Recap of the July 2019 Bulk Data Task Force Meeting

Last week the Bulk Data Task Force (BDTF) convened internal and external stakeholders to discuss, you guessed it, congressional data. 

Established in 2012, the BDTF brings together parties from across the legislative branch—including the House Clerk, the Secretary of the Senate, Government Publishing Office (GPO), Library of Congress (LOC), and more—as well as external expert groups to make congressional information easier to access and use.

Scroll down for a list of tools, both currently available and in the works, as well as announcements from the meeting.  Continue reading “Recap of the July 2019 Bulk Data Task Force Meeting”

Do 218 Co-Sponsors Make a Difference? Apparently, Yes.

Recent proposals to reform the rules of the House of Representatives included measures to make it easier for legislation that has the support of a majority of the chamber to advance to the floor or prompt committee consideration. If implemented, would this make a difference in how legislation plays out? Apparently, yes.

To find out, we reviewed all House bills that had 218 or more sponsors between 1999–2016, i.e., the 106th-114th Congresses. In the House, 218 members constitutes a majority, so for simplicity’s sake we’ll refer to this set of bills as “popular House bills.”

During the 106th-114th Congresses, 108,086 bills were introduced, but only 3.5% were enacted, or 3,728 bills. In the same period, 450 popular House bills were introduced, with 22% enacted, or 102 bills.

In other words, a bill with 218 co-sponsors is six and a half times more likely to be enacted than any particular bill. Continue reading “Do 218 Co-Sponsors Make a Difference? Apparently, Yes.”

Plan for Publishing CRS Reports Falls Short

In March, new legislation from Congress required the Library of Congress publish all non-confidential Congressional Research Service reports online by September 19th of this year. That deadline is rapidly approaching and while congressional and civil society concerns about the library’s implementation plan remain unaddressed, the Librarian of Congress, Dr. Hayden, declined a direct request from Rep. Lofgren for the Librarian to meet with civil society about improving the website. Continue reading “Plan for Publishing CRS Reports Falls Short”

The 2017 #OpenGov National Action Plan

 

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Photo credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Starting in 2011 and every two years afterward, the White House has drawn up an open government national action plan that is intended to contain specific, measurable open government commitments. The planning process is an outgrowth of the Obama administration’s open government initiative, which kicked off in 2009 when agencies were first required to create open government plans, but takes place on an international scale.

The Trump administration said it will continue this process and is collecting recommendations for the 2017 plan. (More explanation via the Sunlight Foundation.)

While we were heartened to see the Obama administration adopt one of our recommendations — a machine readable government organization chart — most of the other ideas were not put into action. We reiterate and update them here and call on Congress to require the administration to put them into effect. In summary, they are:

Continue reading “The 2017 #OpenGov National Action Plan”

11 Simple Things to Improve Senate Accountability

Democratic members of the U.S. Senate recently announced “We the People,” a legislative package the New York Times describes as intended to “hit campaign contributions, lobbying laws and other accountability issues.” Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton hailed the legislation, which is unlikely to pass under Republican control, as “ a strong package of reforms to help restore our democracy and break the grip of wealthy special interests in Washington.”

We applaud any effort to address undue influence and the role of money in politics. (We also think the package of ambitious proposals should have included public financing.) While the provisions in the legislation may prove hard to move even in a Democratic-controlled Senate, we offer eleven ideas to which nearly every senator should be able to say yes. Continue reading “11 Simple Things to Improve Senate Accountability”

3 Cheers for the Door Stop Awards

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Photo courtesy the OpenGov Foundation

The OpenGov Foundation hosted the Door Stop Awards yesterday, which recognized the largely (but not entirely) unsung efforts to open the doors of Congress to the American people.

Last night, at the first ever Door Stop Awards last night, six Members of Congress and congressional staff were honored by the open government community for their tireless efforts to drag Congress into the digital age and make the legislative branch more open, responsive, and accountable.

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Photo courtesy the OpenGov Foundation

The honorees were:

 

  • The Honorable John Boehner
  • The Honorable Eric Cantor
  • The Honorable Steny Hoyer
  • The Honorable Jared Polis
  • Joe-Marie St. Martin
  • Karina Newton

Continue reading “3 Cheers for the Door Stop Awards”

New Report: Opening up the One Agency that Rules Them All

The most powerful federal agency is one no one outside of Washington has heard of. It controls how agencies request money from Congress and spend it, oversees virtually all major rulemakings, controls multi-agency processes, sets federal information policy, and more. In some respects, it’s the tail that wags the White House dog. The agency is the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

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Seal of the Executive Office of the President. Credit: DonkeyHotey.

Over the course of the Obama administration we’ve made recommendations on how OMB should lighten up — I mean open up. We made recommendations to the administration’s National Act Plan, which is intended to contain actionable open government commitments, drafted guidelines on how agencies can improve proactive disclosure, and suggested how to make earmarks more transparent.

More than six years ago the Obama administration started a new process by which agencies release open government plans every two years. OMB oversees the process and is supposed to issue a plan as well. While OMB issued a plan in 2010, it failed to do so in 2012 and 2014.

Today we issue new recommendations to OMB as to what it should include in its open government plan, which are essentially warmed-over recommendations from 2014. But they’re still good ideas. They include:

 

  • Publishing Congressional Budget Justifications online in one central place. (I wrote about this yesterday).
  • Creating a machine-readable organization chart of the federal government. (This idea was adopted as part of the National Action Plan last year).
  • Fixing how the government gathers information through forms by making sure they’re well designed, catch input errors, flow easily into databases, and are built for maximum disclosure and reuse.
  • Creating better disclosure for when outside lobbyists push OIRA to change or kill a proposed regulation.
  • Set forth guidelines on how agencies can think through and proactively disclose information they hold.

Frankly, this is a fairly modest list. OMB should be leading on federal spending transparency by pushing forward DATA Act implementation, providing significant assistance to improve implementation of the Freedom of Information Act, rethinking its entire regulatory approval process, reexamining how it implements cost/benefit analysis, setting forth regulations mandating public access to information, and much more.

But there isn’t much useful time left in the administration. We hope OMB will act on the recommendations and issue a substantive open government plan soon, especially with Sunshine Week soon upon us.

— Written by Daniel Schuman