What a difference a year makes. As we sat down to count our blessings a year ago, we could all be thankful that the 109th Congress was winding down, that the public disdain for that Congress–fueled in part by its profligate earmarking to benefit connected contributors, and the various members with problems ranging from ethical complaints to outright corruption charges (including Rep. William Jefferson, Rep. Alan Mollohan, Sen. Ted Stevens, Rep. Jerry Lewis, Sen. Bob Menendez, Rep. John Doolittle, to name a few–there’s a more thorough list here)–might wind down with it. As we sit down to count our blessings in 2007, we can be thankful that the 110th Congress is nearly halfway through its term, that this Congress apparently is equally unperturbed by low poll ratings, that Jefferson, Mollohan, Stevens, Lewis, Menendez and Doolittle remain on the scene, ensuring that VECO’s congressional home remodeling service, $90,000 of cold, hard (frozen, actually) cash, unintentional accounting omissions of assets and, of course, Jack Abramoff remain relevant terms in our political discourse.
But there is much to be thankful for. To begin with, computers–“When I sit down to write a letter or start the first draft of an article, I simply type on the keyboard and the words appear on the screen“–which, once connected via pneumatic tube to the the Internet (detailed technical overviews of which are available here and here), allows citizens to access insanely useful resources for understanding the operations of their government.
Much more user friendly than insanely useful ledger books…
We can be thankful for all the various data standards the government uses–it makes it so much easier that they’re similar to, but not the same as, those used in the private sector. We can be grateful for the Freedom of Information Act, and for FOIA officers whose responses challenge our ingenuity (but also yield interesting things). We’re thankful that members of Congress seem to have it no easier than we do when it comes to getting information from the executive branch.
We’re thankful for the earmark disclosure that the House enacted, even if the rule requires visits to committee offices to actually find out who’s earmarking what for whom. That’s still miles ahead of the Senate. And we’re thankful to the Boeing Corporation, which, just in time for the holiday season, delivered a congressional junket jet, so that members no longer need to feel the pinch caused by the bans on travel sponsored by groups that lobby.
And finally, we are thankful to Congress, for making sure that transparency groups will never run out of things to do.
Happy Thanksgiving, and remember — four out of five doctors from Sunlight Labs recommend large doses of Sunlightalinazinosec for overindulgence in turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie and especially hot steaming servings of congressional pork.