Yesterday, John and I met with the director of the fantastically-named Committee Management Secretariat, which oversees approximately 1,000 federal advisory committees. The Secretariat’s job is to “monitor and report executive branch compliance” with the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), the law that formalized the process for “establishing, operating, overseeing, and terminating” advisory bodies.
What was striking about our conversation was how interested they were in making these committees more transparent, and the steps that they have (or are considering taking) to do so.
Although there is room for improvement in the design and content of the Secretariat’s website, I have been pleasantly surprised by the amount of information it contains. It has guidance to advisory committees is available for review; there’s a digest of all the litigation involving FACA over the last 32 years; it contains a list all of the current committee management officers; and also available are interagency meeting minutes. Some of the information is old, or is in proprietary formats like MS Word, but the site is better than many in terms of substance.
One database that could be useful were it significantly revamped is the “FACA Database at FIDO,” which is intended to help the executive branch and congress monitor activities of FACA committees. Unfortunately, the site’s design is confusing and the data it provides is just about impossible to parse. That’s not because it doesn’t contain useful information. In fact, there are tons of useful nuggets, including each committee’s charter, its reports, recommendations, costs, membership list, the committee charter, etc. Rather, the user interface violates just about every design principle I can think of.
In 2008, we had suggested that the data should be available for bulk download. Thanks to the new open government push (and efforts by the Secretariat), some of the information behind the FACA database is now available for download here. Of course, there’s still much more that should be available, and there are many open questions about whether it’s time for another look at FACA itself.