Tag: government transparency

The House Health Care Bill — Transparent or Not?

The House health care bill is reportedly coming to the floor this weekend, and House Speaker Pelosi committed in September to a 72-hour delay between the time the bill is posted online and a final vote.

Is that 72-hour delay happening? Some say yes. Some say no.

On the “yes” side are some folks at the Sunlight Foundation. John Wonderlich wrote a post last Sunday called “72 Hours is Now.” He hailed the posting of the health care bill well in advance of a vote.

“Public outcry, partisan pressure, and rising expectations are forcing Congress’s hand,” he wrote, ”and it’s now (apparently) taken as a matter of course that this bill is online for a long weekend before its final consideration.”

Paul Blumenthal followed that up mid-week, sounding slightly more cautious notes but hailing the posting of the “final manager’s amendment.” His post restarted the 72-hour clock.

Which brings us to the folks who say no.

On the Weekly Standard blog, John McCormack says that Speaker Pelosi plans to violate the promise to post the health care bill online for 72 hours.

House members are still negotiating important issues in the bill — whether it will provide taxpayer-funding for abortions, for example. Pelosi is pushing for a Saturday House vote, and a number of big changes will be introduced, likely less than 24 hours before the vote takes place (if in fact it does).

Did Pelosi promise to post a bill? Yes — and she did, when it was pretty near final.

Meanwhile, though, the really tricky details — the stuff that matters to a lot of people — are still being hammered out. The spirit of the 72-hour pledge remains unfulfilled.

And this reveals a weakness in H. Res. 554, the preferred reform of the Sunlight-backed ”Read the Bill” effort. It would install a House rule giving bills 72 hours of online airing “before floor consideration.”

Floor consideration can and regularly does include the adoption of a “manager’s amendment” which can revamp a bill wholesale or add and subtract key details — things that matter.

H. Res. 554 has a loophole you can drive a truck through, and Speaker Pelosi is revving her engines.

This episode is a good, if regrettable, illustration that “self-reform” by a branch of government isn’t reliable. “Read the bill” is a good idea, but the genius of President Obama’s parallel “Sunlight Before Signing” pledge to hold bills coming out of Congress for five days before signing them is that it is based on interbranch rivalry. Especially, but not only, when there is partisan division between the president and Congress, competition among branches will promote the practice.

(More on “Read the Bill” and “Sunlight Before Signing” here.)

Getting Congress to hold up its own legislation for 72 hours, giving meaningful access to the public of every detail, is asking Congress to be altruistic. And Congress is anything but altruistic.

Obama Transparency Update II

An editorial in the New York Times the other day reminded me that it’s a good time for another look at the Obama administration’s record on transparency.

The editorial lauded a new policy of disclosure for the Secret Service’s logs of White House visits, naming the visitor, who set up the meeting, where it was held, and how long it lasted. The Times gushed: “[T]he administration is well on course to be the most open in modern times, with such earlier initiatives as the online Data.gov to allow citizen access to huge amounts of federal agency information.”

These things are good—and the White House certainly means well—but I’m a little less enthusiastic, and I think the Times set the bar at the wrong height: A ham sandwich is more transparent than recent administrations. Candidate Obama made some firm commitments about transparency that are better for gauging his performance.

Disclosure of White House visitor logs is a small step forward, but I agree with the Times that a three to four month delay in revealing visits is too long. Much of this information is computerized at the White House and could be revealed in real time or within 24 hours. Also, visits that are not revealed for security or diplomatic reasons should be noted as such so that the quantity of such visits can be tracked over time and misuse of this secrecy ferreted out.

It’s also slightly ironic to see the Times sing President Obama’s transparency praises while the White House flouts a transparency commitment made to the paper back in June. For a story called “White House Changes the Terms of a Campaign Pledge About Posting Bills Online,” White House spokesman Nick Shapiro told New York Times reporter Katherine Seelye, “[O]nce it is clear that a bill will be coming to the president’s desk, the White House will post the bill online.” It hadn’t happened yet when I wrote about it in July, and it still hasn’t happened, even though 22 more bills have passed into law since then.

Below the jump is an updated ”Sunlight Before Signing” chart, reflecting all the bills President Obama has signed to date. Still only one (of sixty-one bills) has been posted on Whitehouse.gov for five days before signing. (That’s a .016 average, baseball fans.)

The DTV Delay Act was online for five days after final passage in Congress, though not formal presentment to the president, but I’ve given him the benefit of the doubt to count it as a win.

I’ve amended the chart to highlight an interesting thing: Two-thirds of the time (41 of 61), the White House has held bills for five days or more before President Obama has signed them. The only thing keeping him from fulfilling his promise as to these bills is the simple failure to post them on Whitehouse.gov. It’s hard to understand why the White House is not taking this easy step. The “Presidential Actions” page seems like a good place for it.

On measurable commitments, we have seen weakness, but, as I say, the White House certainly means well. This was confirmed for me again last week when Cass Sunstein, the new administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, invited a small group of transparency advocates including myself in for a meeting. We highlighted many angles of the transparency issue to him, mine being earmarks.

During the campaign, now-President Obama said, “[W]e will put every corporate tax break and every pork barrel project online for every American to see. You will know who asked for them and you can decide whether your representative is actually representing you.”

Since then, it has been WashingtonWatch.com, not the White House, tracking and disclosing earmarks. But an OMB representative told Federal Computer Week in August that it would begin tracking and disclosing congressional earmarks from the request stage in the next budget cycle.

I passed a copy of the FCW article to Sunstein and some of the OIRA staff members who joined us at the meeting. I’m hopeful that they will follow through on this commitment. I’m looking forward to reporting tangible results to go along with the good intentions flowing from the White House!

Public Law Date Presented Date Signed Five Days? Posted (Linked)? Posted Five Days?
P.L. 111-2, The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 1/28/2009 1/29/2009 No 1/29/2009 No
P.L. 111-3, The Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2009 2/4/2009 2/4/2009 No 2/1/2009 No
P.L. 111-4, The DTV Delay Act 2/9/2009 2/11/2009 No 2/5/2009 Yes and No
P.L. 111-5, The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 2/16/2009 2/17/2009 No 2/13/2009 No
P.L. 111-6, Making further continuing appropriations for fiscal year 2009, and for other purposes 3/6/2009 3/6/2009 No No No
P.L. 111-7, A bill to designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 2105 East Cook Street in Springfield, Illinois, as the “Colonel John H. Wilson, Jr. Post Office Building” 2/26/09 3/9/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-8, The Omnibus Appropriations Act, 2009 3/11/2009 3/11/2009 No 3/6/2009 No
P.L. 111-9, To extend certain immigration programs 3/18/2009 3/20/2009 No No No
P.L. 111-10, To provide for an additional temporary extension of programs under the Small Business Act and the Small Business Investment Act of 1958, and for other purposes 3/19/2009 3/20/2009 No No No
P.L. 111-11, The Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 3/30/2009 3/30/2009 No 3/30/2009 No
P.L. 111-12, The Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2009 3/24/2009 3/30/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-13, The Generations Invigorating Volunteerism and Education Act 4/20/2009 4/21/2009 No No No
P.L. 111-14, To designate the United States courthouse under construction at 327 South Church Street, Rockford, Illinois, as the “Stanley J. Roszkowski United States Courthouse” 4/14/2009 4/23/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-15, The Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program Act of 2009 4/14/2009 4/24/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-16, The Statutory Time-Periods Technical Amendments Act of 2009 4/30/2009 5/7/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-17, A joint resolution providing for the appointment of David M. Rubenstein as a citizen regent of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution 4/28/2009 5/7/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-18, A bill to repeal section 10(f) of Public Law 93-531, commonly known as the “Bennett Freeze” 4/28/2009 5/8/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-19, The Civil Rights History Project Act of 2009 4/30/2009 5/12/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-20, The Protecting Incentives for the Adoption of Children with Special Needs Act of 2009 5/5/2009 5/15/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-21, The FERA 5/19/2009 5/20/2009 No No No
P.L. 111-22, The Helping Families Save Their Homes Act of 2009 5/20/2009 5/22/2009 No No No
P.L. 111-23, The Weapon Systems Acquisition Reform Act of 2009 5/21/2009 5/22/2009 No 5/14/2009 No
P.L. 111-24, The Credit Cardholders’ Bill of Rights Act of 2009 5/20/2009 5/22/2009 No 5/14/2009 No
P.L. 111-25, The Ronald Reagan Centennial Commission Act 5/21/2009 6/2/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-26, To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 12877 Broad Street in Sparta, Georgia, as the “Yvonne Ingram-Ephraim Post Office Building” 6/9/2009 6/19/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-27, To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 300 East 3rd Street in Jamestown, New York, as the “Stan Lundine Post Office Building” 6/9/2009 6/19/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-28, To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 103 West Main Street in McLain, Mississippi, as the “Major Ed W. Freeman Post Office” 6/9/2009 6/19/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-29, To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 3245 Latta Road in Rochester, New York, as the “Brian K. Schramm Post Office Building” 6/9/2009 6/19/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-30, The Antitrust Criminal Penalty Enhancement and Reform Act of 2004 Extension Act 6/19/2009 6/19/2009 No No No
P.L. 111-31, The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act 6/16/2009 6/22/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-32, The Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2009 6/19/2009 6/24/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-33, The Native American Heritage Day Act of 2009 6/16/2009 6/26/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-34, To designate the Federal building and United States courthouse located at 306 East Main Street in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, as the “J. Herbert W. Small Federal Building and United States Courthouse” 6/19/2009 6/30/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-35, To designate the Federal building located at 799 United Nations Plaza in New York, New York, as the “Ronald H. Brown United States Mission to the United Nations Building” 6/19/2009 6/30/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-36, The Webcaster Settlement Act of 2009 6/19/2009 6/30/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-37, The Veterans’ Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2009 6/25/2009 6/30/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-38, A bill to provide additional personnel authorities for the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction 6/24/2009 6/30/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-39, To make technical corrections to the Higher Education Act of 1965, and for other purposes 6/26/2009 7/1/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-40, A bill to award a Congressional Gold Medal to the Women Airforce Service Pilots (”WASP”) 6/24/2009 7/1/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-41, The Korean War Veterans Recognition Act 7/27/2009 7/27/2009 No No No
P.L. 111-42, Approving the renewal of import restrictions contained in the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act of 2003, and for other purposes 7/27/2009 7/28/2009 No No No
P.L. 111-43, A bill to provide for an additional temporary extension of programs under the Small Business Act and the Small Business Investment Act of 1958, and for other purposes 7/30/2009 7/31/2009 No No No
P.L. 111-44, The New Frontier Congressional Gold Medal Act 7/27/2009 8/7/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-45, To authorize the Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office to use funds made available under the Trademark Act of 1946 for patent operations in order to avoid furloughs and reductions-in-force, and for other purposes 7/27/2009 8/7/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-46, To restore sums to the Highway Trust Fund, and for other purposes 8/4/2009 8/7/2009 No No No
P.L. 111-47, Making supplemental appropriations for fiscal year 2009 for the Consumer Assistance to Recycle and Save Program 8/6/2009 8/7/2009 No No No
P.L. 111-48, The Miami Dade College Land Conveyance Act 7/31/2009 8/12/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-49, The Judicial Survivors Protection Act of 2009 8/3/2009 8/12/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-50, To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 46-02 21st Street in Long Island City, New York, as the “Geraldine Ferraro Post Office Building” 8/11/2009 8/19/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-51, To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 601 8th Street in Freedom, Pennsylvania, as the “John Scott Challis, Jr. Post Office” 8/11/2009 8/19/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-52, To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 2351 West Atlantic Boulevard in Pompano Beach, Florida, as the “Elijah Pat Larkins Post Office Building” 8/11/2009 8/19/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-53, The Utah Recreational Land Exchange Act of 2009 8/11/2009 8/19/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-54, To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 41 Purdy Avenue in Rye, New York, as the “Caroline O’Day Post Office Building” 8/11/2009 8/19/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-55, To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 431 State Street in Ogdensburg, New York, as the “Frederic Remington Post Office Building” 8/11/2009 8/19/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-56, To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 123 11th Avenue South in Nampa, Idaho, as the “Herbert A Littleton Postal Station” 8/11/2009 8/19/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-57, To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 1300 Matamoros Street in Laredo, Texas, as the “Laredo Veterans Post Office” 8/11/2009 8/19/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-58, To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 702 East University Avenue in Georgetown, Texas, as the “Kyle G. West Post Office Building” 8/11/2009 8/19/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-59, To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 19190 Cochran Boulevard FRNT in Port Charlotte, Florida, as the “Lieutenant Commander Roy H. Boehm Post Office Building” 8/11/2009 8/19/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-60, To extend the deadline for commencement of construction of a hydroelectric project 8/11/2009 8/19/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-61, Recognizing the service, sacrifice, honor, and professionalism of the Noncommissioned Officers of the United States Army 8/11/2009 8/19/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-62, A joint resolution granting the consent and approval of Congress to amendments made by the State of Maryland, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the District of Columbia to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Regulation Compact 8/7/2009 8/19/2009 Yes No No

The Beginnings of Earmark Transparency

Under reforms announced in March, House members have to publicly declare the earmarks they’re requesting from the Appropriations Committee. Most of the requests have now been published and WashingtonWatch.com has assembled a state-by-state catalogue of links to Members’ earmark requests.

Getting earmark requests published is progress. Getting them published in uniform, machine-readable formats would allow the public to do really thorough oversight of all the projects that Members of Congress think federal taxpayer dollars should go to.

In December, we had a policy forum called “Just Give Us the Data!” where we explored some of the current issues in government transparency.

Who’s Blogging about Cato

A few bloggers who wrote about Cato this week:

  • New York Times blogger Andrew C. Revkin wrote about Cato’s forthcoming full-page ad on climate change that will run in newspapers around the country next week.
  • Wes Messamore helped set the record straight: Cato scholars have criticized the growth of government regardless of who’s in power.
  • Brandon Dutcher posted Cato’s Monday podcast with Adam Schaeffer on universal pre-school.

DHS Officials Skirt Open Meeting Laws to Promote REAL ID

There’s not much chance that U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials went to Annapolis to argue against having Maryland implement the national ID law. Maryland’s Gazette reports:

Federal homeland security officials skirted open meetings laws at a briefing last week on the state’s efforts to comply with the federal Real ID Act, unsettling several lawmakers in an era of heightened government transparency.

A meeting with the Maryland House Judiciary Committee members and other lawmakers was carefully regulated to avoid reaching a quorum so open meeting rules could be avoided.

Something is funny in the state of Maryland, and something is funny at the DHS, to insist on holding closed meetings about REAL ID during what President Obama promised would be the most open and transparent administration in history.

Napolitano revealed early this month that she has been collaborating with the National Governors Association on REAL ID. Just what they plan also remains a secret.

As governor of Arizona, she signed legislation to resist REAL ID, but politicians that come to Washington have a tremendous capacity to go native and start working to build federal power. There’s even precedent for them working with the NGA to do it.

New Podcast: ‘A More Transparent Federal Government’

Online technology offers President Obama more opportunities to increase government transparency than any president before him, says Jerry Brito, creator of StimulusWatch.org and senior fellow at the Mercatus Center.

In today’s Cato Daily Podcast, Brito says that although Obama has taken positive steps toward increasing transparency, there are hurdles in place that are restricting open access to government data.

President Obama has been very clear about making sure that Americans know where every dollar goes…the problem though so far, is that we have a Web site called Recovery.gov, but there isn’t much there yet.