Openness is one of the big buzzwords on this website and among the participants. Being able to access and share information about the government is perhaps Goal #1, and we use “open” as a broad term covering different aspects of our goals. The website Open Knowledge Definition (http://www.opendefinition.org/) attempts to make a clear definition of Open Knowledge.
Here’s the first requirement for Open Knowledge:
1. Access: The work shall be available as a whole and at no more than a reasonable reproduction cost, preferably downloading via the Internet without charge. The work must also be available in a convenient and modifiable form.
As we know, some government documents meet this requirement. Some don’t. GPO’s data files for the text of legislation (with “locator codes”) are sold to the public for $8,000. CRS reports are not made available at all. Various lobbying/travel/etc. filings were not made available to the public electronically (but this seems to be changing). On the other hand, the OMB’s recent database of earmarks was made available in a convenient and modifiable form (a downloadable database), and that’s a model for future government data providers.
The Congress (if not the whole government) needs to adopt an open knowledge definition, a set of standards to strive for for all public government information.