Pelosi Moves to Make House More Transparent - Revisiting the Subject

Since my last post on this issue, I’ve discussed the topic with a few different people and wish to clarify some things. I think that Congressional transparency is a good thing, currently anemic, and that efforts such as this one by Pelosi represent positive positioning by Congress on the subject. However, there is little information concerning the form the data from the government will be released in and I’m sure those who received Pelosi’s letter are figuring out that process now.

Since this is a new step for Congress, now is probably a good time for interested groups to weigh in. I would suggest that the government make the data searchable, but also allow full access to the underlying data. Independent groups and individuals will do a far better job at analyzing and creating user friendly products than the government can.

Congressional disclosure of its spending is important and, I believe, its duty since it is a servant of the American people. The disclosure should be in the form of data that people can access and mash up into user friendly formats that have real meaning to the public. I’m generally opposed, however, to the data being produced in a fashion where the government manipulates the data for the public when there are private sites that do it better. This is what I meant by asking if Congress “will screw it up?”

To go back to my previous example of FedSpending vs. USASpending; USASpending has more data – it includes recovery information – because the government that produces the data obviously has the data first. However, FedSpending presents the data it has in a much more user friendly format and is usually more accurate. Access to that data in real-time would make FedSpending a much stronger product than anything the bureaucracy has produced.  The breakdown comes from how fast the government releases the data. Further, when we have government sites that don’t do the job as well, isn’t that wasting taxpayer money?

Legistorm, which presents much of the same data that would be released by Congress is limited in a similar way. Certainly, Congress releasing the data is better than having to look it up in bound volumes in a dark basement. However, I hope that Congress makes the underlying data fully public and that Legistorm and other groups seize on this opportunity to do many fascinating things with it. As John Wonderlich of the Sunlight Foundation has also commented, this data should also be presented in real-time.

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