Report from the 2016 Legislative Data & Transparency Conference

Today the House of Representatives’ Committee on House Administration hosted its fifth annual Legislative Data & Transparency Conference in the U.S. Capitol. The Conference brought together staff from House and Senate and legislative support offices, civil society advocates, technologists, overseas legislatures, and featured a speech by House Speaker Paul Ryan. More than 150 people attended, with more participating online.

There’s too much to recap from the conference — my notes, taken in real-time, are online, as is a video of the proceedings — but this blogpost will focus on the highlights. Once again, the most important aspect of the conference was that it brought together all the internal and external stakeholders to work together, announce progress, celebrate advances, and educate one another. It was a tremendous success. Continue reading “Report from the 2016 Legislative Data & Transparency Conference”

House Passes Historic FOIA Bill, Obama Expected to Sign

Today the House of Representatives passed the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016, which passed the Senate in March; President Obama indicated through a spokesman he will sign the measure. [Update: President Obama signed it into law on June 30.] The legislation is the second major transparency bill of the Obama administration — the other is the DATA Act, a federal spending transparency bill. The legislation will become law before July 4th, 2016, the 50th anniversary of the enactment of the original Freedom of Information Act.

The FOIA bill has four major provisions. First, it writes into law a presumption of openness, so future Dick Cheney’s cannot use implausible excuses to withhold information. Second, the bill establishes a 25-year sunset on the administration’s ability to invoke the “deliberative process” privilege to withhold information. Third, it strengthens the FOIA ombudsman. Finally, it pushes FOIA into the digital age through the creation of an online portal. Continue reading “House Passes Historic FOIA Bill, Obama Expected to Sign”

House Beats Back Effort to Weaken Office of Congressional Ethics, But It Was Ugly

On Friday rank-and-file members of the House of Representatives beat back a last-minute amendment by Rep. Steve Pearce (R-NM) to reduce proposed funding for the Office of Congressional Ethics by nearly 9 percent. In the end 137 representatives voted in favor of the cut and 270 opposed, with Republicans more-or-less evenly split and nearly all Democrats opposed. This came only after a voice vote where the chair declared the measure to cut funds had passed [see transcript]; only a roll call vote, which forces members to individually declare where they stand, resulted in most members voting no.

The Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) is an independent watchdog established by the House of Representatives in the wake of several scandals, including the Jack Abramoff lobbying corruption scandal and the Rep. Foley House page sexual misconduct scandal, that helped bring Democrats to power in 2007. Its purpose is to investigate allegations of wrongdoing by members of the House of Representatives and it is empowered to start investigations on its own initiative or on a tip from anyone. When OCE determines that wrongdoing may have occurred, it refers the matter to the House Ethics Committee, which is supposed to investigate. Continue reading “House Beats Back Effort to Weaken Office of Congressional Ethics, But It Was Ugly”