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Thinktank Aims To Crowdsource Government Earmark Analysis 100

Al writes "The Sunlight Foundation, based in Washington, DC, hopes to raise an army of web volunteers to analyze all the earmarks in government bills. The group's new Sunlight Labs transparency corps invites users to join an effort to analyze the information collaboratively. Users are presented with PDFs released by hundreds of different offices and asked to enter the pertinent information like the date and dollar amount of a request, name of the requester, description of the project, and so on. These then become part of a searchable database. The project's launch roughly coincided with the launch earlier this month of the government's new IT Dashboard. But this tool is somewhat limited — users can find the primary recipients of IT project funding, but not subcontractors; it's not easy to discern the origins of contracts or their geographic distribution, and it's almost impossible to see how they are connected to elected officials."
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Thinktank Aims To Crowdsource Government Earmark Analysis

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  • It's about time (Score:5, Interesting)

    by CorporateSuit ( 1319461 ) on Monday August 03, 2009 @02:38PM (#28931161)
    I was thinking that this would already be part of the government system -- to index who makes each earmark or revision to a bill -- to add at least some semblence of accountability to the legislating process. Then I thought "Why doesn't the government already have a searchable website like this? Shouldn't they be accountable to make one?" then I realized the website probably would have been contracted out for $8 million to some governor's grandson's company... So Go Volunteers!
  • Who Owns The Data? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 03, 2009 @02:43PM (#28931243)

    Recruiting volunteers is nice, but who owns the data at the end of the day?

    Can I download a full offline copy of database? (Without having to sign an NDA, make payments, or resort to a custom rolled screen scraper?)

    Can I reuse the data on my own private or public projects?

    If not, then best of luck with your project 'fellas, lemme know how it works out.

  • by Chabil Ha' ( 875116 ) on Monday August 03, 2009 @03:05PM (#28931513)

    So instead of forcing people to dig through the proverbial hay stack, why not require legislators to file earmarks in an electronic format. This legislation would also void any earmarks that are not in compliance. This way the data can be mined instantaneously, the process made transparent, and make the process more informative to the government's constituents.

    In some perverted way, make the Bureaucracy go through a bureaucratic process to reveal their true colors.

  • by Etrias ( 1121031 ) on Monday August 03, 2009 @03:12PM (#28931607)
    Let me rephrase that since I read your comment again.

    You are right that bills should stand on their own in an ideal system. But we don't have an ideal system. My comment on defense is aimed toward the defense budget bills which are essentially a black box from the Pentagon which most Congressmen and Congresswomen rubber stamp because it makes them seem "unpatriotic" if they don't.

    Unfortunately, for science and the arts, the only funding they will get is through earmarks because "a bill on it's own" wouldn't garner enough groundswell support, no matter how wonderful the project may be for the national good or well-being.
  • by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Monday August 03, 2009 @03:49PM (#28932119) Journal

    One problem is how one defines "earmark" and "pork". The "reasonableness" if a given request is often subjective and depends on one's personal politics. For example, is the F-22 an "earmark"? Sure, some senators probably want it because of local jobs in existing F-22 plants, but others feel we need a large, aggressive military to protect us from [insert boogyman of the week]. Lists of numbers cannot really tell you what's behind a senator's decision. But at least hopefully an easy-to-get-to database will make it easier to find and highlight suspicious patterns.

  • by CraftyJack ( 1031736 ) on Monday August 03, 2009 @03:55PM (#28932217)

    No amount of watch dogging for pork is gonna matter to him if the people in his district are happy about the new money flowing in.

    It's also worth noting that the people who will be doing this crowdsourced watch dogging will have agendas and biases of their own. The people of Michigan's 7th district probably won't take kindly to having their pork shot down by others who aren't finding the recession quite as painful. It will simply become more important to make your earmark sound good on paper (or at least avoid key search terms) to avoid drawing attention.

  • by QuantumRiff ( 120817 ) on Monday August 03, 2009 @04:09PM (#28932437)

    I think the F22's that you are specifically mentioning are considered earmarks, because they direct a department (DOD) to purchase something that they did not specify that they wanted. They did not want the 7 F22's, and people are trying to force them to buy them.

Nondeterminism means never having to say you are wrong.