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Free Government Information (FGI) is a place for initiating dialogue and building consensus among the various players (libraries, government agencies, non-profit organizations, researchers, journalists, etc.) who have a stake in the preservation of and perpetual free access to government information. FGI promotes free government information through collaboration, education, advocacy and research.

Josh Tauberer Gets Congress Into the 21st Century

This article reports on the importance of a bill that will enable Congress to provide bulk access to its legislative data. It also profiles one of the heroes of open-access to Congressional data, Josh Tauberer. As the Post says, Josh has prodded Congress and the result may be the “raw material for an Angie’s List or a Yelp for Congress, a way for modern users to evaluate lawmakers with the same kind of crowdsourced help that they use to evaluate lunch.”

This is a lot like how Carl Malamud got the SEC to put the EDGAR database online. (SEC’S EDGAR On Net, What Happened And Why, TAP-INFO, 30 Nov 1993).

Congressional data may soon be easier to use online, by David A. Fahrenthold, Washington Post, (June 8, 2012)..

Online, searching for a bill in Congress feels a little like time travel: Go looking for legislation, and you wind up in the Internet of 1995.

At Congress’s ’90s-vintage archive site, there’s no way to compare bills side by side. No tool to measure the success rate of a bill’s sponsor. And there’s certainly no way to leave a comment. Congress makes it hard for outside sites to do any of this, either, by refusing to give out bulk data on its bills in a user-friendly form.

On Friday, that might start to change.

Roundup of Recent Government Info News and New Resources

Time once again for a selection of news and new resources that we hope will be an interest to the FGI community. The following posts are from INFOdocket.com (@infofodocket) where we compile and post new items daily.

1. New iOS App From SEC: U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission News

2. Just Released: Library of Congress Offers Congressional Record As iPad App

3. National Library of Medicine Announces Latest Release of Its “History of Medicine Finding Aids Consortium”

4. Asked and Answered Questions: U.S. Department of Education Releases Mobile Version of Answers.Ed.gov

5. Smithsonian Gets Dedicated Funds for Digitization and New Media, Will Spend $8.7 Million In FY 2012

6. The Library of Congress Names Gayle Osterberg Director of Communications

7. EPA Releases Comprehensive Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Online Database and Dataset Available

8. White Paper: “Authentication of Primary Legal Materials and Pricing Options”

9. Federal Elections Commission (FEC) Launches Mobile Web Site

10. Full Text Reference Resource: Trade & Development: UNCTAD Handbook of Statistics 2011
From the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.

11. NARA Launches “Citizen Archivist Dashboard”

12. U.S. Bankruptcy Courts Begin Offering Online Chat Services

13. USDA Launches New Online Nutrition SuperTracker

14. New Database: Time-Series Plots of Phrases in U.S. Supreme Court Opinions (Legal Language Explorer)

15. Statistics: NLM Updates MEDLINE Indicators With FY2011 Numbers

SEC systematically destroyed investigation records

Rolling Stone‘s Matt Taibbi has a new piece online “Is the SEC Covering Up Wall Street Crimes?” that will churn your stomach. A whistleblower SEC attorney named Darcy Flynn came forward to Congress earlier this summer to describe the systematic destruction of SEC records that were supposed to be archived for 25 years.

Taibbi’s piece shows the worst of the revolving door between .gov regulators and the industry they’re entrusted to regulate and investigate. It also highlights the tenuous nature of the preservation of government information and the critical need for trusted 3rd party organizations — libraries! — to be part of that system of preservation.

This is a different world, one far friendlier to lawbreakers, where even the suspicion of wrongdoing gets wiped from the record.

That, it now appears, is exactly how the Securities and Exchange Commission has been treating the Wall Street criminals who cratered the global economy a few years back. For the past two decades, according to a whistle-blower at the SEC who recently came forward to Congress, the agency has been systematically destroying records of its preliminary investigations once they are closed. By whitewashing the files of some of the nation’s worst financial criminals, the SEC has kept an entire generation of federal investigators in the dark about past inquiries into insider trading, fraud and market manipulation against companies like Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank and AIG. With a few strokes of the keyboard, the evidence gathered during thousands of investigations – “18,000 … including Madoff,” as one high-ranking SEC official put it during a panicked meeting about the destruction – have apparently disappeared forever into the wormhole of history.

Under a deal the SEC worked out with the National Archives and Records Administration, all of the agency’s records – “including case files relating to preliminary investigations” – are supposed to be maintained for at least 25 years. But the SEC, using history-altering practices that for once actually deserve the overused and usually hysterical term “Orwellian,” devised an elaborate and possibly illegal system under which staffers were directed to dispose of the documents from any preliminary inquiry that did not receive approval from senior staff to become a full-blown, formal investigation. Amazingly, the wholesale destruction of the cases – known as MUIs, or “Matters Under Inquiry” – was not something done on the sly, in secret. The enforcement division of the SEC even spelled out the procedure in writing, on the commission’s internal website. “After you have closed a MUI that has not become an investigation,” the site advised staffers, “you should dispose of any documents obtained in connection with the MUI.”

Many of the destroyed files involved companies and individuals who would later play prominent roles in the economic meltdown of 2008. Two MUIs involving con artist Bernie Madoff vanished. So did a 2002 inquiry into financial fraud at Lehman Brothers, as well as a 2005 case of insider trading at the same soon-to-be-bankrupt bank. A 2009 preliminary investigation of insider trading by Goldman Sachs was deleted, along with records for at least three cases involving the infamous hedge fund SAC Capital.

SEC on Twitter

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) now has three accounts on Twitter:

According to The UK Telegraph, “The three feeds focus on investor education, general news, and job opportunities” and “SEC_Investor_Ed is little more than a rolling feed from its own newssite which details the enforcement actions.”

There seems to be a lot of overlap between “Investor Ed” and “News” in the few items I have scanned. Perhaps time will make it more apparent the differences between the feeds.

SEC to use XBRL for Financial Reporting

SEC Approves Interactive Data for Financial Reporting by Public Companies, Mutual Funds, Securities and Exchange Commission, Press Release 2008-300, Washington, D.C., Dec. 18, 2008.

The SEC plans to phase out the EDGAR system and replace it with its Interactive Data Electronic Applications (IDEA) database. The IDEA system is based on eXtensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL), one of a number of XML markup languages which are used to encode documents and serialize data.

The Press Release says that, “With interactive data, all of the facts in a financial statement are labeled with unique computer-readable ‘tags,’ which function like bar codes to make financial information more searchable on the Internet and more readable by spreadsheets and other software. Investors will be able to instantly find specific facts disclosed by companies and mutual funds, and compare that information with details about other companies and mutual funds to help them make investment decisions.”

See also:

SEC To Replace EDGAR With ‘IDEA’

Test Drive Interactive Data!. SEC’s Interactive Financial Report Viewer! The Viewer allows you to interact with XBRL filings made as part of the SEC’s Voluntary Filing Program.