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Tuesday, 29th September 2009

Online Databases: These Crusaders Bring Transparency to Government

This LA Times article takes a look at three people and some of the resources they have helped make available online to make the U.S. Government more transparent. We're happy to report that most of these resources have been mentioned on ResourceShelf in the past. Here's a quick overview with links to resources from the three "crusaders" interviewed in the article.

Who's Profiled?

1) Carl Malamud

Resources include:

+ FedFlix (Digitized Government Video)

+ "Bulk" Access to Government Codes ||| Via Internet Archive Interface


Malamud, a pioneering insurgent, won a grant in 1993 to place the Securities and Exchange Commissionís EDGAR database of corporate filings online, breaking the near-monopoly then held by the commercial Lexis/Nexis service. A few years later, he abruptly announced he was shutting down his website and invited its devoted clientele to direct their complaints to the SEC. Bowing to the inevitable, the agency made EDGAR available free of charge via www.sec.gov.


This cuts into the courts' PACER revenue of $10 million a year, which may be why PACER has responded with a rather prickly warning about RECAP on its site. Malamud contends, quite rightly, that "the whole point is that the courts should be available to the public. When they don't do that to make money, they're subverting their own purpose."

+ Open Jurist

Our collection includes approximately 647,000 opinions from the United States Supreme Court published in the United States Reports, and from the lower federal courts, particularly the United States Courts of Appeals, as published in the First, Second and Third series of Federal Reporters.

These cases are in the public domain because of the work of Carl Malamud of Public.Resource.Org who works tirelessly to make public information truly public.

+ MANY More Resources from Carl Malamud via Public.Resource.Org

2) Ellen Miller (Co-founder and Executive Director of the Washington-Based Sunlight Foundation)

Miller maintains, perhaps wishfully, that "the genie is out of the bottle." "There's a cultural change taking place," she told me. "It will be very difficult to stop putting information on the Web. Transparency online for government is an idea whose time has come, and it will not go away lightly. It's hard to make an argument against it."

Resources Include:

+ Apps for America 2 Winners List (including DataMasher)
+ Apps for America 2 Finalists List
+ Apps for America 1 Winners List

Much More After the Jump

3) Josh Tauberer

Founder and Developer of the wonderful GovTrack.us

Josh Tauberer started Govtrack.us as a college undergraduate. It's now a one-stop shop for mashed-up data about Congress, its members and its bills. "It was clear that Congress had lots of information but was horribly underutilizing it," he says.


"There's no way that agencies can single-handedly provide everything the public wants, so you need third parties to come in," Tauberer says. It's not in the mind-set of government webmasters to develop really penetrating tools, he says, nor should it be. "You wouldn't want government to do what Maplight does -- you can't expect government to be its own watchdog."

Also Mentioned in the Article:

+ Fedspending.org

The birth date of the transparency movement is hard to pinpoint. Some mark it as October 2006, when the nonprofit group OMB Watch, which monitors the White House Office of Management and Budget, launched. FedSpending.org with a $334,000 grant from the Sunlight Foundation. The site allows users to search for information on federal contracts and grants drawn largely from two government databases reaching back to fiscal 2000.

Source: Los Angeles Times

Hat Tip: P.W.


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