The “Lesbian and bisexual health” page is no longer linked from anywhere on the Office of Women’s Health website and the... View ArticleContinue reading
Eight of the 29 federal executive branch agencies that are required to publish Open Government Plans in compliance with the president's Open Government Directive to have yet to do so.Continue reading
Without FOIA this article on Health and Human Services' Secretary Kathleen Sebelius' meetings leading up to the Obamacare launch would not have been possible.Continue reading
While the federal government has extensive rules about how its regulatory agencies makes rules--with notices, publication schedules and comment periods--there is no government-wide policy for providing information to the public about meetings between executive branch officials and private interests. These contacts between regulators those seeking to influence them--refered to as ex parte meetings--can have a profound effect on the final shape of the rules that govern everything from disposing of trash to disclosing positions in complex derivatives. Yet there is no uniform requirement to make information about these meetings available to the public, let alone whether or not agencies must ...Continue reading
Are the PR flacks of the Obama administration against government transparency? If not, then why have some instituted media policies... View ArticleContinue reading
Yesterday I had the pleasure of sitting on a Sunshine Week panel moderated by Patrice McDermott, along with CRP's Sheila Krumholz, Pro Publica's Jennifer LaFleur and Todd Park of HHS. We touched on a lot of different topics, including one that by now is probably familiar to anyone who's followed the progress of the Open Government Directive: frustration with the vagueness of the term "high value datasets." Various organizations--Sunlight included--have criticized the administration for releasing "high value" datasets that seem to actually be of questionable usefulness.
Jennifer coined a formulation of what she considers to be a high value dataset, and it attracted some support on the panel:
Information on anything that's inspected, spent, enforced, or licensed. That's what I want, and that's what the public wants.
I don't think this is a bad formulation. But while I'm not anxious to tie myself into knots of relativism, we should keep in mind the degree to which "high value" is in the eye of the beholder. It's clear how Jennifer's criteria map to the needs of journalists like those at Pro Publica. But if you consider the needs of someone working with weather data, or someone constructing a GIS application--two uses of government data that have spawned thriving industries, and generated a lot of wealth--it's obvious that the definition isn't complete. To use a more melodramatic example, if World War III broke out tomorrow, a KML inventory of fallout shelters could quickly go from being an anachronism to a vital asset.
The point isn't that Jennifer's definition is bad, but rather that any definition is going to be incomplete. The problem isn't that agencies did a bad job of interpreting "high value" (though to be clear, some did do a bad job); rather, it's that formulating their task in this way was bound to produce unsatisfactory results.
We're going about this backward. Ideally, we'd be able to start by talking about what the available datasets are, not by trying to figure out what we hope they'll turn out to be. Government should audit its data holdings, publish the list, then ask the public to identify what we want and need. This won't be easy, but it's far from impossible. And any other approach will inevitably leave the public wondering what we're not being told.Continue reading
The Wall Street Journal announced today that it's suing for access to data on payments that doctors receive from Medicare, which has been exempt from public disclosure thanks to a 1979 court case won by the American Medical Association. The Journal argues that absent data on the payments, it's impossible for journalists or members of the public to tell which doctors are billing the system improperly. "It's time to overturn an injunction that, for decades, has allowed some doctors to defraud Medicare free from public scrutiny," Mark Jackson, the counsel for Dow Jones, the Journal's immediate ...Continue reading
The Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, released a set of ratings yesterday for something rather more important than appliances: heart bypass surgery. Using data submitted to the Society of Thoracic Surgeons (STS), the Consumers Union has graded various heart surgery groups using a three-star scale, similar to the way it rates radios, cameras and washing machines. It's a set of valuable public data that could serve as a model for expanding the Department of Health and Human Services' open government sites like Data.medicare.gov and the Community Health Data Initiative.
The heart surgery ratings are based on ...Continue reading
On Thursday, the White House announced the winners of their Leading Practices initiative, that they first outlined in April. The... View ArticleContinue reading