House Doubts on Electronic Disclosure?

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Maybe my last post was a little too comfortable — trying to strengthen the disclosure requirements of the STOCK Act.

We just came across this passage of a CQ story, suggesting that the House could be wavering on electronic disclosure:

House leaders and aides also are concerned about the feasibility of Senate provision calling for a new searchable website where all disclosure statements would be available. A veteran House aide said Congress has taken more than a year to implement comparable databases.

Now, this is just one reporter who talked to one veteran House aide.  But this bill is moving fast, and we want to be sure that whatever passes the House is as strong as possible, so we’re taking reports of that kind of hesitation seriously.

Let’s be clear — it’s 2012. Disclosure of essential governmental information has moved beyond the filing cabinet. To make something effectively public is to put it online. To put it online most effectively means to require public filing, and to release searchable information, and to also offer a download of the data you’re releasing.  By and large, the Senate bill does this, even if it mandates destruction of records and requires a login (which my last post criticizes).

Getting a website and electronic filing system together will take some effort, sure, but it’s a task the Clerk of the House and Secretary of the Senate are up to filling.  They’ve faced similar requirements in recent bills, and have delivered what is required of them.  Leadership is welcome to be “concerned” about implementation, but that’s no reason not to implement something.

If the electronic disclosure requirements are removed from the STOCK Act, we’d interpret that as a lack of political will to create effective disclosure.  Hiding behind fictional technical limitations isn’t going to cut it.

I assume that the drafters of the bill, and the people working on this issue have good intentions — we were all in a room together last week agreeing (for the most part) about digital transparency. So let’s make it clear that disclosure of essential accountability data in Congress works electronically, not through a filing cabinet that nobody looks at.

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