Weekly Media Roundup – May 1, 2009


Here are a few of the more interesting media mentions of Sunlight and our friends and grantees from this week:

David Herbert with the National Journal (subscription required) wrote about the grades new media experts from across the political spectrum gave the Obama administration’s Web presence. The experts gave WhiteHouse.gov an average grade of C+. Although they mostly see it as an improvement from the previous administration’s site, many noted that it remained a one-way forum and suggested it be opened to allow comments and other interactive features. Herbert quotes Ellen Miller, Sunlight’s executive director, “This occasional use of interactive tools” is impressive, but “90 percent of the time the site is pretty straightforward, as it was under [George W.] Bush.” Recovery.gov, the administration’s site where citizens can monitor the expenditure and use of recovery funds, fared even worse in the Journal’s poll, averaging a C. The most common gripe about the site, Herbert writes, is that it’s “the view from 30,000 feet,” as Micah Sifry, senior technology advisor for Sunlight and Personal Democracy Forum (PDF) co-founder, told him. Without providing on-the-the ground details, Recovery.gov offers taxpayers few tools for staying on top of where their money is going, reviewers said. Recovery.gov has competition in the form of privately-operated Recovery.org, which has “more granular data and a real search tool, which one assumes we’ll eventually see on Recovery.gov,” Micah explains. “I don’t think it’s fair to compare this site to other Web sites yet, as it’s just weeks old,” Micah added. “Let’s take another look in three to six months, OK?”

Chris Lefkow with Agence France-Presse gained a different take by interviewing academics, technology analysts and nonpartisan groups on the administration’s technology efforts. Lefkow writes that they all said the first “tech president” is off to a good start. Lefkow quotes John Wonderlich, Sunlight’s policy director, “their first pronouncements are very encouraging,” and added that the challenge, however, is going to be the implementation. Andrew Resiej, Sunlight’s other senior technology advisor and PDF co-founder, said the administration been doing as much as it can to fulfill its promises in regards to transparency and technological innovation. “However they’ve been constrained by decades of industrial-age rules and regulations and procurement protocols that are handicapping the speed at which they can implement that vision,” he said.

Declan McCullagh at CBS News‘ “Political Hotsheet” blog also wrote about how President Obama’s follow through on his transparency vow is receiving mixed reviews. In the post McCullagh highlights how Sunlight’s Our Open Government List is allowing users to vote on what’s most important to see in the 120-day review. McCullagh reports that the winner so far is formal data standards, which would allow programmers to extract government databases to be incorporated in their own applications. McCullagh also mentions that Sunlight hosted TransparencyCamp.

Dan Eggen at The Washington Post wrote about how some of the nation’s largest defense contractors, labor unions and trade groups are forging an alliance to try to stop the Obama administration from cutting certain weapons programs. They are arguing that the proposed cuts would threaten 100,000 or more jobs. Eggen cites Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) data to show the defense sector’s influence in Washington, where it gave nearly $26 million to congressional candidates last year and spending $150 million on lobbying.

The New York Times republished Robin Bravender’s piece from Greenwire exploring President Obama’s regulatory actions taken during his first 100 days in office. Bravender quotes Gary Bass, OMB Watch’s executive director, “In most instances, the administration has moved away from a presumption of government secrecy to one of government openness, and Obama has scrapped some of the most damaging revisions of the regulatory process that Bush and his team imposed on the nation.” The article highlighted OMB Watch’s “Advancing the Public Interest through Regulatory Reform” report (pdf), which is one of two reports, both released on Tuesday, assessing the Obama administration’s work on government transparency and regulatory reform at the 100-day mark. The second report, titled “21st Century Right-to-Know Agenda” (pdf) looked at the administration’s follow through on transparency and openness. Overall, the reports state that the president and his team have made significant progress in both the right-to-know and regulatory areas, but much more work needs to be done.

Carol D. Leonnig with The Washington Post reported that U.S. Rep. John Murtha (Pa.), chair of the House defense appropriations subcommittee, got the Pentagon to spend about $30 million on “the little-used airport named for him so it can handle behemoth military aircraft and store combat equipment for rapid deployment to foreign battlefields.” Most of the improvement, Leonnig writes, were funded through appropriations approved by Murtha’s subcommittee, and have not been used for their intended purpose. The article includes comments by Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.  “Nobody wants to say no to Congressman Murtha or make him mad because he controls defense appropriations,” she said. “Murtha wanted an airport, and he knew he could get one. It’s like he’s a billionaire, except it’s not his money.”

Robert O’Harrow Jr., writing at The Washington Post‘s “Government Inc.” blog, writes about a new report from the Inspector General for TARP, which says the bailout is growing more complex and costly, and is operating with no clear leadership. O’Harrow highlights and extensively quotes from Anu Narayanswamy’s Real Time Investigations report that found the program is shrouded in secrecy, making it difficult to determine who is managing it.

USA Today published an editorial about how the federal government, when faced with the option of making information public or hiding it, is predisposed toward concealment. Federal Web sites are usually full of data, the editorial says, but are also notoriously hard to navigate. It mentions Google’s new tool, Google Public Data, it launched this week to make it easier to search federal sites. Congressional sites can be even more inscrutable, they write, and mentions and links to Sunlight’s Senior Fellow Bill Allison‘s Real Time Investigations report regarding U.S. House of Representatives lawmakers disclosing their earmark requests, and how many responded by burying the links or posting unreadable pdf files. Kim Hart with The Washington Post also wrote about Google’s new tool, and quotes Clay Johnson, Sunlight Labs director, saying he’s encouraged by it.

Joab Jackson with Government Computer News wrote about how through mashups and Web apps, third parties are remixing and making innovative use of government agencies’ information. Jackson quotes Clay as saying there are a lot of developers who are eager to get access to government data. “The nongovernmental sector will likely always have more talent and artistic capability than inside the government,” Clay said. The article discusses Sunlight Labs’ Apps for America contest, as well as Sunlight’s role in developing OpenCongress.org, OMB Watch’s FedSpending.org, CRP’s OpenSecrets.org and EarmarkWatch.org. Jackson also highlights Josh Tauberer‘s work at GovTrack.

Federal News Radio interviewed Clay about Data.gov, new federal CIO Vivek Kundra‘s soon to launch central repository for government data and research, and links to Sunlight Labs’ mock up of the site.

Thanks, and see you next Friday!