What better celebration of Ada Lovelace Day – celebrating the achievements of women in technology – could we have than to honor the women who are key to the government transparency movement to which technology is so key? These women are using technology to pry open the doors of government, and are creating a new style of transparency powered by the Internet. By either making more political and spending data available online, facilitating others to do the same, addressing questions that arise in the age of technology or by creating new tools and context to help all of us connect the dots and understand what the data has to tell us, these women are empowering all of us to hold our government accountable in ways we never could before. As I look around to my colleagues, I see a remarkable number of us – too many to really mention in one column. So here are a few: Ryan Alexander became President of Taxpayers for Common Sense in November 2006, after more than seven years of serving on the board. Taxpayers, under her leadership, has become the go-to organization if you want to find out anything about earmarks. She’s had a long history working on behalf of the public interest: in the past 20 years she has worked as a non-profit advocate, litigator, manager, funder and consultant on issues from media policy, election reform, public health policy, transparency, privacy, women’s economic security and citizen participation. You can follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ryanalxndr.
Danielle Brian’s been battling government secrecy for two decades as the Executive Director of the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) — a group that investigates, exposes, and remedies corruption and other misconduct in order to achieve a more effective, accountable, open and ethical federal government. POGO’s investigations have led to major reforms and cuts in wasteful spending in such areas as government secrecy, nuclear security, drug industry influence on health policy, and defense contractor waste and fraud. When she started there – there was no such thing as a fax or even a feeder in the copy machine, let alone the Internet. You can follow her on twitter at http://twitter.com/daniellebrian.
Leslie Harris is the President and CEO of the Center for Democracy & Technology, where she is responsible for the overall vision and direction of the organization and serves as its chief strategist and spokesperson. Under her leadership, CDT has grown significantly, opened a West Coast office and launched an influential Health Privacy Project. Leslie is widely known for her work on policy issues related to civil liberties, new technologies and the Internet including free expression, government and consumer privacy, cyber security and global Internet freedom. She frequently testifies before Congress and federal agencies, is a regular contributor to several online publications and blogs, including the Huffington Post, and in 2009 was named one of Washington’s Tech Titans by Washingtonian magazine. You can follow her on twitter at http://twittter.com/Leslie_Harris
Sheila Krumholz has been the Executive Director of the Center of Responsive Politics since 2007. She has been at the Center since 1989 (with a few years off) working her way up through the research ranks, overseeing the internal data compilation and analyses found on CRP’s site, OpenSecrets.org, as well as customized research for CRP’s clients. Under her leadership, CRP has increased its reputation as a reliable source for accurate, nonpartisan research and the premier resource on political finance, lobbying, revolving door and other influence data at the federal level. Sheila also a heads an organization where three of their four senior staff members – including the directors of IT and research – are women, representing a combined 40 years of work at the Center. You can follow her on twitter at http://www.twitter.com/skrmhlz.
Jen Palkha spent 15 years in technology media before deciding to focus on transparency at the municipal level with the founding of her new organization – Code for America – that works with city governments to identify web apps that drive transparency, efficiency and participation, and that are reusable by other cities. Code for America recruits teams of fellows from the web industry to build these apps through a structured program of public service. Jennifer is currently working with the 11 cities who applied for their first development cycle to decide which three to five projects will be built starting in January 2011. You can follow her on twitter at http://www.twitter.com/pahlkadot.
Melanie Sloan, a former federal prosecutor and Hill staffer, started Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics (CREW) in Washington in 2003. CREW has used litigation as a tactic to force our government to be more transparent. Melanie and CREW were instrumental in revealing that millions of emails disappeared from Bush White House servers. It is also thanks to CREW’s lawsuits against both the Bush and Obama administrations that the Obama White House now makes White House visitor records available online. You can follow CREW’s work on twitter at http://www.twitter.com/CREWCREW
And my colleagues would berate me for not including my own story. I am co-founder and executive director of the Sunlight Foundation, a non-partisan, non-profit organization dedicated to using the power of the Internet to catalyze greater government openness and transparency. I am the founder of two other prominent Washington-based organizations in the field of money and politics – the Center for Responsive Politics and Public Campaign – and an expert on transparency and the influence of money in politics. You can follow me on twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ellnmllr
It’s been an enormous pleasure to work with Ryan, Danielle, Sheila, Leslie, Jen and Melanie for many years. We all say “thank you, Ada” for paving the way.