Economic recovery and citizen involvement
With the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 now on its way to Obama for his signature, the question remains about what happens next. Word is Obama will be setting the stage for his next initiative -- a global fix on broken mortgages. Again, this demonstrates a clear set of scheduled (and unscheduled) events libraries of all types might use to promote a greater awareness about the implications of the soon to be enacted law (and subsequent policies and initiatives) for their communities. Recovery.gov is still aborning, profit and non-profit groups will offer, or do so now, there own web-enabled looks at the massive spending bill.
But, what strikes me as missing from these techno-centric transparency efforts is the inability to explain the politics (or the policy implications) behind the numbers. One small example -- when people look at Thomas' links to H.R. 1, they will find seven different versions of the bill (soon to be eight when the President makes it a public law on Tuesday.) No where in the Thomas web site is any of this explained. I am fully aware there are links to selected published guides produced by the House Clerk and Senate Secretary that explain the legislative process -- but how many times have seen the thousand yard stare displace interest in the eyes of users as you attempt to explain the treasure hunt in locating relevant information sources. I think the basic operating program of American civic engagement is not the information technology. It's these fundamental government information sources (laws, regulations, rules, court decisions, reports, studies, etc.) And the technology still can not deepen the necessary political and social contexts of how all these information sources relate to each other.
This one is for Daniel Cornwell --Imagine the possibilities if -- somehow, someway -- our several library associations were able to coordinate a national civic literacy program to enable trained and interested government information librarians to engage citizens in workshops, discussion groups, classes, and events that discuss and outline sources of information about the government's efforts to recover from the economic crises. This is the context building (and deepening) often missing from purely technological approaches.
See you Day 26.
CJR has an article that lists and describes some of the sites on the web that have bailout information. The number of sites that are disclosing information that you might expect to find at a government site or a library seems to be growing quickly! The article didn't catch Stimulus Watch for example. One of the main benefits of these sites is that they make the information easier to find and use. There are some government sites listed in the article as well.
A Guide To Bailout Transparency Sites, By Elinore Longobardi, Columbia Journalism Review, January 30, 2009.
Now that taxpayers have become financiers, we have a right to know where the money is going. In search of organizations with the curiosity and resources to help figure that out, we trolled the Internet for good, easily available bailout information and came up with several sites worth looking at.
Here is something pretty amazing: a site built by volunteers designed to help citizens find, discuss and rate those projects that are candidates for funding by federal grant programs once the stimulus bill passes.
Stimulus Watch is based on the U.S. Conference of Mayors' catalog of projects. The mayors' report was issued to give Congress an estimate of how much it should appropriate for the various federal programs that will in turn disburse the funds to localities.
The question now is, which of the mayors' proposed 10,000+ projects will the Obama agencies fund? Which are the critical ones? Although funding decisions are often done by formula, President Obama has promised to invest the stimulus money wisely, and not on projects with a low return. That is where our site comes in. It will gather local knowledge about these projects and will help keep the administration accountable about which projects they fund. Once funded I hope the site can keep local officials accountable on spending the money.
Citizens can use the site to easily find their localities and projects with which they may be familiar. They can also search by keyword.
You can browse projects for your city or state, search for projects by keyword, etc.
With the House voting on the Obama's economic recovery today, and the Senate taking up its consideration in the coming two week, I go back to my earlier themes about Talking Back to Democracy.
Somehow, someway -- if libraries want to maintain any kind of relevance in this whitewater churn of rapid economic and political change -- we are going to have to embrace some kind of proactive stance to put the importance of government information in front of our communities every day, week, month. Not enough institutions are "connecting the dots" for people out there....libraries (and especially government information librarians) do this.
See you on Day 9.