Tim O'Reilly (O'Reilly & Associates) recently observed that Representative Jim Culberson (R-Texas) saw a demonstration of a product called SharedBook at the Gov 2.0 Summit and decided to use it to collect feedback from his constituents on the healthcare bill.
SharedBook is a publishing and annotation program advertised for a variety of purposes, including creation of dynamic documents:
Policy makers, nonprofits, educators, and special-interest communities can use SharedBook's platform to allow their members or constituents to engage in an online dialogue on bills, rules, research and other important documents. Starting with highlighted excerpts from the original content, a series of comments and replies can be posted and shared with any and all interested users to facilitate a pointed and detailed discussion. The source document is locked down and the community discussion is stored and presented back as footnotes at a granular level.
My first reaction to this was that opencongress.org already provides an excellent interface for viewing and commenting on bills before Congress, including the House's health care bill, why go to the trouble of setting it up for this one bill? The answer is that Mr. Culberson is using SharedBook because he wanted comments only from his own constituents.
Here's the press release.
220 Years Later, It’s Time to Publish the Constitution Annotated Online in XML, By Daniel Schuman, Sunlight Foundation, (09/17/09).
The Constitution Annotated has been written by the Library of Congress for nearly 100 years, and contains analysis of nearly 8,000 U.S. Supreme Court cases.
Over the decades, GPO has published print versions of this extraordinary resource every two years, with limited electronic versions available from 1992 edition onward. Although the Library of Congress has drafted the Constitution Annotated in XML for a number of years, that data is no longer present when it is published online by GPO.
- Professor Posts "Illegal Copy" of Guide To Oregon Public Record Laws Slashdot, September 16, 2009.
The Attorney General of Oregon is claiming copyright over a state-produced guide to using public-records laws and sells the 326-page book for $25. The AG's offices says, "that's how the AG's office makes back the cost of producing the book" (A smackdown over Oregon public records, by Jeff Mapes, The Oregonian, September 14, 2009).
Bill Harbaugh, Professor of Economics at the University of Oregon, has posted scans of the guide on his website and is daring the AG to respond. He notes that the manual includes on its cover the famous James Madison quote, "A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy..." and he says that, "Given that this very quote is prominently posted on the cover of the same manual which AG John Kroger is trying to keep off the internet, I hold with those who favor farce."
When we talk about government being more "open" and "transparent," what information are we discussing? In a digital environment it is possible, and even essential, that we think beyond PDF files and "publications." For example, the advent of data.gov has made raw data more of an explicit part of public information dissemination than it ever has been before.
In a survey of federal managers earlier this year, NextGov reported a number of roadblocks to transparency. While managers agreed that agencies should post raw data, they balked at doing more than they already have done. They expressed concerns about computer security, and "the loss of control over their agency's message" and complained that they do not have adequate resources to make more data accessible.
In an article just yesterday (The Risks of Open Government, NextGov, By Allan Holmes, 09/14/2009), that same survey revealed that, while almost 90 percent said transparency involved posting facts and figures that agencies collect, "they are less interested in disclosing how policies are formed, such as providing minutes of meetings, and who were included in meetings and as part of the decisions."
Although we have heard discussions of these issues before, there is another kind of government information that is rarely discussed: software. NTIS has offered government produced software for years, but the kind of software I'm concerned about is that software that is used to make decisions. The algorithms embedded in software document how decisions are made. If we do not have access to that information, we cannot be sure decisions are being made well.
It is hard to know what we do not have because, as far as I know, there is no inventory of this kind of resource. So, it is particularly revealing to see real world examples of decision making software when they do come to light.
Here is an example that is self-evidently important:
- Eye on the Bailout: The Secret Test That Ensures Lenders Win on Loan Mods, by Alexandra Andrews and Emily Witt, ProPublica
The Net Present Value test is a complex computer model used by loan servicers to determine whether a homeowner qualifies for the federal loan modification program. The test compares two scenarios – modification and foreclosure – and determines which would be more profitable for the lender. If it’s foreclosure, the lender has no obligation to modify the loan. But the model is a black box. What goes in isn’t entirely clear, and what comes out isn’t always reliable.
The Treasury Department has refused to release the exact formula for the NPV model...
Information like this should definitely be made available for examination and preservation.
If you are going to the ALA Annual 2009 Conference in Chicago next week, please come to the "ALA Unconference" where I will be leading a broad discussion on Friday, July 10th from 11:10-12:00 on the library's role in current & emerging trends of civic engagement, transparency, preservation and access to Government information. The supporting materials and presentation will be linked in the Unconference wiki.
Also, please come to the LITA BIGWIG Social Software Showcase to discuss and learn about Government Information Mashups! I will be presenting on this topic and would love to have you help out and/or join in on the conversation! The presentation will be posted on their website but the face to face portion of the BIGWIG Showcase presentations will take place Monday, July 13th from 10:30am - 12:30pm in the McCormick Convention Center West, Room W-184.
We crafted a very short petition directed at the Administrative Office of the US Courts to improve PACER.
The petition is online here: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/improve-PACER.
We ask the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts to improve PACER by enhancing the authenticity, usability and availability of the system.
We the undersigned, urge the Administrative Office of the US Courts (AO) to make the following changes to the PACER system:
For verification and reliability, the AO should digitally sign every document put into PACER using readily available technology.
PACER needs to be much more readily accessible if it is to be usable for research, education, and the practice of law. Improved accessibility includes both lowering the costs for using PACER and enhancing the web interfaces.
Depository libraries should also have free access to PACER.
Please sign the petition, comment on the ideas and share the petition with your friends and colleagues!
I encourage you to sign the petition. And if you have any questions about it, please don't hesitate to contact me.
e-mail: evwayne AT stanford DOT edu
In perfect timing with Lieberman's recent resolution, The New York Times published an article today about CRS Reports entitled "Group Seeks Public Access to Congressional Research" by Stephanie Strom (print version appears on page A20 on May 5, 2009).
The article focuses on the efforts of the Center for Democracy and Technology and other non-profit organizations such as the Sunlight Foundation and OpenCRS, to fight for free public access to the CRS Reports. I wish the article had mentioned the efforts of the University of North Texas Library, but I'll give them kudos here to make up for the NY Times oversight. ;-)
You can read more about the resolution at PolicyBeta's post. The resolution would allow congressmen
to provide access to CRS Reports to the public on an official website. Rather than creating a new tool for public access, the resolution would let Members and Committees share reports with the public using the same online services that are available on Congress’ internal CRS website...the new resolution also requires that an index of CRS issue briefs and reports to be made public.
Low-tech Senate slow rolls disclosures, by VICTORIA MCGRANE, Politico (4/22/09).
You can learn instantly via Twitter that Claire McCaskill needs an iPhone repair or that Chuck Grassley burned his leg on his Iowa farm.
But if you want to comb through the details of a senator’s quarterly campaign finance reports online, it’s going to take a month to get the information — and a boatload of government money to make it available.
The good folks at Sunlight Labs have written a brief overview of how they think a "data.gov" web site would look and function.
- Redesigning the Government: Data.gov, by Clay, Sunlight Labs, April 16 2009.
...we thought we’d actually take the opportunity to design data.gov right off the bat to show you all what we’d like to see happen.