On March 19, OMB Watch released a new report that evaluates state and federal websites designed to ensure the accountability of public officials. The report, Upholding the Public's Trust: Key Features for Effective State Accountability Websites, examines state efforts to release public officials' integrity information online. Such transparency is crucial to guard against self-dealing and patronage. While states and the federal government have made progress in this area, more work lies ahead.
This report considers four key areas of transparency in the U.S. state and federal governments: campaign finance, lobbying, procurement, and public officials’ assets. The report describes the key features needed for effective online disclosure in these areas and highlights leading practices in the states.
- annoucnement, OMB Watch (March 19, 2012).
- Upholding the Public's Trust: Key Features for Effective State Accountability Websites, by Sean Moulton, Gavin Baker, and Charles N. O’Neill, OMB Watch, (March 2012). [pdf]
Our friends at Sunlight Labs have done it again! They just released a tool called PoliGraft. Paste the url of a news story or blog post into the tool (or better yet, install their handy bookmarklet in your browser's tool bar!) and the tool analyzes the story, mines it for names, corporations etc and quickly spits out the interconnections between the people, organizations and relationships contributions associated with the story. The data mined by the tool is provided by the Center for Responsive Politics and the National Institute for Money in State Politics.
For example, here's a NY Times article about Elena Kagan's confirmation to the US Supreme Court and here's the PoliGraft results including the original text and the report on aggregated contributions and points of influence of the many politicians named in the NYT story. A very cool tool indeed!
Recovery.gov is back up. This time, it has many more features. It is a website that, according to the website:
Lets you, the taxpayer, figure out where the money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is going. There are going to be a few different ways to search for information. The money is being distributed by Federal agencies, and soon you'll be able to see where it's going -- to which states, to which congressional districts, even to which Federal contractors. As soon as we are able to, we'll display that information visually in maps, charts, and graphics.
You can read a full copy of the bill, share your recovery story, and learn more about the President's accountability & transparency objectives. And check out the "Where is Your Money Going"? page for a simple visual representation.
Last week, at the Technology Review's Emerging Technologies Conference held at MIT, there was a panel on electronic voting systems in which CA Secretary of State Debra Bowen participated -- along with Moderator Jason Pontin, Editor in Chief, Technology Review; Doug Chapin, Director, electionline.org; Ronald L. Rivest, Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, MIT; and Pamela Smith, President, Verified Voting Foundation. You may remember that in 2007, Bowen ordered a complete top-to-bottom review of voting systems in CA. I'm really glad to see a top-level politician sitting on a panel of cutting edge technologists and really, really glad to hear that top-level politician advocate for Open-source software.
Now, I'm not saying the open source is the end all and be all solution to the myriad issues facing e-voting (see Bev harris' Black Box Voting for more on those issues); but it's great to see that Bowen at least gets that open source software is at least part of the solution. We've been saying that for quite some time. For a complete wrapup of the panel see Lucas Mearian's ComputerWorld blog
One method of addressing software issues associated with the vast majority of proprietary e-voting applications out there is to move to using open source, especially for applications residing on optical scanners, which have been particularly troublesom. The concern is that IT administrators can't look at the software to correct errors or tweak it for a particular county's needs. Open source would go a long ways to disclosing problems associated with today's propretary e-voting applications, Bowen said.
Sunshine Week has been mentioned in previous posts but it certainly deserves its own blog post too. This national initiative is set to take place March 16th through the 22nd. Its purpose is to open a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. Anyone can take part, as long as you do something to engage discussion about open government. For example, you could write a letter to your local newspaper, host a panel discussion at your library, hold a debate on the FOIA in your political science class, etc.
So...what will you be planning to do that week or maybe for next years Sunshine Week? Care to share your ideas? (Because I'm looking for some!) I think this year I will create a daily post on my depository's blog about open government and freedom of information resources, but next year I'd like to do something more interactive and on a larger scale with the community.
The Sunshine Week website created a page entitled: "What the Candidates Are Saying About Open Government and FOI" based on the the Sunshine Week survey responses and analysis of articles, speeches, and debate transcripts that give insight into the candidates' thoughts on government access to information.
They state: "Only New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards responded, and only Richardson answered all the questions. The remaining four leading major party candidates were re-surveyed following Super Tuesday in February. To date, none has replied".
They mention Obama's Senate co-sponsorship of the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006, which went into effect on New Years Day '08 with the launch of USAspending.gov, a site that "gives people access to information on government contracts, grants and other awards".
The Association of Government Accountants published a report entitled "Public Attitudes Toward Government Accountability and Transparency 2008", based on their first annual survey of public attitudes toward government financial information transparency and accountability.
It is a part of AGI's "Advancing Government Accountability" campaign, which they hope will educate the government and the public on the benefits of government transparency, particularly in reporting government financial information. Not a big surprise here...the survey findings show that people are deeply dissatisfied with the availability of government financial information and how it is delivered to the public:
"...among those who do receive information about governments’ generation and spending of money, there is a strong dissatisfaction with the information that they receive. The strongest dissatisfaction is with the information about the federal government’s financial management (Federal, 60%; State, 46%; Local, 38%). Only 5% are satisfied with what they receive from the federal government".
To view more of the survey's findings, view or download the PowerPoint file.
Librarians can learn from this...know where to retrieve government financial information and make this known to your patrons and your community!
An issue that is near and dear to my heart, considering that I live in Louisiana, is that of recent government ethics reform initiatives from Governor Bobby Jindal. He was the focus of a recent New York Times article mentioning the "extensive package of ethics bills" passed recently.
One such bill includes House Bill 1 which "Enacts personal financial disclosures for the vast majority of elected and appointed officials in state and local government for the first time in Louisiana’s history".
Not everyone is happy about these changes. My favorite quote in the New York Times article:
"The volume of grumbling suggested real change was afoot.
'This is huge,' said D. W. Hunt, a veteran lobbyist at the Capitol. 'This is a sea change. This will seriously, dramatically change things. The meta-theme is the transparency.' "
Can you see the sweat on his forehead?
Louisiana is considered to rank low nationally on state ethics, but according to a statement issued by The Center for Public Integrity, these bills may put Louisiana in the top tier of states with tough ethics rules. Hopefully this will be the case, but we shall have to wait and see...