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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.

White House committed to expanding access to information

According to the American Assn of Law Libraries (AALL) “blawg:”

During last week’s Open Government Partnership (OGP) meeting in London, the Obama administration released a preview of its U.S. Open Government National Action Plan 2.0 (NAP). While the second NAP will not be finalized until December 2013, six new commitments to further advance the goals of transparency and accountability in the federal government were announced:

  1. Expand Open Data
  2. Modernize the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
  3. Increase Fiscal Transparency
  4. Increase Corporate Transparency
  5. Advance Citizen Engagement and Empowerment
  6. More Effectively Manage Public Resources

This is great news for open government (though it’s still troubling how the administration is walking a very thin, troubling line in re to the NSA and their attacks on whistleblowers). I hope the administration and policy makers on open government will take some cues from our 2010 Letter to Deputy CTO Noveck: “Open Government Publications”.

Video for Legislative Data and Transparency Conference now online!

On February 2, 2012 the House of Representatives Committee on House Administration, chaired by Dan Lungren, convened a full-day conference entitled Legislative Data and Transparency Conference. Check it out. looks like a great list of experts. It’s great that the House is talking about public data, XML standards and easy public access to the legislative process. I haven’t watched all the video, but I hope they also talk about *preservation* of the legislative process as well.

The Committee on House Administration held a Legislative Data and Transparency Conference on February 2, 2012, from 9AM to 6PM in Cannon Caucus Room, 345 Cannon HOB.

Conference Agenda

Remarks from Representative Daniel E. Lungren [Video]
Chairman, Committee on House Administration

Panel 1: Legislative Branch Initiatives [Video]
Legislative Branch Agencies that create information
Kirsten Gullickson, The Office of the Clerk
Bob Reeves, Office of the Clerk
Sandra Strokoff, House Office of Legislative Counsel
Hugh Halpern, House Rules Committee

Panel 2: Legislative Branch Initiatives [Video]
Legislative Branch Agencies that disseminate information
Ralph Seep, Law Revision Counsel
Robert Gee, Library of Congress
Ric Davis, Government Printing Office

Panel 3: What is data and what is available? [Video]
The impact and understandability of current data use
Jeff Griffith, Global Centre for ICT in Parliament
Josh Tauberer, GovTrack
Eric Mill, Sunlight Foundation
Derek Willis, New York Times

Panel 4: Extending XML and Metadata Standards [Video]
Anne Washington, George Mason University
Sandra Strokoff, House Office of Legislative Counsel
Ralph Seep, Law Revision Counsel
Tom Bruce, Cornell Legal Institute
Cindy Leach, Office of the Clerk

Panel 5: Integrating Video and Metadata [Video]
Robert Reeves, Deputy Clerk
Tab Butler, Major League Baseball Network
Javier Muniz, Granicus
Daniel Bennett, e-Citizen Foundation

Panel 6: Defining Transparency Success Measures [Video]
Knowing how far we’ve come…
Matt Lira, Office of the Majority Leader
Steve Dwyer, Office of the Minority Whip
Daniel Schuman, Sunlight Foundation
Maurice McTigue, Mercatus Center
Jim Harper, The Cato Institute

Open Government Groups Urge Senators to Restore Funding for Transparency Efforts

Thanks OMB Watch and the Sunlight Foundation! These two open government groups just sent a letter to the Senate about the E-Gov Fund in the second “minibus” appropriations bill. In the letter, the groups raise and echo concerns regarding the funding level for e-government in the Statement of Administration Policy concerning H.R. 2354. They state that funding levels are inadequate to support crucial transparency programs such as USAspending.gov and Data.gov and ask that the E-Gov Fund remain a separate budget line to preserve the reporting requirements of the E-Gov Act, which provide transparency about how this money is spent.

Here’s the text of the OMBWatch/Sunlight letter:

November 16, 2011

Re: FY 2012 Appropriations for the Electronic Government Fund

Dear Senators:

We are writing to urge you to protect funding for the Electronic Government Fund at the General Services Administration in H.R. 2354, the Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act. As currently written, H.R. 2354 would not provide adequate funding for the E-Gov Fund’s important programs, which provide critical support for the construction of a more transparent and efficient government and serve as a building block for private-sector innovations that create high-tech jobs.

The E-Gov Fund has a proven track record of successful transparency projects that have delivered efficiency improvements and increased government accountability. For instance, USAspending.gov and the IT Dashboard have helped root out government waste and inefficiency and recently led to the elimination of some $3 billion in failing technology projects. PaymentAccuracy.gov shines a light on improper federal payments, which total billions of dollars each year, and Challenge.gov provides a low-cost platform to help agencies bring the public in to identify more efficient solutions to problems facing the country.

In addition, E-Gov Fund projects provide the framework for vibrant private-sector business and job creation. The thousands of government data sets now available through Data.gov are building blocks for innovative new IT products. For instance, the search engine Bing now integrates Medicare quality data into searches for hospitals. Brightscope, a start-up company, has raised $2 million in venture capital and created 30 jobs through their analysis of retirement plan data from the Department of Labor.

Unfortunately, cuts to the E-Gov Fund in FY 2011 have already hurt successful projects. Needed upgrades to increase transparency and improve data quality have been delayed or abandoned, and two early-stage projects have been terminated. Additional cuts will further hamper efforts to make government more efficient and transparent.

These cuts are penny-wise and pound-foolish. The E-Gov Fund supports powerful tools for reducing waste, fraud, and abuse and for creating private-sector jobs, and given appropriate funding, these projects result in benefits far in excess of their costs.

To support continued transparency, efficiency, and job creation, we respectfully urge you to restore full funding for the E-Gov Fund. In particular, we ask you to support the president’s recommendation of $34 million to preserve these important programs.

We also ask that the E-Gov Fund remain separate from the Federal Citizen Services Fund, as requested in the Statement of Administration Policy on H.R. 2354. Because the proposed Information and Engagement for Citizens account would not be subject to reporting requirements of the Electronic Government Act of 2002 and has not been authorized by Congress, combining the funds would decrease government transparency and accountability.

We appreciate your time and attention to this issue. If you have any questions or would like to discuss this issue further, please contact Sam Rosen-Amy of OMB Watch at (202) 683-4806 or Daniel Schuman of the Sunlight Foundation at (202) 742-1520 x 273.


OMB Watch Sunlight Foundation

new study on twitter use in Congress

Nathan Yang is a PhD candidate in Economics at the University of Toronto and has co-authored a couple of studies about Twitter in Politics. He asked that we post the following story. Look for more from Nathan in the following months. Let us know what you think by leaving us a comment.

FGI once posted the abstract of a very innovative and interesting study called “Twitter Use by the U.S. Congress” (PDF) by Jennifer Golbeck, Justin Grimes and Anthony Rogers. They mined the text of thousands of Twitter posts made by American politicians, and found that over 50% of the posts were of informational value.

Those who believe that Twitter has paved the way for transparent government can use this study to back their cause; while skeptics will simply claim that the “openness” of information is simply a new form of government propaganda. Resolving this debate is not easy, as it requires understanding each politician’s incentives behind adopting Twitter. So here come the economists.

A study called “Twitter in Congress: Outreach vs Transparency” () by Feng Chi and Nathan Yang serves to do just that. It tries to understand the intrinsic factors behind who adopts and who does not. Understanding the cost-benefit trade-off will help us resolve this debate; at least, partially.

The story these researchers are trying to tell is that if U.S. Congressional members are using Twitter as a means of propaganda, the benefit should accrue as follows:

Representatives who have sponsored a large number of bills will enjoy a greater benefit from adopting Twitter as a means to generating public support. This support can, in turn, generate support from the political/ideological rivals they interact with on a regular basis; especially so if their rivals are ALSO Twitter adopters.

How relevant is this story? According to data on each representative’s decision to adopt Twitter or not, the researchers uncover the following patterns:

  • Representatives who have sponsored a large number of bills are more likely to adopt Twitter.
  • The effect that the number of bills has on the propensity to adopt is significant for the subsample of Republican representatives, but not for the subsample of Democratic representatives.
  • This effect is more pronounced for Republicans who belong to Congressional committees with a large number of peers who are Democratic Twitter users.
    • The researchers conclude that these patterns are consistent with their story above. In other words, it would appear as though Twitter is being adopted for reasons related to outreach; especially so for Republicans. Do you agree?

Transparency camp west

Just a quick note to let folks know that I’m currently at Transparency Camp this weekend. It’s a great meeting of activists and technologists concerned with all kinds of transparency and government. To follow what’s happening, you can track on the twitter hashtag #tcamp09. Since it’s an unconference, talks can be proposed on the fly. I gave a talk on the FDLP which got a lot of interest. Contact me if you’ve got other ideas for presentations. There are still slots available for sunday.