If the government shutdown had not occurred, today, November 1, would have been an important deadline for federal agency transparency. The first major deliverables to come out of President Obama’s May 2013 Executive Order “Making Open and Machine Readable the new Default for Government Information,” and its accompanying Office of Management and Budget memorandum on “managing information as an asset,” were originally scheduled for November 1, but that deadline has officially been pushed back to November 30.
The executive order and accompanying OMB memo demand progress from agencies on four key areas: instituting enterprise data inventories, releasing public data listings, creating mechanisms for public comment, and documenting if data cannot be released to the public. Over the coming week’s we’ll dig a little deeper into these areas, discussing what we hope to see come November 30.
President Obama’s Executive Order is the latest in a series of executive actions that have cleared the path towards open and useable Federal government data. This most recent step is the surest yet and, coupled with detailed guidance released by OMB and the Office of Science and Technology Policy, should allow agencies to confidently move towards open and machine readable data as their default.Continue reading
By Carrie Tian and Matt Rumsey. Research Assistance by Justin Lin. Every morning in Washington staffers, lobbyists, activists, and ordinary citizens are faced with choices as they try to schedule their days on Capitol Hill. To fill their calendars and get to hearings on time they have to navigate several, often conflicting, sources of information to find the right date, time, and hearing room. As a result they can find themselves checking their laptops before leaving the house and refreshing their phones as they rumble down the Redline. Docs.House.Gov, among its other features, aims to simplify this problem by becoming a one-stop repository for information on House committee hearings. We decided to look back at the first six months of this program to see how close it was coming to the ideal of including every House committee hearing, as compared to the other sources of “the same” information, notably house.gov/legislative and individual committee websites.Continue reading
By Daniel Schuman of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and Matt Rumsey Today is Constitution Day. On this date in 1787, delegates to the Constitutional Convention met to sign the document they created. We live in the world’s oldest continuous constitutional democracy, and our written constitution — as interpreted by the courts and fleshed out by Congress — governs us still. How has the Constitution been interpreted over the years? Congress charged its library with publishing an explanation of the document as it has been interpreted by the Supreme Court. This legal treatise, known as The Constitution of the United States, Analysis and Interpretation, or simply Constitution Annotated, is published as a full volume once a decade, with updates released every two years. The legal research behind the Constitution Annotated goes on continuously, and a website maintained inside Congress — available to staff only — is kept up-to-date in real time. We believe the public should have the benefit of these ongoing updates - and Congress’ Joint Committee on Printing agreed.Continue reading
Last week, the Washington Post reported that new documents leaked by Edward Snowden reveal the budgets of the sixteen United States intelligence agencies. The budgets, which had never previously been revealed to the American public, totaled $52.6 billion, including $14.7 billion for the Central Intelligence Agency, $10.8 billion the National Security Agency, and $10.3 billion for the National Reconnaissance Office. This revelation shines a badly needed light on the way that our intelligence agencies spend money. We’ve written about the importance of spending transparency many times before. As we’ve argued, “access to government spending information is a fundamental pillar of an accountable government. It provides a basis for citizen participation, promotes government integrity, and encourages greater efficiency.”Continue reading
On May 1, The Federal Aviation Administration published a [Proposed Open Data Policy](https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2013/05/01/2013-10295/notice-for-data-and-information-distribution-policy) in the Federal Register, and requested public comment by [July 28](https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2013/06/03/2013-13086/notice-of-proposal-policy-for-distribution-of-faa-data-and-information-extension-of-comment-period). The FAA proposed 10 broad guidelines for its open data policies, among them points about non-exclusivity of access to data, the appropriateness of employing cost recovery from external entities, and the transparency with which they execute on the policy itself. The Sunlight Foundation had something to say about each of these issues, and so we submitted the public comment below, which we hand-delivered today to the FAA's Docket Office inside the Department of Transportation. Our comment should show up on [Docket Wrench](http://docketwrench.sunlightfoundation.com/docket/FAA-2013-0392) and [Regulations.gov](http://www.regulations.gov/#!docketBrowser;rpp=100;so=DESC;sb=docId;po=0;dct=PS;D=FAA-2013-0392) before long. In the mean time, read what we submitted:Continue reading
For the past several years we have been fighting to maintain funding for online transparency programs that the federal government supports through its E-gov fund. 2013 is no different. The fund supports important initiatives, including the IT Dashboard, Performance.gov, and more, that have been shown to improve government efficiency and accountability, saving at least $3 billion. In addition to helping the government save money, these technologies have been a boon to the private sector, creating jobs and releasing valuable information. President Obama requested $20.15 million for the E-gov fund in his FY 2014 budget request, but Congress is considering combining the fund with another fund and cutting its budget. This Wednesday, the House Appropriations Committee is going to mark up the FY 2014 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill that controls the E-gov fund's fate. If they choose to fully fund the E-gov fund, Congress will be making a smart investment in technology and transparency. We happily signed on to three letters to leaders of the House and Senate committees with the power to pay for the E-gov fund urging them to fully invest and allow these programs to thrive. You can find one, sent to the chair and ranking member of the Appropriations committee, here. The others, sent to relevant subcommittee chairmen in the House and Senate are embedded below.Continue reading
It seems our Senators have a thing or two learn from their home states when it comes to campaign finance reporting: 31 states currently require mandatory electronic reporting ("e-filing") of their elected representative's campaign finance records -- a leap above our Senate, which has failed to pass no-brainer e-filing legislation for over a decade. Sunlight conducted a review of the current state of similar filings in the states (see chart below), and the results are pretty surprising -- in a great way. State governments across the country -- 92% of them, in fact -- require at least optional, if not mandatory electronic filing for both houses of their bicameral legislatures.Continue reading
This morning, the House Appropriations Committee's Legislative Branch Subcommittee marked up its FY 2014 funding bill, agreeing to a plan that would cut funding for Congress and legislative support agencies well below FY 2013 levels, and even beneath sequestration levels for most offices. Committee leadership claimed that cuts were necessary to "lead by example" and help get the government's "fiscal house in order," but, in reality, the cuts will likely limit accountability, access to information, and the ability of Congress and the legislative support agencies to do their jobs efficiently and effectively. The shrinking budgets could also make it more difficult for Congress to implement a number of important transparency initiatives. Specifically, the plan would continue several years of cuts to House operations and the Government Accountability Office that have diminished the capacity of both bodies.Continue reading
A coalition of groups interested in campaign finance reform and government openness, including the Sunlight Foundation, have joined together to urge Senators to support the Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act and "help ensure that citizens have the same access to campaign finance information about Senate candidates that they currently have regarding all other federal candidates, political parties, and federal PACs." Candidates for President and the House of Representatives file their campaign finance reports electronically; So do party committees and federal PACs. Only Senate candidates still do things the old fashioned way, filing their campaign finance reports on paper. The paper filings, over 380,000 pages worth last year, have to be transferred into electronic formats and posted online by the Federal Election Commission before the public is able to see what kind of money Senate candidates are raising, and who they are raising it from. This process is time consuming, expensive, and unnecessary. Luckily, the legislation introduced in the 113th Congress by Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) would solve this problem and make Senate candidates more transparent and accountable to the public. The bill has been gaining momentum, garnering 34 bipartisan cosponsors since February. Unfortunately, previous versions of the bill have been blocked on a number of occasions. The bill's prospects are unclear this time around, but we are hopeful that the growing momentum for change will help push Senate candidates into the 21st century. You can read the full letter below.Continue reading
380,251. That is the number of pages contained in more than 5,000 campaign reports that the Secretary of the Senate's Office of Public Records scanned, processed, and sent to the FEC last year. That number emerged during testimony given by Secretary of the Senate Nancy Erickson to justify her budget request before the Senate Appropriations Committee's Legislative Branch Subcommittee this morning. Despite their frugal rhetoric, most Senators have refused to move past their costly, inefficient paper-based campaign finance filing system. As they try to find ways to trim budgets, they should eliminate the expensive, anachronistic, and opaque practice of filing their campaign finance reports on paper rather than electronically, as presidential and House candidates along with Political Action Committees have been doing for years.Continue reading