Forget leaked cables: There’s enough juicy political nonsense lurking in the public record to satisfy the 24-hour news cycle until 2012. However, unless citizens have an entire team scouring government video for hilarious hypocrisy, like the Daily Show’s Jon Stewart does, uncovering the nuggets of truth is like searching for hay in a needle stack. New open government initiatives from the conservative dominated House, however, aim to democratize the watchdog process by releasing public records in an easily searchable format.
Last Friday, House Speaker John Boehner and Leader Eric Cantor sent a note to the House Clerk that told her to prepare “publicly releasing the House’s legislative data in machine-readable formats.” Currently, the public record is not stored in a standardized format, so it’s difficult for developers to build software that can sort through all of the data, such as committee hearing transcripts, amendments, and upcoming items.
Daniel Schuman, policy counsel for the Sunlight Foundation, a transparency watchdog and platform developer organization, says that machine-readable data will have exciting new consequences for democracy.
First, reams of video and public transcripts will become easily searchable. The power of uncovering embarrassing statements has, for the past decade, best been illustrated nightly by political comedians like Stewart and Stephen Colbert. While campaign speeches, TV interviews, and debates are often carefully sanitized partisan rallying cries, the substantive conversations of congressional subcommittees reveal the political underbelly of an institution steeped in quid pro quo politicking, shallow understandings of legislation, and the occasional off-the-wall crazy statement. Computer searchable transcripts may make finding these gems much easier.
Source: Fast Company
(Hat tip: Manatee Insanity)