Transparency in the 112th House

The House Republican Leadership over the past two years really surprised me.

When the open gov tech community coalesced at the start of the 107th Congress in 2007 Democrats had just regained control of Congress after a series of ethics scandals in 2006 brought the Republican Party’s commitment to ethics into question. But despite Speaker Pelosi’s call for transparency at the start of the Democrat’s control, honestly very little happened over the following four years (the launch of and the availability of disbursements PDFs come to mind).

In fact, when calls for transparency persisted in the House — that is, Republicans asking Democrats for more transparency — we would often chalk that up to transparency being used by the minority party as a delay tactic.

But when the Republicans took over in 2011, they kept at it. With mixed success, of course. Some promises, like 72-hour delays before votes, were not taken even remotely seriously. But that shouldn’t detract from what they got right:

  • They began a moratorium on earmarks, which was somewhat successful.
  • They launched, which gave the public a heads-up about what would be happening on the floor up to a week in advance. Prior to Docs.House.Gov, (UPDATED) there was essentially no advanced notice whatsoever there was no structured data about the House calendar. (Thanks to Eric Mill for correcting my apparent exaggeration.)
  • They held a “hackathon” in December 2011, during which transparency and technology activists in the public had a chance to talk with House staff and get to understand the complexities of the House better.
  • They held a legislative data and transparency conference in February 2012, the first conference of its kind.
  • They promised legislative data, and after public outcry they formed a task force to consider it. (On the downside, we had to have an outcry.)
  • They centralized committee video webcasting and archiving infrastructure, leading to much more of committee proceedings being available over the web.
  • At the very end of the 112th Congress they made any committee documents sent to GPO available electronically by default (update: link posted)
  • The Clerk’s official list of members got a new column of bioguide IDs.
  • They began the creation of data standards for committees which lead to significant updates on Docs.House.Gov on the first day of the 113th Congress.
  • (UPDATE) They passed the DATA Act.
That said, all I ever wanted was bulk data on the status of legislation and I haven’t gotten that. Maybe this year?

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