The public comment period for this legislation has ended.

Transparency in Government Act 2008

24 bill comments, 101 section comments

The Transparency in Government Act of 2008 is a broad legislative effort intended to make the work of Congress and the executive branch more transparent by creating laws and regulations that would bring more information online and available to the public in a timely manner. The draft legislation is an amalgamation of bills that have already been introduced, along with new provisions. If enacted, it would create historic changes in the way the executive and legislative branches provide information to the public, and Sunlight believes it would foster a better and more complete understanding by the public of how the government works.
  1. TITLE I - Access to Information About Members of Congress
    1. Sec. 101. Greater disclosure and electronic filing of personal financial information. (10 comments)
    2. Sec. 102. Electronic filing of and timely public access to official travel reports. (3 comments)
    3. Sec. 103. Electronic filing of and timely public access to gift reports. (2 comments)
    4. Sec. 104. Enhancing public access to information about earmarks. (14 comments)
    5. Sec. 105. Electronic Filing of Senate campaign finance disclosure reports. (3 comments)
    6. Sec. 106. Monthly Filing of FECA reports.
  2. TITLE II - Enhancing Public Access to the Work of Congressional Committees, Legislative Information, and Votes
    1. Sec. 201. Posting of Committee recorded votes online in a timely manner. (4 comments)
    2. Sec. 202. Posting congressional committee schedules online in a timely manner. (2 comments)
    3. Sec. 203. Posting of other committee information. (7 comments)
    4. Sec. 204. Full disclosure of non-emergency legislation and amendments online 72 hours before a vote. (6 comments)
    5. Sec. 205. Full disclosure of conference reports, identification of new material in conference reports and openness in conference committee deliberations. (1 comment)
    6. Sec. 206. Electronic access to votes. (3 comments)
    7. Sec. 207. Creation of a legislative database. (9 comments)
    8. Sec. 208. Appropriation of sums to preserve congressional information. (1 comment)
  3. TITLE III - Enhancing Public Access to Congressional Research Service Information
    1. Sec. 301. Availability of certain Congressional Research Service Information. (2 comments)
    2. Sec. 302. Method of access. (4 comments)
    3. Sec. 303. Implementation. (1 comment)
    4. Sec. 304. GAO Study.
  4. TITLE IV - Improving Lobbyist Reporting and Disclosure of Information
    1. Sec. 401. Monthly filing of Lobbying Disclosure Reports. (4 comments)
    2. Sec. 402. Identification of officials with whom lobbying contacts are made. (1 comment)
    3. Sec. 403. Disclosure of support or opposition to legislation and earmark requests. (1 comment)
    4. Sec. 404. Monthly reports on certain contributions.
    5. Sec. 405. Reporting of bundled contributions made by persons other than registered lobbyists.
    6. Sec. 406. Reporting of lobbying activities by all persons who bundled contributions. (1 comment)
    7. Sec. 407. Expansion of lobbying activities to be reported where there is coordination with registered lobbyists.
    8. Sec. 408. Disclosure of paid advertising activities by lobbyists. (1 comment)
  5. TITLE V - Transparency in Federal Contracting
    1. Sec. 501. Creation of a public database for performance of contractors and suspension and debarment actions. (2 comments)
    2. Sec. 502. Increased Disclosure of Lobbying Contacts by Federal Contractors
  6. TITLE VI - Executive Branch Transparency
    1. Sec. 601. Reporting requirements and online disclosure relating to significant contacts. (1 comment)
    2. Sec. 602. Requirement for disclosure of Federal sponsorship of all Federal advertising or other communications. (1 comment)
    3. Sec. 603. Eliminating the use of pseudo-classifications to withhold public information. (1 comment)
    4. Sec. 604. Procedures for consideration of claims of constitutionally based privilege against disclosure.
    5. Sec. 605. Executive Order of November 1, 2001 shall have no force or effect.
    6. Sec. 606. Prohibition on Secret Advisory Committees (1 comment)
  7. TITLE VII - Strengthening FOIA
    1. Sec. 701. Digital access to completed FOIA responses. (4 comments)
    2. Sec. 702. Limitations on extensions for agency response. (1 comment)
  8. TITLE VIII - Increasing Access to Information About Work of Inspectors General
    1. Sec. 801. Timely access to reports and audits on Web sites of Offices of Inspectors General (5 comments)
  9. TITLE IX - Enforcement
    1. Sec. 901. GAO Audits. (5 comments)

General Comments on Transparency in Government Act 2008

Joshua Tauberer, GovTrack.us on March 27, 2008

This is a nice collection of open government reforms that have been proposed. Following up on Dan's comment, I'd like to see a general incorporation of the www.OpenGovData.org principles. All information that is required to be posted online through House and Senate rules, and what Congress requires of the executive branch, should be additionally available as data, following the eight principles.

Jack Gould, Common Cause Nebraska on March 31, 2008

Common Cause Nebraska is able to monitor most of the trips and gifts given to state elected officials. Those who go on to federal offices become invisible. We need to be able to follow the gifts and trips along with the campaign contributions.

James Jacobs (Free Government Information) on March 31, 2008

I commend Sunlight's efforts at pushing for increased government transparency. This is a great start. Once the legislation is refined, I trust there will be a LARGE push at getting as many bill sponsors as possible. I see this legislation jibing nicely with OMBWatch's "Top Five Open Government Questions for Candidates" [http://www.ombwatch.org/article/articleview/4202/1/192?TopicID=5] and the Open Government Data principles that Josh mentioned. Great work folks. Keep it up!

James Jacobs http://freegovinfo.info>

como odendin (odendin@aol.com) on April 2, 2008

The whole 'it's not what you know it's who you know' things gets to me. I think people need to know when a lobbyist puts up money and a family or friend is given a cake position or whatever... people need to know about it.

Russell C on April 4, 2008

US Senate FEC reports used to not be available for quite a while. Did they fix that? It was always a great pet peeve of mine....

Nydra - citizen on April 4, 2008

Non-emergency vs emergency legislation leaves us with the current system. A Janet Reno wish list was rolled into the Patriot act where it was not question or discussed. Included was the 'Know Your Customer Act' that had been defeated during Clinton because it forced banks to keep a virtual dossier on customers of 'normal and usual' transactions. Without your knowledge, they are required to report any unusual transactions to fed who may or may not put you on a watch list again without your knowledge. Trying to keep bad legislation from being passed becomes a 'whack the mole' operation where we always lose. Therefore, I'm also in favor of 'read the bills' regardless of size or emergency status. Campaign funds reporting is also used to bludgeon special interest groups. Its the old retail store owner who doesn't contribute to the mayor's campaign and find access to their store cut off for 2 years because of road construction.

Bob Rafferty on April 4, 2008

I am one of those "amateurish" people whom in general terms knows what I would like to see happen in OUR Government offices. I, for most of my life have been great at complaining or pointing out what others have done wrong. I think Sunlight Foundation is working in the right direction and only hope that others see the value in the work they are doing. Negativity will never win out. I would hope in the future that criticisms will come in the form of constructive approaches on ways of building a better widget as opposed to ripping apart the concept and discarding the work as a failure.My goal is to follow the work of this organization and provide input as best I can. Looking Good So Far!

J.H. Snider, iSolon.org on April 4, 2008

I recommend changing the title of Title V to read: "Transparency in Federal Contracting and Licensing." Licensing has traditionally been viewed as a separate activity from contracting, but many of the conflict of interest problems are identical with both contracting and licensing.

Alternatively, you might want to create a separate title "Transparency in Licensing." You might be able to keep the same basic sections for both licensing and contracting. A critical feature with licensing are so-called "minor modifications" that don't go out for bid. This is one of the most grotesque areas of special interest politics today. Some of these minor modications can be worth tens of billions of dollars over the long-term. Currently, federal accounting for them is totally inadequate.

Nydra - Citizen on April 4, 2008

JH Snider, My personal recommendation published in the hill, was a Sarbanes Oxley for government bureaucrats and their budgets. Make them sign all Departmental accounting under penalty of jail time if the reporting was found to be inaccurate.
If its good for the goose (CEOs are now subject to jail time if their reporting is inaccurate---created a major shift of corp headquarters leaving the US), then jail time should be good for the gander. Contractors are often billions over budget, substancially late in delivery, with some products NEVER working. Billions are lost, audits are delayed, and there is no accountability for the products produced.

Daniel Cornwall (Free Government Information) on April 4, 2008

I think Nydra has a point that an exemption for emergency legislation means that bad legislation won't be read before it is past. The Patriot Act is the poster child for this point. September 11th and it's immediate aftermath did create an emergency, but we definitely were not well served by the lack of process. Terrorism attacks aside, government does seem to have a different definition of emergency as judged by the number of times presidents of both parties have proclaimed A "Continuation of National Emergency with Respect to ["evil country of the month"]. Please see http://tinyurl.com/3tg98v for examples.

Michael Kramer on April 7, 2008

We must do this because the greedy, power hungry, fascists amongst us don't want this. Save Our Democracy ! We cannot continue down the path the German people did in the thirties !

Clayton on April 15, 2008

I think that the Sunlight Foundation concept is a good one, but long multi-sectioned bills of this sort are part of the problem (and yes, I realize that this bill is incredibly short compared to most of the stuff that Congress produces).

I think that we are on the right track here, but to really change the way Washington does business we need to radically simplify the way laws are written so that they are clear, comprehensible, and readable.

I like the spirit of the read the bills act (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Read_the...) but its provisions are probably too onerous. I think that including a provision with the same thrust but less confrontational language is important to this bill.

Finally, I think it is important that we establish a mechanism for reviewing, debating, condensing, revising and eliminating existing laws. Sunset clauses for new bills are probably a good idea, but the body of Federal law is already so vast nobody has any idea how to enforce it or obey it. The result is highly selective enforcement and a breakdown of the rule of law.

Jeff Sullivan on April 15, 2008

What a great idea. Could I suggest a law regarding preventing unpopular or questionable laws from "piggy-backing" as part of a package. It would seem to me that one measure per bill would go a long way towards a more transparent congress by making them accountable by making them responsible for each and avery separate measure that is passed or rejected. There would be no more "I had to concede to all those earmarks because it was vital that this measure be passed immediately." excuses.

Bob Schmitt on April 15, 2008

(Hi Ellen!)

A couple suggestions:

1) How about a separate (general) section mandating use of open-standard applications for corresponding with Executive, Legislative and Judicial agencies (e.g. W3C compliant browsers)?

2) How about a standard mechanism for forwarding/including comments from agencies and legislative offices? I had a scenario where I couldn't forward comments sent to me by an executive agency to one of my Senators because of the web interface they used, (and the fact that the agency sent their comments in .jpg format!!)

Having a standard protocol for handling supplementary documents (.pdf? OpenDoc?) with some form of built in authenticatiou would be a huge step forward in getting issues resolved across agency boundaries.

Great initiative!

VC on April 18, 2008

Just a usability suggestion for this website: Whenever a section refers to amending another law (or rule, regulation, etc) please provide a link to the full text of that law so we can see the amendment in context.

markandeya on May 4, 2008

Great, bring more and more to light. Transparency is so important to regulate human nature and government. Jeff Sullivan's post on piggybacking legislation is very important. For "The People" to understand the legislation and its ramifications in this information age it should be possible to separate it into logical (modular) parts that are more understandable and without piggybacking. Thanks for the great work, it is very needed and useful.

Sean Moulton, OMB Watch on May 6, 2008

Terrific scope and great way to have an open transparent forum on the issue of a transparency bill. I think most of the sections are very well thought out and could easily stand alone or be attached to other relevant bills -- and it is extremely helpful to have a good menu of developed proposals waiting for the right opportunity/vehicle. There were a few gaps I think we should work to fill in.

The most obvious one is there are no proposals in the bill for additional transparency in the judicial branch. I'm not enough of an expert to offer any real suggestions but it seems if the bill addresses the legislative and executive branches it should also include something about the judicial.

The contracting section should be broadened to include all spending including grants and other assistance awards. For instance there should be transparency on how well states spend education grants, transportantion money, etc. I would also recommend a new section be added on transparency of compliance with federal laws. The public should know if companies that are chronic scofflaws or tax evaders are raking in huge government dollars.

I also think the Enforcement section needs more then just the GAO oversight. The truth is there is practically no penalties for non-compliance with disclosure laws. I would recommend a central office of some sort to police agencies and enforce the requirements.