Sunday, June 6, 2010

The government is still hiding most of our requests

10 most
10 Most Wanted | Table of Contents | About the 10 Most Wanted | Policy Recommendations | Policy Background | Analysis of Submissions | Data Already Online | Sites on the Right Track | Suggestions for our Next 10

We asked the public to identify categories of data that should be on the Web.
Hundreds of citizens responded. From that list we narrowed it down to the Ten Most Wanted.
1) Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports (Congress) -- CRS uses taxpayer dollars to produce reports on public policy issues ranging from foreign affairs to agriculture to health care. All of the reports are posted online, but access is available only to congressional offices through an intranet system. Citizens can order paper copies of the reports through their Member of Congress, but only by mail. Moreover, the general public cannot search through past reports, and a comprehensive index of the reports is not available online. (Some Members have posted some CRS reports online.) In the CDT/OMB survey, the CRS reports were the category of documents most frequently listed sought after by researchers, students, librarians, government employees, and citizens alike.
Captured!2) Supreme Court Web site (including opinions and briefs) (Judiciary) -- The Supreme Court of Mongolia has its own official Web site, but the U.S. Supreme Court doesn't. Instead, the Court refers people to one or more of 10 different unofficial Web sites, which publish various subsets of opinions, updated with varying frequency. While Court officials have said that they are exploring the possibility of creating a Web site, there is no official source of information from the highest court in the land. In addition to opinions, the Court should post briefs, at least in cases accepted for oral argument.
3) State Department's Daily Briefing Book (State) -- Nearly every day, the State Department prepares for its press secretary a book of answers to every question that might be asked during the daily press conference. These briefing books represent considerable effort on the part of Department officials and constitute the best overview of American foreign policy positions on breaking issues at any given time. All the material is cleared for public consumption, yet if a reporter doesn't ask a question on a particular topic, the information doesn't get released.
4) Pesticide Safety Database (EPA) -- Under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), the EPA is required to maintain an extensive database on pesticides and pesticide "incidents" by location. This information concerns the health of millions of Americans. Right now, individuals can make a paper request for information about a particular pesticide or area of the country, but the information is not searchable online and cannot be compared across communities. Internet tools could assist in understanding and analyzing this data. Providing this information online in the form of a a searchable database, as the EPA has done with similar data sets, would enhance the public's understanding of the pesticide risks in local communities.
5) Full Text of all Congressional Hearings (Congress) -- Prompt access to written statements and hearing transcripts is essential to the public's participation in the legislative process. Printed records of hearings are often not available until a year or more after a hearing, sometimes long after legislation has been enacted or the term has ended. Some Committees regularly place witness statements and the full text of hearings online; others do not. Congressional committees should be more consistent in automating the process of posting witness statements and hearing transcripts to ensure speedy public access. Moreover, as transcripts are all word-processed, the Government Printing Office (GPO) could easily make them permanently available online (if they were provided to GPO).
6) Court Briefs (DOJ) -- The public deserves to know how the government interprets the laws. The Justice Department lawyers represent the US government and therefore are the people's lawyers. Their briefs are public documents presenting the position of the US government. Since these documents are word-processed, they could very easily be put online, starting with significant criminal and civil cases.
7) Congressional votes in searchable database (Congress)-- Congress has made roll-call votes available online in XML format, but has not yet provided a way to search votes by Member's name. Public accountability would be greatly enhanced if citizens could find out how their Members of Congress voted through an online, searchable database of recorded votes.
C A P T U R E D !8) Endangered Species Recovery Plans (DOI) -- These documents detail how the government plans to defend endangered species and eventually get them off of the endangered species list. The Fish and Wildlife Service has told us that it plans to put these 700+ documents online eventually; meanwhile, researchers, students, and concerned citizens have to pay to have them sent in paper.
C A P T U R E D ! 9) Official Gazette of Trademarks (DOC) -- The Official Gazette of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is the official journal relating to patents and trademarks. It has been published weekly since January 1872. In searching for a reason why this publication is not online, USPTO said it was up to GPO. GPO said that it will put online anything USPTO or any other agency asks it to.
10) Circuit Court Web Sites (Judiciary) --The federal Circuit and District Courts have been slow to embrace the Web. Only 5 of the 12 Circuit Courts of Appeals have Web sites providing access to opinions at no cost. While a number of law schools have stepped in to fill the gap, all circuit courts should have official sites providing the public with free access to court opinions. If five can do it, why can't the rest?
The Center For Democracy & Technology
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