In a speech Wednesday, OMB controller Danny Werfel reportedly declared that improving the completeness and reliability of data on the... View ArticleContinue reading
On January 30th, the House of Representatives held a public meeting on its efforts to release more legislative information to the public in ways that facilitate its reuse. This was the second meeting hosted by the Bulk Data Task Force where members of the public were included; it began privately meeting in September 2012. (Sunlight and others made a presentation at a meeting, in October, on providing bulk access to legislative data.) This public meeting, organized by the Clerk's office, is a welcome manifestation of the consensus of political leaders of both parties in the House that now is the time to push Congress' legislative information sharing technology into the 21st century. In other words, it's time to open up Congress. The meeting featured three presentations on ongoing initiatives, allowed for robust Q&A, and highlighted improvements expected to be rolled out of the next few months. In addition, the House recorded the presentations and has made the video available to the public. The ongoing initiatives are the release of bill text bulk data by GPO, the addition of committee information for docs.house.gov, and the release on floor summary bulk data. It's expected that these public meetings will continue at least as frequently as once per quarter, or more often when prompted by new releases of information. As part of the introductory remarks, the House's Deputy Clerk explained that a report had been generated by the Task Force at the end of the 112th Congress on bulk access to legislative data and was submitted to the House Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee. It's likely that the report's recommendations will become public as part of the committee's hearings on the FY 2014 Appropriations Bill, at which time the public should have an opportunity to comment.Continue reading
The White House finally agreed to allow lawmakers (not the public) to see the DOJ's Office of Legal Counsel memo authorizing the use of drone strikes on civilians, the New York Times reports, but as a Sunlight analysis has shown, the administration is still withholding 37% of these crucially important legal opinions from public view (that were issued from inauguration in 2009 until March 2012). The administration is even holding on to much older opinions. 39% of OLC opinions issued between 1998 and 2012 are still being withheld from online publication, accounting for 201 of the 509 opinions issued during that time, our August 2012 analysis found. This three minute Advisory Committee on Transparency video, featuring CREW's Jeremy Miller, explains the importance of the OLC opinions. Secret law and good governance do not mix. While we recognize that there occasionally may be reasons that countenance against their full release, we recommend the following:
- The Office of Legal Counsel should refresh its website to indicate how many memos are issued each year. It should adopt the default of releasing all memos, not just the ones it deems “significant” (as such a distinction invites abuse and mistrust), and should do so prospectively and retrospectively.
- Where OLC cannot release an opinion in its entirety, it should release versions that are redacted as lightly as possible.
- At a minimum, the titles of opinions should be released, and if even that raises insurmountable issues, descriptions of memos should be available in their stead.
- Finally, the administration should consider bringing in a trusted reviewer from outside the executive branch who can credibly (and publicly) make recommendations about the release of additional opinions.
On Monday, Princeton’s Steve Schultze argued for the right of all Americans to access federal court records online at no... View ArticleContinue reading
The House of Representatives’ document portal, docs.house.gov, launched in January 2012 with a surprisingly rich and relevant set of data:... View ArticleContinue reading
Earlier today, Speaker Boehner and Majority Leader Cantor and the Government Printing Office announced an improvement in how legislation is made publicly available. Starting in the 113th Congress, GPO will make all bills available for bulk download in XML format. While this doesn't change much from a technological perspective, it does mark a significant change from a policy perspective.Continue reading
With 67 new representatives and 12 new senators just sworn in, it's likely that many members of the 113th Congress are still learning the way to their offices. As they get settled, here are 5 recommendations that they (and their colleagues) could implement right now to be more transparent. 1. Create an Online Guest Book Starting the day they they were sworn in, lobbyists, well-wishers, and constituents have streamed into member offices. While visitors to the White House are listed online, the same isn't true for visitors to congressional offices. At their front doors, representatives should set up an electronic guest book where visitors are encouraged to type in their names, briefly summarize why they're visiting, and say whether they're a federally registered lobbyist. That information should be posted on the member's website. In addition, members should post online their just completed daily schedule of activities, as maintained by their scheduler, at the end of each day. It will help people better understand what they do on a daily basis. 2. Who's Who in the Office Most meetings that take place in a congressional office are with staff, not the representative. Each staffer is the member's point person for a particular topic. All offices should post online a list of staff working in the office and the issue areas they handle. (Some already do this.) This info is already available from private companies for a fee, but it should be available for everyone.Continue reading
The United States Senate is a creature of its rules. Through its standing rules, laws and resolutions, precedents, and the consent of its members, the upper chamber carefully controls how legislation can be promulgated and debate can take place. Unlike the House of Representatives, which must vote on its rules every Congress, the Senate rarely reconsiders its standing rules in their entirety. An opportunity may arise, however, with the current debate over changing how the filibuster works. Here are Sunlight's major recommendations for updating the Senate's rules.Continue reading
The House Rules Committee released a resolution earlier today that contains proposed rules for the House of Representatives for the 113th Congress. It also released a summary of the proposed changes. These standing rules govern most facets of how the House operates, and the House Republican Conference will meet on January 2nd to consider the proposal. (In addition to considering the rules for the House, we expect that the Republican Conference will adopt and then make its own rules available online for the 113th Congress.) In December, the Sunlight Foundation released recommendations on how the House should update its rules to be more transparent. We are pleased to note that the resolution would expand the House's anti-nepotism rule to include grandchildren and reauthorizes the Office of Congressional Ethics. We are still studying the other changes. We had hoped that the House would adopt a chamber-wide presumption in favor of public access to information as well as create a public index of the information it holds, but that doesn't seem likely at this time. When you add together the changes the House made at the start of the 112th Congress (which we redlined here and made recommendations regarding here), the 3 transparency conferences it held during the 112th (including a hackathon), the release of the transparency portal docs.house.gov, rules for publishing documents online, and much more, it's clear that the House in a number of respects has become a more transparent institution over the last two years. We hope that the leadership's enthusiasm for openness does not wane, which can become a concern the longer a party stays in power.Continue reading
Do campaign contributions affect the likelihood that a member of congress has publicly spoken out after the Sandy Hook School shooting? The answer appears to be yes, and by a lot. Our review found that a representative who received significant campaign support from the NRA was more likely to keep his or her mouth shut about the shooting -- speaking out at 2/3s the rate of an average member of congress.Continue reading