Happy Sunshine Week 2014! This is the week every year when open government activists and organizations, journalists, libraries, teachers and others interested in the public’s right to know promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information and [[FOIA]]. Check out the Sunshine Week events happening all this week!
As a precursor to Sunshine Week, the Congressional Data Coalition — public disclosure: FGI is a proud member of the coalition along with a bunch of fine organizations! — wrote a letter to the House of Representatives (PDF) calling for access to legislative data on bill status. As Josh Tauberer noted on his govtrack.us blog:
Congress publishes bill status on its website Congress.gov, but we are asking for it as raw data in bulk. Like on a spreadsheet. As we wrote in the letter:
To illustrate the difference between a website and data, we note that no legislative branch office or agency makes available a spreadsheet that lists every bill introduced in the 113th Congress. As you may have experienced in your own lives, a spreadsheet is an important tool when working with large amounts of information. Bulk data is like that.
Better data from Congress would help us provide more and better information on GovTrack about what is happening in Congress. The same is true of the other organizations who signed onto the letter. We can do a lot of good with that data And while the House did make many improvements to legislative transparency in the past several years, bill status data is extremely important and has not yet been addressed — even though it has been promised many times and we (and others) have been asking for it almost each year since 2007 (here’s our previous letter).
Also worth noting during Sunshine Week, the Sunlight Foundation, in a post today by Alisha Green entitled “Open data is the next iteration of public records”, makes the case for expanding the meaning of Sunshine laws which traditionally revolved around public records laws like [[FOIA]] at the federal level as well as open records and open meeting laws at the state and local levels to include open data in order to empower journalism and watchdog activities.
Open data is about the proactive, online release of government information. It takes traditional government approaches to public records forward by realizing the opportunities provided by technological advances. Open data demands the proactive release of information, the opposite of the reactive system of asking for public records. Technology makes the proactive approach possible: it is increasingly easy to post information online, where people are already looking for it.
Accessing information about government no longer has to mean going to a building and requesting permission to sift through paper documents. It doesn’t even have to mean writing a letter, filling out a complex form, or trying to figure out who to contact about public records or how to access records in the first place.
Much food for thought. Please join in the Sunshine Week festivities and help us spread the word.
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