Accountability

Published — March 16, 2010 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

New House bill would put gov’t documents online

Introduction

No government information would be considered “public” unless it is posted on the Internet in user-friendly formats, according to a House bill introduced on Tuesday. Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., says his legislation aims to redefine the meaning of “public” by recognizing that government data and documents should be easily available to anyone with a computer.

“Right now, our government will stamp something ‘public’ and lock it away in a warehouse in Maryland. That’s about as accessible and transparent as a nuclear missile silo,” Israel said. “People across the country – from scholars to school children – should be able to see any public government information from the convenience of their computer.”

The bill, which does not yet have any co-sponsors, would require each agency to create a searchable catalog of all disclosed public documents.

The Data Mine project, sponsored by the Center for Public Integrity and the Sunlight Foundation, spotlights government information that should be accessible but isn’t, or is available but too cumbersome and impractical for meaningful use.

Some government information is required by law to be public but is not available online. Examples include pension plan annual filings with the Labor Department, high-level government officials’ filings summarizing their personal financial interests, and reports disclosing lobbying activities by government contractors and grantees made in connection with winning a grant, according to Israel.

The Sunlight Foundation, Personal Democracy Forum, Center for Democracy and Technology, Center for Responsive Politics, and Federation of American Scientists were among the groups saying they welcomed the legislation.

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