12 March 2012
The White House is on key even if the rhythm somewhat variable!
President Obama’s first formal act in office was a direction about transparency. Over the last three years, delivering on expectations has been a challenge. Some enthusiasts of open government have been disappointed ( see post Obama’s open government is not transparent government ).
But this is “Sunshine Week” for the Federal Government and many State and local governments. In anticipation, the President launched an initiative to reinforce his commitment to transparency. He’d promised to create a centralised internet database of lobbying reports, ethics records, and campaign finance filings in a searchable, sortable and downloadable format.
On 8 March www.ethics.data.gov was launched to deliver on that promise. The site provides data on
- White House Visitor Records
- Office of Government Ethics Travel Reports
- Lobbying Disclosure Act Data
- Department of Justice Foreign Agents Registration Act Data
- Federal Election Commission Individual Contribution Reports
- Federal Election Commission Candidate Reports
- Federal Election Commission Committee Reports
These records disclose matters which can be seen as an influence on government decision-making. Critics will say that there is nothing new as the information is already available. Advocates will counter that the data is now accessible in one place, searchable with a google-like tool, and in a common format – described as “a uniform, digestible user- friendly format ”. It will simplify research byanyone wanting to see what is happening in the Federal government, who is lobbying whom, what funding is being given to whose political campaign and so on.
Comparable disclosure in New Zealand is information on MP and Ministerial expenses, and on election expenses. As lobbying has no profile here as an inappropriate influence on decision-making, there is no equivalent of the provisions in the US ( and many other OCCD states ) to register and record activities of professionals accessing officials to promote particular interests.
According to the website of OMB Watch ( a group scrutinising the White House Office of Management and Budget ) Sunshine Week is falls on the week closest to 16 March which was the birthday of James Madison – 4th President, “father of the Constitution”, and author of the US Bill of Rights who championed the importance of checks and balances for good government).