Transparency Gov 2.0


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2009 Women Who Tech Telesummit presentation on transparency and government 2.0

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  • Thanks for the opportunity to talk with you today. I’m Nancy Watzman, a consultant to the three-year-old Sunlight Foundation, an organization designed to use the power of the Internet to catalyze greater government openness and transparency.
  • Sunlight takes its inspiration from Justice Brandeis’ adage: Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants. In the age of Internet this means something very different than what it has meant in the past.
  • It means improving access to government information – particularly what we refer to as “influence data” -- by digitizing it and making it available on the Internet. Sunlight in the Internet era means making government accountable by creating new tools and websites to enable all of us to analyze information and to pool our collective intelligence in enriching it.
  • As my colleague Andrew Rasiej of Personal Democracy Forum has said, technology is not JUST a slice of the pie . . . it’s actually the pan. I’d like to talk a little today about the Sunlight Foundation’s mission and work, but before I launch into that I want to introduce my two co-panelists, floating here with me in virtual space.
  • Since my last name begins with a “W,” and I still feel the pain of lineups from my childhood, I’ll go backwards, alphabetically speaking. First, we have Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, who has some two decades of experience under her belt following the money. The Center for Responsive Politics is the nation's premier research group tracking money in U.S. politics and its effect on elections and public policy.
  • Second, but only because her last name begins with an “A,” is Ryan Alexander, the president of Taxpayers for Common Sense. Taxpayers is a non-partisan budget watchdog serving as an independent voice for American taxpayers. Over the past 20 years, Ryan has served as a nonprofit advocate, manager, funder, and consultant.
  • Both Sheila’s and Ryan’s organizations are grantees of the Sunlight Foundation precisely because they are experts in how to make those technology pans. They’ll be talking more about that in a moment.
  • At the Sunlight Foundation, we firmly believe that technology can be a disruptive force to the “golden rule” (he who has the gold rules). A few years ago,  bloggers known as the "Porkbusters" helped expose Alaska's "bridge to nowhere." This project to connect the tiny town of Ketchikan (population 8,900) to the even tinier Island of Gravina (population 50) cost some $320 million and was funded through three separate earmarks in a highway bill. Exposure created a huge furor and essentially stopped that earmark.
  • We also have a president who has made transparency through technology a touchstone of his message. For example, earlier this year he famously made transparency and accountability a core part of his announcement of his stimulus plan. A new website,, is supposed to supply us taxpayers all the information about where and how our money is being spent. The simple idea is that the programs will work better the more we know about them.
  • We also have a president who has made transparency through technology a touchstone of his message. For example, earlier this year he famously made transparency and accountability a core part of his announcement of his stimulus plan. A new website,, is supposed to supply us taxpayers all the information about where and how our money is being spent. The simple idea is that the programs will work better the more we know about them. One of his first acts of office was issuing a government directive declaring that government would be more open than ever before.
  • There are plans under way for a new government website,, which will provide all the raw data that the government creates in and easy one-stop shopping location.
  • At Sunlight, part of our work is to hold Obama to his promises. It’s great that he created—but what are the ways that that site is lacking? Is the administration acting with due speed on its initiatives for open government?
  • We also keep our eyes on Congress. We have a campaign, Pass S.482, a bill that would require the Senate to enter the age of the Internet and file their campaign finance reports electronically. We are also advocating for stronger lobbying disclosure laws and that Congress make all legislation available to the public for at least 72 hours before considering it.
  • And we digitize, digitize, digitize. Through our grantees, like the Center and Taxpayers, and our own projects, we believe in wrassling influence data into formats that reporters, bloggers, and activists can use them in their work.
  • For example, at our Party Time website——you can find thousands of invitations to congressional fundraisers that we’ve collected from anonymous lobbyist sources.
  • You can do searches to see where lawmakers are partying, with whom, and where. And you can get the raw data underlying the site to play with yourself.
  • We’re in the midst of creating a massive Data Commons, gathering influence data from CRP and state campaign finance data, among other sources, so we can connect more and more dots.
  • We like to think of a future where all these data are connected with each other. Imagine, for example, a time when I could not just easily pull up Exxon’s filings from the SEC but also, right there along with it, detailed information about what that company is lobbying for on Capitol Hill and what campaign contributions it is giving and to whom. That would give me a much clearer picture about what the company is up to and why—and it might also help me figure out why a particular lawmaker might be taking a specific stance on an issue.
  • Or what if I could see how much pollution a power plant emits right next to its financials and the names of the lobbyists it employs?
  • What if I could find out, in a flash, not just how much subsidy money Citicorp has gotten in the last year—but also the web of connections the company may have with particular lawmakers and administration figures? Combining basic information in new ways with what we call “influence data” could help increase accountability of government officials.
  • We’re getting closer every day to the point where we’ll be able to do these sorts of things—and all sorts of things that we can’t even imagine yet. But it is going to take all of us, working together to make that happen. Please get on our lists to keep informed about developments in the transparency movement. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook—we’d love to have you as part of our community. And now back to Sheila and Ryan.
  • The donor search tool allows you to search all individual contributions going back to 1989 and soon we will be incorporating CRP’s value-added, standardized employer information so that you can pull up all of the detail for a company or group, no matter how bad the individual employee’s disclosure is.
  • The increasing focus on transparency has turbo-charged the conversation on how we define acceptable or “meaningful” access to government information. For instance, it’s ludicrous – inexcusable – in this day and age that the Senate has gotten away with exempting themselves from filing electronically. But it’s only a matter of time before this one falls, because the drumbeat has grown steadily louder as more people add their voices to this debate.
  • Talking points: Short schtick about TCS. Our mission is to work towards a responsible federal government that lives within its means. We believe in government, but we believe that as taxpayers we have a right and a duty to demand excellence from government, and that Congress and the President have a fiduciary duty to taxpayers. And we are scrupulously non-partisan and independent, because no one wants their money wasted. We’re best known for the Bridge to Nowhere and our role in the investigation of Duke Cunningham. For the past five years we have databased every earmark in every appropriations bill. (Something to in-offensively distinguish us from CAGW).
  • Talking points: It is a fundamentally unaccountable system. Earmarks have become the currency of corruption and of re-election. The relationship between campaign contributions, lobbying, and earmarks provides opportunities for bribery. There are several members of Congress under criminal investigation for the use of earmarks. Also note that earmarks are primarily in the appropriations bills, but they also appear in some authorization bills and the transportation bill. We’ve databased the earmarks in the defense authorization bill. There were more than 35,000 earmark request in the House of Representatives for FY 2008, almost 13,000 of which ended up in the final bills. If you think of the time it takes to vet, review, write, and consider these requests, it becomes clear what a huge distraction they are to the more important questions Congress should be grappling with.
  • Have details about Coconut Road chronology More specifics about the examples Think I may change this slide to just list categories, and then talk through the examples. What other categories should I use?
  • Transparency Gov 2.0

    1. 1. Transparency and Government 2.0 Women Who Tech TeleSummit May 12, 2009 Need Help? Press *7 to un-mute phone lines or call ReadyTalk Support at 1-800-843-9166 Nancy Watzman Consultant, Sunlight Foundation Sheila Krumholz Executive Director, Center for Responsive Politics Ryan Alexander President, Taxpayers for Common Sense
    2. 8. Pizza again?
    3. 9. Bridge to Nowhere
    4. 10. You say you want a revolution? <ul><li>Technology innovation is moving so fast there is no longer just evolutionary change. </li></ul><ul><li>It’s creating revolutionary change in the way our institutions operate, survive and more importantly what our expectations from them are and will be. </li></ul>
    5. 12.
    6. 13. <ul><li>Are the citizens in communities across America getting the local information they need to know whether the stimulus is serving them? </li></ul>
    7. 14. The old way of doing things
    8. 15. Digitize, digitize, digitize
    9. 16. It’s Party Time!
    10. 18. Connecting dots
    11. 20. <ul><li>Who are the lobbyists? </li></ul><ul><li>How much in campaign contributions? </li></ul><ul><li>What did plant get from Capitol Hill? </li></ul><ul><li>How much did company profit? </li></ul>
    12. 22. <ul><li>Sign up to receive alerts at: www. sunlightfoundation .com </li></ul><ul><li>Follow us on twitter: @sunfoundation ; @sunlightnetwork </li></ul><ul><li>Become our fan on Facebook! </li></ul>
    13. 23. Money’s Role in U.S. Politics: Shining light on power and influence Sheila Krumholz Executive Director, Center for Responsive Politics
    14. 24. OpenSecrets. org <ul><li>The 2008 election cost $5.2 billion (including funds raised for the presidential and congressional races) </li></ul><ul><ul><li>More than the GDP of Belize ($1.2 billion) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Less than what Americans spent on Valentine’s Day in 2008 ($17 billion) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>The presidential race alone cost $2.24 billion </li></ul>
    15. 25. OpenSecrets. org Our mission is to provide greater transparency in government, specifically about the role of money and elite influence on policy and elections, to provide the public the help they need to hold their elected officials accountable. … because “ People govern themselves based on the quality of information they get. If they’re left out in the dark and don’t know who’s pulling the strings, they can’t participate in a democracy fully .” – Celia Wexler
    16. 26. Fundraising Profiles
    17. 27. Industry Profiles
    18. 28. Get Local
    19. 29. Who’s Giving? Very Few…
    20. 30. Donor Lookup
    21. 31. Lobbying Database
    22. 32. Tracking Lobbying by Industry
    23. 33. Tracking Lobbying by Company/Client
    24. 34. Tracking Lobbying by Client or Firm
    25. 35. A Spin Through the Revolving Door
    26. 36. Speaking Freely… “ I'm free! My year is up!” -Former U.S. Senator Trent Lott, upon the expiration of a 12-month ban on lobbying that he faced throughout 2008 as a former senator
    27. 37. Personal Finances
    28. 38. PACs and 527s
    29. 39. Widgets, APIs and OpenData
    30. 40. Pass S.482! <ul><li>Last year alone electronic filing would have saved 340,000 sheets of paper , or six tons of trees. </li></ul><ul><li>By e-filing, Senators would save taxpayers $250,000 annually . </li></ul>
    31. 41. Sunshine: Grading Your Government
    32. 42. Social Networking @opensecretsDC
    33. 43. <ul><li>Sign up to receive our newsletter by e-mail at: </li></ul><ul><li>Follow us on twitter: @opensecretsDC </li></ul><ul><li>Become our fan on Facebook! </li></ul><ul><li>Sheila Krumholz, Executive Director </li></ul><ul><li>202.354.0104 / </li></ul>
    34. 44. Earmarks, Bailouts, and Spending Bringing transparency to the public Ryan Alexander President Taxpayers for Common Sense ryan
    35. 45. TCS: Who we are and what we do <ul><li>Our mission is to achieve a government that spends taxpayer dollars responsibly and operates within its means. </li></ul><ul><li>We work with individuals, policymakers, and the media to increase transparency, expose and eliminate wasteful and corrupt subsidies, earmarks, and corporate welfare, and hold decision makers accountable. </li></ul>
    36. 46. What is Government Waste? <ul><li>TCS’s 10 common sense principles on government waste: 1. If it doesn't work, don't fund it. 2. Eliminate redundant expenditures. 3. Stop helping those who don't need help. 4. Get a fair price for taxpayer assets or government services. 5. Don't encourage irresponsibility. 6. Don't burden future generations with unfair or hidden debts. 7. Level the playing field and use the power of the market. 8. Eliminate unnecessary federal involvement. 9. Everyone should pay their fair share. 10. Fund projects based on their merits and only after open review. </li></ul>
    37. 47. What are the problems with earmarks? <ul><li>Decisions made on political muscle, not project merit. </li></ul><ul><li>Present unique opportunities for corruption. </li></ul><ul><li>Divert resources from more important priorities. </li></ul><ul><li>Divert lawmakers and staff time away from central policy debates. </li></ul><ul><li>At the current volume, there is no possibility of adequate review. </li></ul><ul><li>Distribution of resources reflects neither priority, need, or population. </li></ul>
    38. 48. What gets funded through earmarks? <ul><li>Local economic development </li></ul><ul><li>Specific geographic assignment of funds that could be allocated programmatically. </li></ul><ul><li>Contracting decisions </li></ul><ul><li>Infrastructure </li></ul><ul><li>Research and Development </li></ul>
    39. 49. Bridge to Nowhere <ul><li>Gravina Island Bridge started as a $200M project proposed by Representative Don Young and Senator Ted Stevens. </li></ul>
    40. 50. TCS Earmark Analysis <ul><li>Complete excel database of all earmarks available at </li></ul><ul><li>Includes House request, Senate request, sponsors, final amount, description, place of performance </li></ul><ul><li>Defense bill also includes beneficiaries and links to request letters. </li></ul>
    41. 51. Earmarks on
    42. 52. Earmarks databases Earmarks in Continuing Resolution/Mini-Bus Appropriations Bill Bill Account Amount Description State/ Country Location House Requester Senate Requester President Defense AP,A $2,400,000 Air Warrior-Joint Service Vacuum Packed Life Raft (AW-JSVPLR) Young, Don Defense AP,A $1,600,000 Aircraft Component Remediation Sessions Defense AP,A $1,600,000 CAAS—Pilot Vehicle Interface Hinchey Grassley; Harkin; Schumer Defense AP,A $1,600,000 Cockpit Air Bag System (CABS) Pastor Defense AP,A $1,600,000 Forward Looking Infrared System for New York National Guard Arcuri; Gillibrand; Hall, John; Israel; King, Peter Schumer Defense AP,A $8,000,000 HH-60A to HH-60L Upgrades for the 204th TN ARNG Alexander Defense AP,A $32,600,000 Light Utility Helicopter Cochran; Wicker Defense AP,A $1,600,000 UH-60 Improved Communications (ARC 220) for the ARNG Bishop, Rob; Latham Bennett; Grassley; Harkin; Hatch; Landrieu Defense AP,A $1,600,000 UH-60 MEDEVAC Thermal Imaging Upgrades Capps; Hooley Smith, Gordon; Wyden Defense AP,A $5,000,000 UH-60A Rewiring Program Granger Defense AP,A $800,000 Vibration Management Enhancement Program Graham Defense AP,A $2,500,000 Vibration Management Enhancement Program Feinstein Defense AP,A $2,000,000 Vibration Management Enhancement Program (Note: For SC ARHG) Clyburn Defense AP,AF $1,600,000 C-130 Active Noise Cancellation System (ANCS) Tiahrt Defense AP,AF $5,000,000 Civil Air Patrol Tiahrt Roberts Defense AP,AF $2,400,000 F-15 Improved Radio Communications (ARC 210) Grassley; Harkin; Hatch; Landrieu; Smith, Gordon; Wyden Defense AP,AF $5,000,000 F-15C/D MSOGS Retrofit Grassley; Harkin Defense AP,AF $1,440,000 F-16C Fire Control Computers for the 114th Fighter Wing Herseth Sandlin Johnson; Thune Defense AP,AF $3,200,000 Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasure for MC-130P aircraft Martinez Defense AP,AF $7,200,000 RC-26B Modernization Bishop, Sanford; Granger; Lampson; Rogers, Michael D. Bingaman; Murray; Nelson, Bill; Shelby Defense AP,AF $400,000 Scathe View for NV AHG Berkley; Porter Reid Defense AP,AF $7,000,000 SENIOR SCOUT Beyond Line-of-Sight SATCOM Data Link Cannon Bennett; Hatch Defense AP,AF $1,600,000 Smart Bomb Rack Unit (S-BRU) Upgrade Herseth Sandlin Johnson; Thune Defense AP,AF $800,000 USAF Senior Scout Digital Rio Raton EUNT System Hobson Defense AP,N $4,000,000 AAR-47 Missile Advanced Warning System Young, C.W. Bill Nelson, Bill Defense AP,N $1,600,000 Advanced Helicopter Emergency Egress Lighting System Alexander; Melancon Landrieu; Vitter Defense AP,N $1,200,000 Advanced Skills Management (ASM) System Dicks; Inslee Cantwell; Murray Defense AP,N $5,000,000 AN/AVS-7 Day Heads-Up Display (DayHUD) Granger Bond Defense AP,N $4,000,000 C4ISR Operations and Training Murtha Defense AP,N $2,800,000 Common ECM Equipment (ALQ-214) Lugar Defense AP,N $1,600,000 Crane NSWC IDECM Depot Capability Ellsworth Bayh Defense AP,N $3,200,000 Direct Squadron Support Readiness Training Program Byrd
    43. 53. Bailout
    44. 54. Bailout
    45. 55. Bailout
    46. 56. What changes have we seen? <ul><li>Greater earmark disclosure, but still needs improvement. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>2007 was the first year of any disclosure </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>This year we are seeing requests as well as final earmarks, but not centralized. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Bailout had weaker oversight and transparency than we would have liked to see. </li></ul><ul><li>Stimulus has a number of mechanisms in place that reflect the criticisms of the transparency community </li></ul>