens) the Freedom of Information Act–the main lever that the press and the public have for prying documents out of the executive branch. The bill passed in the House, 308-117.
- H.R. 1254 would force presidential library foundations to make their donor lists public. The bill passed the House, 390-34.
- H.R. 1255 establishes procedures for releasing presidential records, and overturns a 2001 executive order from President Bush that sharply restricted (and in many cases out-and-out eliminated) public access to these government documents. The bill passed the House, 333-93.
- H.R. 985 expands whistleblower protections–protecting agency employees who report waste, fraud, abuse, illegalities and other malfeasance to members of Congress or Inspectors General from administration retribution. The bill passed in the House, 331-94.
- H.R. 1362 addresses shortcomings in the government’s relationships with private contractors by seeking to reduce the number of non-competitive, sole-source and cost-reimbursement contracts. Agency heads would be required to make public within fourteen days any contract awarded on a non-competitive basis. The document would then be posted on the agency website and be available through the Federal Procurement Data System. The bill passed in the House, 347-73.
- S. 223 would, for the first time, require campaign committees of Senate candidates to file their contribution and expenditure information electronically with the Federal Election Commission rather than sending in stacks of paper (both House and presidential candidates file electronically). No vote has been taken on the bill as of yet.