Congress to Produce Earmark Data?

A bill introduced in the Senate yesterday would require Congress to bring earmarks out of the shadows, producing earmark data in a format that the public can easily use.

S. 3335 calls for a “unified and searchable database on a public website for congressional earmarks.” This is something President Obama called for in his 2010 State of the Union speech, though we haven’t heard much more from him about it since then.

Importantly the bill is not just about a web site. The bill would enable the public to “programmatically search and access all data in a serialized machine readable format via a web-services application programming interface.” That gobbledegook means that people could access the data for themselves, slicing and dicing it to learn whatever they want or to display it however they want.

I’ve noted here before the efforts of my government transparency web site WashingtonWatch.com to capture earmark data and the related effort to get earmark data directly from Congress at Earmarkdata.org.

The bill was introduced by Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), and is currently cosponsored by Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), Sen. John Ensign (R-NV), Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), and Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO). Its House counterpart is H.R. 5258 (Cassidy R-LA), which also has bipartisan support.

Support for these bills across parties and ideologies suggests good things may be in store for earmark transparency.