How To Take i-Transparency Seriously: Create An Office For It

You’ve read on this blog about how the House can use the Internet better for fostering transparency. What the suggestions come down to is making use of the latest Internet technologies, the new low-cost distribution network, to bring as much information, in an organized way, to the public.

With the number of separate data sets that exist (or we want to exist) about Congress, organizing them so that they are interlinked, and easily meshable, is difficult, takes real work, and needs to have some degree of coordination.

Further, as technology changes, we want Congress to continually update how they use the Internet. Congress must make a lasting commitment to technology & transparency.

One idea to toss out there is: The House should establish an “Office of Technology and Transparency” (”OTT”) within the purview of the Speaker and put the weight of the Speaker behind it. The office should have three functions:

  1. The OTT should serve as a source of guidance for the webmasters of the various House webpages (committee websites, member pages, etc.) in how the latest Web standards, from RSS and XML to RDF, tags, trackbacks, and OPML, can be put to use. Congress should be a leader in adapting standards that foster transparency, and the OTT can help implement those standards in Congress.
  2. The OTT should serve as a liaison between the Speaker and the Library of Congress and the House clerk to bring entire datasets into the public realm with the latest technology standards. For example, the OTT should work with the Congressional Research Service (in the Library of Congress) to make the Legislative Information System database (which powers THOMAS) public to as much a degree as is reasonable. The OTT should also work with maintainers of the new lobbying disclosure databases (presumably in the clerk’s office) to ensure the databases are made available to the public both through a comprehensive searchable website, and are highly interlinked with other data sets, and are also provided to the public as a raw database download in a modern format. In this role, the OTT serves to promote or coordinate the House’s Internet public library of data.
  3. The OTT should act as a coordinating body between distinct data sets maintained within the government to promote consistency and standards-reuse between the data sets, ensuring the data sets are maximally meshable. For instance, legislative, lobbying, and election data sets should all use a consistent identification scheme for Members of Congress.

(This thought stems from a suggestion by Gary Bass of OMB Watch on the TOHP mail list to have a Congressional Internet Library.)

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