As Kenneth Vogel of Politico notes this morning:
Anyone seeking copies of the financial disclosure reports recently filed by members of his Cabinet and his top aides has to navigate an arcane and intrusive bureaucracy reliant on faxes, dense government forms, snail mail, or proximity to Washington, plus an insider’s knowledge of an unpredictable schedule dictated by a host of government officials.
Even cutting the new Administration some slack, which I am willing to do on a number of these early missteps when it comes to using technology to create greater transparency for government, this is just wrong.
There are easy — even if less than ideal ways — to make these financial disclosure forms easily accessible: at a minimum a PDF of the documents (PDFs of PFDs) could be posted on line, searchable by name of the person who filed it. (That’s not 21st century style disclosure either but it’s better than what they are now doing.) That’s pretty basic but at least it would cut out the need to request the documents at all (much less fill out a form to get them), wait for that request to be filled, or to have to be here in Washington to get paper copies. At least anyone could have access to them 24/7.
Of course there are more sophisticated ways those documents could be made accessible – some of them in themselves quite simple. A straightforward downloadable, parsable database could have been created so that we could easily find out more about the nominees. It could also be created in a way to make it interoperable with other data sets that are relevant (like lobbying or campaign finance records).
While we have certainly welcomed and applauded the early Executive Order and Memoranda regarding transparency from the Obama team, the proof is always in the pudding. And the early moves by the Administration are not totally encouraging.