Transparency: Obama Lags House Republicans

Maybe President Obama made a mistake during the 2008 campaign, promising great strides in government transparency as he did. Because he hasn’t delivered them.

House Republicans, on the other hand, started from a better place than President Obama, made modest claims about how they would improve, and took some steps in the direction of improvement.

This makes it pretty easy to say that the president lags House Republicans in terms of transparency.

This afternoon, I presented at an Advisory Committee on Transparency panel about how well government data is published. You can see the grades I delivered to the right and below.

When the burst of transparency effort that began in 2008 started flagging, I figured we should probably come up with something measurable. Over the last couple of years, we’ve created models of what legislative processes would look like if they were published as really good data. We’ve done the same with budgeting and spending information.

Next, we’ve been assessing how well that data is currently published. See my previous reports here and here. Some of it is the responsibility of Congress. Some is the responsibility of the White House. And some of it is a divided responsibility. The little “Capitol” and “White House” icons tell you which.

How well is all this data published? Not well at all.

The worst of it is probably this: There is still no machine-readable federal government organization chart.

What that means is that there aren’t distinct identifiers computers could use to help us in organizing our oversight of the government. That makes it really, really hard to oversee the government. It makes it hard to gather what agencies, bureaus, projects, and programs are affected by the bills in Congress.

You know how easy it is to shop on Amazon or eBay? It should be that easy to keep track of what’s going in Congress. But the data isn’t there. That’s a failure of President Obama’s, who claimed he would deliver transparent government.

So here are the report cards we’ve produced, illustrating how Congress and the White House are doing on publishing data. None of the grades are very good, but where Congress has weak grades, the Obama Administration’s grades are horrible. The conclusion? Obama lags House Republicans on transparency.