With Transparency Bill, Federal Government Acknowledges Internet Exists

Pawfal.org


The federal government produces a lot of paper: memos, data sheets, research reports, and the actual legislation that makes it into law. Stuff that curious, concerned citizens should have easy access to. On, say, the internet.

Now Congress wants to help people access that data. On Monday, Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Rep. Steve Israel (D-New York) introduced complementary legislative proposals in the House and Senate that are intended to improve public access to government records. The Tester-Israel Public Online Information Act (POIA, pronounced poy-ah) would require all government-held information that’s already supposed to be public to be posted online. “By freeing government information from its paper silos, the Public Online Information Act gives the public what they need to participate in government as active and informed citizens,” said Ellen Miller, executive director and co-founder of the Sunlight Foundation.

The liberated information will include reports on lobbying activities by government contractors, financial filings of high-level government officials, and information on the trips made by executive branch officials and paid for by non-government third parties. POIA also gives government agencies three years to prepare to comply with the new rules, and asks the Office of Management and Budget’s “E-Government Administrator” to guide the rest of the government through the process. Since POIA will apply only to “newly created” government information, or data released after the bill is enacted, it puts less of a burden on agencies. Unfortunately, that means that vital, hard-to-access information that has already been published in paper form wouldn’t necessarily be posted on the web.

Despite its shortcomings, Tester is proud of the bill. “We’ve got to make sure transparency is keeping up with technology. A little sunshine on government is always a good thing, ” he said Monday. Israel shares Tester’s joy at the soon-to-be-tapped potential of storing stuff online. “People across the country—from scholars to school children—should be able to see any public government information from the convenience of their computer,” he said.

POIA is a huge first step towards a more open government. But its exemption of older records weakens the bill. Eventually, all that stuff should go online, too.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

Share your feedback: We’re planning to launch a new version of the comments section. Help us test it.