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Thinktank Aims To Crowdsource Government Earmark Analysis

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 4 years ago | from the forcing-a-new-evolution-of-corruption dept.

Government 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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it is a really cool project (4, Insightful)

Presto Vivace (882157) | more than 4 years ago | (#28931119)

contrary to popular opinion, the big difference between lobbyists and ordinary voters isn't money (although money matters), it is access to information on a timely basis. Putting information online will have a huge impact on the legislative process.

Yes, but why is a project necessary? (2, Insightful)

Futurepower(R) (558542) | more than 4 years ago | (#28931177)

"These then become part of a searchable database."

There should be a law that agencies enter this information themselves.

Re:Yes, but why is a project necessary? (4, Insightful)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | more than 4 years ago | (#28931469)

It is not in the interest of the legislators to pass such a law, so if by some chance they were to create one, it would be written in such a way as to make the information APPEAR to be useful, but actually be incomprehensible.
The current leaders in Congress have been saying for the last couple of weeks that it is unreasonable to expect Congressional Representatives to read the bills before they vote on them because they don't have the time and even if they did have the time, they couldn't understand them.

Re:Yes, but why is a project necessary? (1)

soren202 (1477905) | more than 4 years ago | (#28931713)

The current leaders in Congress have been saying for the last couple of weeks that it is unreasonable to expect Congressional Representatives to read the bills before they vote on them because they don't have the time and even if they did have the time, they couldn't understand them.

Well.... it is unreasonable to expect that.

Have you read any of the legislation being put out recently? Although the pages are short, they take about an hour to fully comprehend each.

Although it sounds horrible, keeping up with legislation being put forth is more than a full time job. Although there should be some level of responsibility for congressmen, sometimes it's understandable if they leave the reading like this up to the people putting the legislation forth, or to their aides/staff, even if it is getting information secondhand.

Re:Yes, but why is a project necessary? (4, Insightful)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | more than 4 years ago | (#28931807)

The current leaders in Congress have been saying for the last couple of weeks that it is unreasonable to expect Congressional Representatives to read the bills before they vote on them because they don't have the time and even if they did have the time, they couldn't understand them.

Well.... it is unreasonable to expect that.

Then they need to craft laws that they can understand, or resign and leave the job to someone who will (or who can comprehend the laws being proposed).
If a legislator cannot understand a law that is put before him/her, that legislator should vote against it. If the bill is too big to read through before voting on it, the legislator should vote against it. If there isn't enough time to keep up with the legislation being put forward, then too much legislation is being put forward.

Re:Yes, but why is a project necessary? (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28932187)

If I can't understand the consequences of my decisions at my job, then I am considered incompetent.
How is it different for legislators?
If the system is such that it simply does not allow enough time to actually comprehend the full amount of draft, then the process needs to be changed.
It is simply unacceptable that our representatives vote on bills that they can not fully understand and comprehend.

Re:Yes, but why is a project necessary? (5, Insightful)

cbs4385 (929248) | more than 4 years ago | (#28932209)

But then when will they have the time to engage in their real job, raising money for their reelection bid?

Re:Yes, but why is a project necessary? (1)

Shads (4567) | more than 4 years ago | (#28932631)

I wish i had some moderator points to mod this as insightful.

Re:Yes, but why is a project necessary? (1)

BlueStrat (756137) | more than 4 years ago | (#28932253)

The current leaders in Congress have been saying for the last couple of weeks that it is unreasonable to expect Congressional Representatives to read the bills before they vote on them because they don't have the time and even if they did have the time, they couldn't understand them.

Well.... it is unreasonable to expect that.

Then they need to craft laws that they can understand, or resign and leave the job to someone who will (or who can comprehend the laws being proposed).
If a legislator cannot understand a law that is put before him/her, that legislator should vote against it. If the bill is too big to read through before voting on it, the legislator should vote against it. If there isn't enough time to keep up with the legislation being put forward, then too much legislation is being put forward.

Oh, how I wish I had mod points to mod this up!

You are exactly right! This is one of the top reasons that government has gotten to be the incomprehensible, bloated, power-grabbing, corrupt monstrosity it has become, and why it will continue down this path until it either collapses under its' own weight or we as citizens tear it down by force.

Strat

Re:Yes, but why is a project necessary? (1)

Shads (4567) | more than 4 years ago | (#28932611)

That is a tremendously wise attitude necessary to the proper function of a government for the people.

Unfortunately, the US federal government is no longer that body.

Re:Yes, but why is a project necessary? (1)

cortesoft (1150075) | more than 4 years ago | (#28935193)

I don't think this is necessarily fair. Laws inherently need to be complex, as they address complex issues. While you may find a person that can fully understand ONE area of law, it would be impossible to find a single congressperson (or any person) who could understand fully ALL the laws that cover all areas of government. Take an environmental protection law for example... to fully understand the consequences of a carbon tax, for example, you would need to be an expert in climate science, economics, etc... you will never find anyone that is an expert in all of the things required.

What you hope, is that a congressperson surrounds himself with the necessary experts, who brief him/her as well as they can on the things they have to know to come to a sound decision. Anyone who thinks they can understand all of the consequences of a law all by themselves is delusional.

Re:Yes, but why is a project necessary? (1)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | more than 4 years ago | (#28935601)

I don't think this is necessarily fair. Laws inherently need to be complex, as they address complex issues. While you may find a person that can fully understand ONE area of law, it would be impossible to find a single congressperson (or any person) who could understand fully ALL the laws that cover all areas of government. Take an environmental protection law for example... to fully understand the consequences of a carbon tax, for example, you would need to be an expert in climate science, economics, etc... you will never find anyone that is an expert in all of the things required.

What you hope, is that a congressperson surrounds himself with the necessary experts, who brief him/her as well as they can on the things they have to know to come to a sound decision. Anyone who thinks they can understand all of the consequences of a law all by themselves is delusional.

First of all, I wasn't talking about understanding the consequences. I was talking about actually understanding what the law calls for. If legislators can't understand what the law actually says, how can they expect people to obey the law? For that matter, how can they know if people are obeying the law?
However, I would also argue that if a legislator cannot be expected to understand the consequences of a law, then the government has no business passing a law on that topic...or it should break the law down into smaller pieces that the legislator can understand the consequences of.
Take that carbon tax example, if you can't understand the consequences, how can you be sure that the consequences won't be worse than the problem you are trying to fix? I would say that many of our problems today are the result of laws that the legislators didn't understand the consequences of that they chose to pass anyway

Re:Yes, but why is a project necessary? (1)

techno-vampire (666512) | more than 4 years ago | (#28936337)

If a legislator cannot understand a law that is put before him/her, that legislator should vote against it.

BO's new health-care bill is over a thousand pages. Nobody is even pretending they've had enough time to read it through, let alone understand it. And, BO is doing everything he can to get it pushed through Congress as quickly as possible. Clearly, he doesn't want anybody to know what they're voting on. Makes you wonder, doesn't it?

Re:Yes, but why is a project necessary? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28938725)

Clearly, he doesn't want anybody to know what they're voting on. Makes you wonder, doesn't it?

You mean like how the Cap-n-Trade bill includes a provision that if you lose your jobs due to the new energy policy, that the government will pay you your full salary for three years afterward; not unemployment, but your full salary.

Re:Yes, but why is a project necessary? (1)

sorak (246725) | more than 4 years ago | (#28932149)

I can see it as long, as they have a few lawyers or pre-law staffers who can go over hte legal aspects of the bill. In fact, I would rather know that the laws are being written by lawyers, as opposed to the jack-ass in a cowboy hat who spends most of his days going to diners so he can kiss hands and shake babies.

Re:Yes, but why is a project necessary? (1)

Shads (4567) | more than 4 years ago | (#28932695)

Actually having worked in the computer industry and having had extensive exposure to the types of things attorney's tend to write... I hope no law should ever be written by an attorney. A law should be readable and understandable by anyone who reads it. Attorneys will even tell you they can't practice outside their specialty because *THEY CAN'T UNDERSTAND* the nuances of the other specialties.

Re:Yes, but why is a project necessary? (1)

sorak (246725) | more than 4 years ago | (#28939299)

I believe the reason they are not more clear is because they are trying to be precise enough, when needed, and vague enough, when needed, to close off any major loopholes.
.
I could be wrong about that, however. The main thing is that I want to know that my elected official is deciding the general direction, but is getting the best help available when it comes to specific details.
.
For example, during the cap & trade discussions, did any politician ever call anyone involved in the passing of the European cap & trade bill, or any European economists, and ask what is working for them and what isn't? If they did, they have to be quiet about it, because it would be seen more like cheating on your homework, or borderline treason, than smart policy-making.

Re:Yes, but why is a project necessary? (1)

DragonWriter (970822) | more than 4 years ago | (#28934229)

Although it sounds horrible, keeping up with legislation being put forth is more than a full time job.

Which is why, of course, members of Congress each tend to have more than one person assigned to do that job; look at any representative or Senator's staff listing at legistorm [legistorm.com] or any similar site, and note the number of staffers with titles like "Legislative Director", "Legislative Correspondent", "Legislative Aide", "Legislative Assistant", "Legislative Research Assistant", etc.

High-level decision makers in any field make decisions based on brief decision papers prepared by the analysts working for them, not in-depth personal reading of the details of every proposal.

Re:Yes, but why is a project necessary? (1)

BabyDuckHat (1503839) | more than 4 years ago | (#28932549)

they don't have the time

Seriously, could you read a bill with a schedule like this?

- How The Average Congressperson Spends Their Time -

Voting on legislation - 2.1%
Talking with constituents - 2.4%
Travel - 8.0%
Meeting with lobbyists - 12.5%
Trying to get reelected - 18%
Vacations / Holidays - 24.7%
Seducing male pages - 32.3%

Re:Yes, but why is a project necessary? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28935943)

So what are you going to do about it?

How about http://www.metagovernment.org/ [metagovernment.org] ?

Re:Yes, but why is a project necessary? (1)

rah1420 (234198) | more than 4 years ago | (#28932199)

There should be a law that agencies enter this information themselves.

Absolutely not. This is exactly why we need this sort of group, to shine a light on their activities. I don't need the fox watching the henhouse.

Re:Yes, but why is a project necessary? (1)

QuantumRiff (120817) | more than 4 years ago | (#28932409)

There should be a law that congress has to implement a document management system, so that we know who added what to a bill, and when. So that people stop pulling the good ol switcheroo, and dropping a slightly different bill than the one the committee approved on the floor for a vote. I know that the Library of Congress has some tools, but as far as I have been able to tell, they do not track the versions of a bill.

It is in the interest of Voters for force the hands of the legislators in this.

we agree! (3, Insightful)

sbma44 (694130) | more than 4 years ago | (#28932981)

I work at the Sunlight Foundation (though not on this project), and I feel I can safely say that we completely agree with you that the government *should* be issuing this data in a more easily usable format.

To be fair, though, it's not always as easy as all that: when you introduce such an infrastructure you need to make sure there are staff resources to handle the data entry, training available to help them do it, and somebody checking the overall data quality. My project's been looking at a lot of grant data, and we've consistently found that the central grant data directory -- a data set called FAADS -- is of lower quality than the reports issued on each program's website in excel, PDF, HTML tables or who knows what else. It doesn't make a lot of sense to people like you and me, but centralized systems really do introduce an added layer of difficulty for the data entry people. Just keeping track of the endless requirements imposed by legislation can be pretty daunting.

...none of which is to say that this shouldn't happen. It should! But it does explain why "publish earmarks" and "publish earmarks in a central location, in a machine-readable format" are two different things, and why the latter is more difficult to successfully ask for. We'll get there, though.

Re:Yes, but why is a project necessary? (1)

DragonWriter (970822) | more than 4 years ago | (#28934247)

There should be a law that agencies enter this information themselves.

What agencies?

as much as it sounds interesting... (2, Insightful)

Etrias (1121031) | more than 4 years ago | (#28931227)

On the surface, this does sound like a good project, one that does bring a bit more transparency to our government as a whole.

However, if there is a groundswell against earmarks, I wonder how it's going to affect projects which at first glance don't look worthwhile. I think it would disproportionately affect science and the arts as they're often seen as luxuries rather than necessities.

Re:as much as it sounds interesting... (3, Insightful)

schnikies79 (788746) | more than 4 years ago | (#28931281)

Then they should get their own bill. Spending for the arts shouldn't be tacked on a defense bill just like a new weapon shouldn't be tacked on to a arts bill.

Re:as much as it sounds interesting... (1)

Etrias (1121031) | more than 4 years ago | (#28931531)

Why does defense get a free pass? You think there aren't a lot of defense earmarks tacked onto bills at the last minute?

Re:as much as it sounds interesting... (1)

schnikies79 (788746) | more than 4 years ago | (#28931579)

It doesn't. No earmark should get a free pass.

Re:as much as it sounds interesting... (2, Interesting)

Etrias (1121031) | more than 4 years ago | (#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.

Re:as much as it sounds interesting... (2, Funny)

Tekfactory (937086) | more than 4 years ago | (#28931909)

$6 Billion to paint Nose Art on a new stealth bomber
$3 Billion for the arts and artists to paint it
$3 billion to buy the "canvas" to paint it on

Re:as much as it sounds interesting... (1)

ArsonSmith (13997) | more than 4 years ago | (#28932575)

At least the "canvas" was $3 billion with a little 'b'

I agree, and not just for earmarks (0, Troll)

P0ltergeist333 (1473899) | more than 4 years ago | (#28932769)

The Credit Cardholders' Bill of Rights was a prime example. You have long overdue, well thought out, responsible legislation with a crap law tied to it. Legislation was tacked on to allow sidearms in National Parks. Now I can't take my kids camping / fishing without worrying about some drunk idiot with a sidearm. At least before this bill, hunting rifles were generally out of sight and out of mind in their tent / camper / truck by the time they got wasted. Now it's strapped to their leg.

WTF? (1)

P0ltergeist333 (1473899) | more than 4 years ago | (#28938039)

Why is it 'insightful' when one poster objects to tacking on 'arts to a defense bill', but I'm a troll for agreeing with that and going one further and objecting to tying a firearms bill to a consumer protection bill? Or is this the AstroTurf in action? I'm inclined to think the latter, but curious what the community might think. Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean people aren't out to get you.

Re:as much as it sounds interesting... (1)

DragonWriter (970822) | more than 4 years ago | (#28934279)

Spending for the arts shouldn't be tacked on a defense bill just like a new weapon shouldn't be tacked on to a arts bill.

And why shouldn't spending on a new weapon system be included in a bill whose other provisions relate mostly to the arts?

"X shouldn't be done just like Y shouldn't be done" isn't really useful without a clear reason why Y is undesirable.

Re:it is a really cool project (4, Insightful)

Dr_Ken (1163339) | more than 4 years ago | (#28931339)

Hmm...Not really. Earmarks for "other people" are what is unpopular. If the earmark is for "you" then it's cool no matter how outlandish a waste of money it is and screw what the NYT or CNN or Limbaugh think about it too, eh? That's the way it works where I live anyhow. I am represented by a freshman Dem [house.gov] who is representing a district that is 58% Rep and he thinks he can buy himself some goodwill, newspaper endorsements and popularity points by "bringing home the bacon". 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.

Re:it is a really cool project (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28931377)

You hit the nail on the head.

+1

Re:it is a really cool project (3, Interesting)

CraftyJack (1031736) | more than 4 years ago | (#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.

Re:it is a really cool project (1)

shadow349 (1034412) | more than 4 years ago | (#28932285)

In other words, bread and circuses [wikipedia.org] .

Re:it is a really cool project (1)

OctaviusIII (969957) | more than 4 years ago | (#28933339)

Every time this comes up I point to Lord Durham's report on the Dominion of Canada government after the abolition of Royal Prerogative (i.e., the presentation of any spending bill by the majority - Her Majesty's Government - and a straight up-or-down vote on it, with any amendments by the minority that pass triggering an election). He said that this abolition was extremely detrimental to the governance of the Dominion, as earmarks (known by a different name then) were proliferating through all spending bills. Canada eventually reinstated Royal Prerogative and now has very few, if any, earmarks.

Re:it is a really cool project (1)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | more than 4 years ago | (#28933583)

Earmarks are not in and of themselves evil. The problem with earmarks is that they are often obscure and hidden. So your congressman can vote for an earmark that gets one part of his constituency to donate heavily to his campaign, while keeping it hidden from the rest who would be after him with pitchforks if they knew about it.
And that is the key to cleaning up government, making sure that his constituents know about the "little favors" he has done for people they would not approve of receiving government money. You can't (and shouldn't try) do anything about a legislator getting favorable treatment for his district--when all is said and done, that is an essential part of his job. The key is stopping him from putting in things that his constituents would oppose if they knew about it.

Re:it is a really cool project (2, Insightful)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | more than 4 years ago | (#28931467)

contrary to popular opinion, the big difference between lobbyists and ordinary voters isn't money (although money matters), it is access to information on a timely basis. Putting information online will have a huge impact on the legislative process.

One problem, though, is that there can be an insanely short time between when a bill comes out of committee, and when it's put up for a vote. One vile lesson that both Democrats and Republicans have learned is that members will vote on a bill (rather than abstain), even if they have only several hours to review thousands of pages.

Unless this crowd-sourcing can review bills fast enough for even well-intentioned legislators to be aware of important reasons to vote 'no', I think it will do little good.

Anyone interested in this issue should check out Read the Bill [readthebill.org] .

Re:it is a really cool project (3, Insightful)

Pollardito (781263) | more than 4 years ago | (#28931493)

All the information in the world won't help an ordinary voter that's not happy, unless he can talk to someone up there writing these laws that will listen. That's what the money is buying, access.

You think that the pharmaceutical companies spent $40 million dollars lobbying the health care process [npr.org] , because they had extra cash laying around? With that money they got exactly what they wanted out of the process, while average Joe Voter is probably not going to have the same success even with these tools.

Re:it is a really cool project (2, Interesting)

Chabil Ha' (875116) | more than 4 years ago | (#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.

Re:it is a really cool project (1)

frank_adrian314159 (469671) | more than 4 years ago | (#28934551)

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.

You really have no clue about how this stuff works, other than what you think you understand from sound bites, do you? One man's earmark is another's main-line legislation. Tell me what the difference is. If you pass something stupid like this, it will only assure that the earmarks are buried so deep you'll never see them. Retards.

Re:it is a really cool project (1)

Chabil Ha' (875116) | more than 4 years ago | (#28935285)

You really have no clue about how this stuff works

Perhaps not, but I (and many Americans) know how it *should* work

It is a start (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28931675)

If you want to go the rest of the way, check out the Metagovernment [metagovernment.org] .

Strange little ideology beind this.. (1)

scamper_22 (1073470) | more than 4 years ago | (#28931809)

While a good tool and no doubt legislators should already be doing this electronically.

There is a strange ideology behind this whole 'transparency' movement.
The ideology is basically this
Money is best allocated by the democratic process and debate. The problem is we just need to provide accountability to the process and all will be well.

The reality is much darker.
This is like handing over your whole life to the student council. It wasn't a good idea in high school and it's not a good idea now.
Not only is it corruption prone as they are always spending someone else's money. Those in power will always work to benefit themselves first. It's not just mega corporations. It is teacher unions, lawyers, doctors... Everyone who can get power in the democratic process is going to abuse that power to the detriment of society.

The mere act of handing out money at the government level draws corruption. It draws the corrupt, the well-connected, the unscrupulous to the table like moths to the flame.
You cannot remove our human nature from the equation.
It's a simple lesson learned by societies all over the world. The western world seems to have forgotten this.

No amount of information or openness is going to 'cure' this.

Speaking of the wisdom of crowds P Why not bypass the legislators directly and give the money directly to the people. If you trust crowds and democracy, why not trust each person individually with money?
Why not have vouchers...?

Re:Strange little ideology beind this.. (1)

amplt1337 (707922) | more than 4 years ago | (#28933661)

Speaking of the wisdom of crowds P Why not bypass the legislators directly and give the money directly to the people. If you trust crowds and democracy, why not trust each person individually with money?
Why not have vouchers...?

Because vouchers can't buy things like scientific research, waterfront levees, or cleaning up polluted water sources.

Earmarks are a red herring, really a tiny fraction of our nation's expenditures. Many of them are stupid pet projects. Many of them are legitimate uses of money that could never be passed on a dedicated bill. Eliminating them would have minimal impact on the nation's budget, and definitely would not create the kind of minarchist paradise that people erroneously idealize.

Re:it is a really cool project (1)

DragonWriter (970822) | more than 4 years ago | (#28933977)

contrary to popular opinion, the big difference between lobbyists and ordinary voters isn't money (although money matters), it is access to information on a timely basis.

No, the two big differences are:
1) Access to professional analysis on a timely basis, and
2) Having legislators feel that you, as a single lobbyist, represent a coherent focussed interest that has the kind of influence that makes a difference in their electoral prospects (money is a part of this, but not the whole thing.)

This project manages to address neither part of that.

Re:it is a really cool project (1)

Threni (635302) | more than 4 years ago | (#28934555)

Which information would have provided the majority of UK people who didn't want to go to war in Iraq with the tools to prevent/convince Blair's government from doing so? Governments know what they want to do - sometimes it coincides with the public's wishes, and sometimes those wishes have to be ignored. The idea that governments do what the people want is clearly laughable.

Re:it is a really cool project (1)

mspohr (589790) | more than 4 years ago | (#28938147)

It's not 'access to information'. Lobbyists write the bills for congress and then they pay congress to pass the bills. It really is all about the money. Ordinary voters don't have a chance to compete.

Putting the information about this corrupt process online will help transparency by giving us more details but it shouldn't be a shock to anyone to see how the system works. It also won't stop the corruption. Congresscritters will not vote to cut of their own lobbyist funding.

they need social apps.... (1)

sirmonkey (1056544) | more than 4 years ago | (#28931123)

other wise my generation will never help :-p
so first on their dev's list...
Iphone app... then
facebook app... then
myspace app... then

wait what are they trying to do agian?

In Soviet Russia... (1)

Teresita (982888) | more than 4 years ago | (#28931145)

In Capitalist American Sunlight Foundation raise army of web volunteers to analyze government bills. In Soviet Russia Army volunteers YOU and government send YOU bill...

Re:In Soviet Russia... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28932381)

wait....
that sounds like america now! WTD!?!?!?

It's about time (4, Interesting)

CorporateSuit (1319461) | more than 4 years ago | (#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!

Re:It's about time (2, Insightful)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 4 years ago | (#28932097)

Just putting all bills under revision control would be handy...

Re:It's about time (1)

ArsonSmith (13997) | more than 4 years ago | (#28932697)

so only $7 million to the reps grandson?

Re:It's about time (1)

giminy (94188) | more than 4 years ago | (#28935153)

Not only that, but it would probably save money. I've often wondered what happens behind the scenes with bills...who writes the actual words? The politicians or their lawyers? And how do they deal with concurrency/locking issues (the potential money-saving part here for using some kind of RCS that can do merges nicely)?

A step in the right direction (0, Troll)

TheDarkener (198348) | more than 4 years ago | (#28931205)

At least they're going this far. Imagine this happening under the Bush office. Nope, I didn't think you could.

P.S. I am *not* an Obama fanboi.

Re:A step in the right direction (3, Informative)

GreatWhiteDork (1075735) | more than 4 years ago | (#28931701)

Actually, it *was* started under the Bush office. From the Sunlight Foundation website. The Sunlight Foundation was co-founded in 2006 by Washington, DC businessman and lawyer Michael Klein and longtime Washington public interest advocate Ellen Miller with the non-partisan mission of using the revolutionary power of the Internet to make information about Congress and the federal government more meaningfully accessible to citizens.

Re:A step in the right direction (1)

strimpster (1074645) | more than 4 years ago | (#28931729)

Oh. So apparently "The Sunlight Foundation" is another name for the government now?! I think that I missed the part where this was under any presidential office.

Image this happening under the Obama office. Nope, I didn't think you could.

P.S. I *am* a fanboi of keeping the money that I earned.

Re:A step in the right direction (2, Insightful)

ArcherB (796902) | more than 4 years ago | (#28931999)

At least they're going this far. Imagine this happening under the Bush office. Nope, I didn't think you could.

P.S. I am *not* an Obama fanboi.

Um... the Bush Office didn't write bills. That job falls solely under the Congressional branch of the US government. The "Bush Office" falls under the Executive Branch, just like every other president.

People give the president too much credit/blame. All the president does is sign the bills. Congress writes them and sends them to the Prez. The Prez can either sign or veto.

Please refer to the following educational video [youtube.com] for future reference. :-)

Re:A step in the right direction (1)

zippthorne (748122) | more than 4 years ago | (#28934999)

Actually, the president can also not sign bills. One thing that our previous president didn't do nearly as often as he ought to have.

Who Owns The Data? (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#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.

Re:Who Owns The Data? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28931395)

It's just data so you can probably do what you want with it. Maybe not legally but laws change slowly anyway.

you do. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28931643)

Legislation is public domain, so you do.

Even for other government data, Data.gov exists to explicitly allow anyone to download and use government data as they please for their own analysis. The Sunlight Foundation is even sponsoring an "Apps for America" challenge that awards a prize to the best web app that makes use of Data.gov information in a way that benefits taxpayers. Only a small percentage of all of the data that is desired is up there right now, and not all of the data is of high quality, but times, they are a changin'.

Re:Who Owns The Data? (1)

jank1887 (815982) | more than 4 years ago | (#28932219)

wasn't there just a frontpage on another similar effort? WashingtonWatch.com offering a Kindle to the user with the most Appropriation entries to their app, tied to a google map. It's like linux distros, which one do I use and how do we avoid fracturing the support base

Re:Who Owns The Data? (1)

jank1887 (815982) | more than 4 years ago | (#28932355)

wait... now I'm confused. A July 10th blog entry [sunlightfoundation.com] on the Sunlight foundation website says:

"Jim Harper, Webmaster at WashingtonWatch.com, can use our help this weekend... Sunlight has provided partial support for Jimâ(TM)s project...Just like Sunlightâ(TM)s Transparency Corp, Jim is asking for volunteers to make government transparency a reality."

so... they're different, but they support each other. Are they sharing data?

Buzzword bingo (1)

vivaoporto (1064484) | more than 4 years ago | (#28931321)

<Jasper Beardly voice>You sunk my battleship!</Jasper Beardly voice>

<old people's laughter>Hahahahaha!</old people's laughter>

I had a similar idea... (1)

Palshife (60519) | more than 4 years ago | (#28931327)

I had a similar notion when concerns were circling about bills being too long to feasibly read before a representative voted on it, but it was for bills in general, not just earmarks.

http://palshife.net/2009/02/27/government-in-the-eyes-of-a-technologist [palshife.net]

Personally, I like the idea of doing earmarks specifically since it would go a long way toward showing just where the federal government's money goes.

Re:I had a similar idea... (1)

amplt1337 (707922) | more than 4 years ago | (#28933717)

Personally, I like the idea of doing earmarks specifically since it would go a long way toward showing just where the federal government's money goes.

Actually, it would go a very, very short way toward showing just where the federal government's money goes, because "member-directed projects constitute 2 percent of the federal budget." [wikipedia.org]

Get this done overnight (3, Funny)

Anonymusing (1450747) | more than 4 years ago | (#28931335)

If you put up free porn -- only requiring people to enter this information to advance to the next screen of free porn -- this database would be completed in 24 hours or less.

Or, if not porn, then lottery tickets.

Re:Get this done overnight (1)

Elbart (1233584) | more than 4 years ago | (#28931573)

With lottery tickets, the chances of a happy ending are rather slim.

Re:Get this done overnight (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28931727)

Why would they do that when there is keez.com or porntube? They are free and do
not require any data entry beside picking your, um, category.

Not linking to and posting anonymously for obvious reasons. What? Coming dear...

Re:Get this done overnight (1)

0100010001010011 (652467) | more than 4 years ago | (#28931793)

Recaptia for Pork?

Re:Get this done overnight (1)

Anonymusing (1450747) | more than 4 years ago | (#28932919)

Exactly so. "In order for us to know you're human, please read the cover of this PDF and input the following information."

Well, maybe not. Even a politician can do that, and we know THEY'RE not human....

Buzzwords (1)

DaFallus (805248) | more than 4 years ago | (#28931591)

Am I the only one tired of hearing/seeing the word crowdsource?

Re:Buzzwords (1)

LoRdTAW (99712) | more than 4 years ago | (#28931757)

NO.

I had to read the title three times before that buzz word filled mess made any sense. There should be a law against buzz words.

Earmarks are only a small part of the problem. (4, Insightful)

ForexCoder (1208982) | more than 4 years ago | (#28931697)

Earmarks account for only 1% to 2% of the budget. What is really needed is a wiki that encompasses the whole federal budget (all $2.9 trillion of it). Then the crowd would really have a chance of finding waste in the budget and of making some really progress in bringing spending into line with revenues.

Re:Earmarks are only a small part of the problem. (2, Informative)

Delwin (599872) | more than 4 years ago | (#28932183)

Re:Earmarks are only a small part of the problem. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28934409)

MISCELLANEOUS ITEMS
for miscellaneous items, [$21,043,000] $19,145,000, of which up to
$500,000 shall be made available for a pilot program for mailings of postal
patron postcards by Senators for the purpose of providing notice of a town
meeting by a Senator in a county (or equivalent unit of local government)
at which the Senator will personally attend: Provided, That any amount
allocated to a Senator for such mailing shall not exceed 50 percent of the
cost of the mailing and the remaining cost shall be paid by the Senator
from other funds available to the Senator. (Legislative Branch Appropriations
Act, 2009.)

I don't know how I feel about this. Is this 21 million for pens and shit? 500k for bonus postage 20.5 mil for pens? Because they've got a 300k allowance for official postage a few lines down.

With a hundred senators and collectively it says they have a 450 million expense account meaning each senator gets a 4.5 mil expense account for their offices? Sounds excessive but I suppose it isn't.

OFFICE OF THE SERGEANT AT ARMS AND DOORKEEPER
For Office of the Sergeant at Arms and Doorkeeper, [$66,800,000]
$75,044,000.

SERGEANT AT ARMS AND DOORKEEPER OF THE SENATE
For expenses of the Office of the Sergeant at Arms and Doorkeeper of
the Senate, [$153,601,000] 168,461,000, which shall remain available until September 30, [2013] 2014. (Legislative Branch Appropriations
Act, 2009.)

I don't understaaaaaaaand. I wonder what these...two? guys do that needs this much cash.

Re:Earmarks are only a small part of the problem. (1)

lukej (252598) | more than 4 years ago | (#28932245)

Not quite what you are talking about... but the venerable Death & Taxes: http://www.wallstats.com/deathandtaxes/ [wallstats.com]

actually, it's even less than 1% (1)

sbma44 (694130) | more than 4 years ago | (#28932885)

Earmarks make up about 1% of *discretionary* spending. Which is considerably smaller than the overall budget (which includes things like Medicare and Social Security). And if an earmark didn't exist, that doesn't mean the money wouldn't be spent. It just means that the person administering the program under which the earmark falls would be able to allocate that money more freely (presumably to a more efficient use than a senator's pet project).

Earmarks are very easy for journalists to write up as news stories, though, which accounts for them getting so much attention.

Re:Earmarks are only a small part of the problem. (1)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 4 years ago | (#28952827)

Earmarks account for only 1% to 2% of the budget.

Sure, but as bribes they have a very nonlinear effect on the rest of the budget. How many programs were voted into existence only because earmarks were used to bribe congressmen on the borderline?

Verbification and Neologism Running Amok! (1)

AP31R0N (723649) | more than 4 years ago | (#28931741)

Source isn't a verb. Crowdsource isn't a word. It's linguisticing clusterfuckery.

Thinktank aims to take advantage of... to use.... *groan*.

English ownership's so many precise and eloquent cloudwords there's littleish reason to recreation them or inventize more at.

Re:Verbification and Neologism Running Amok! (1)

Arthur Grumbine (1086397) | more than 4 years ago | (#28932047)

Before I get off your lawn, let me leave you with these [merriam-webster.com] links [reference.com] . I've heard tell that languages, being intrinsically conventional, are allowed to develop new meanings for words, and sometimes even entirely new words. Of course, maybe languages weren't like that, in your day, so I can understand your anger-at-what-is-different/fear-of-the-unknown.

Re:Verbification and Neologism Running Amok! (0, Flamebait)

AP31R0N (723649) | more than 4 years ago | (#28932483)

"Langwidges morfph get ust 2 it"?

Merriam adds new words every year to drum up new sales, it's an advertising gimmick. Most dictionaries are descriptivist, meaning they add whatever the fuck for whatever reason. They list how words are USED, not just what they mean. The downside of this is some semi-educated twat will point to entry 5 for "source"... and people become just a little bit dumber. English becomes a little bit less expressive.

Impact means collide, not change. Its meaning is independent of the ignorance of journalists and politicians who don't know the difference.

The 'languages evolve/change' bit is an excuse for the ignorant or by marketeers and MBAs to justify their buzzwords. Instead of correcting children when they make a mistake, we let it slide lest we hurt their feewings. A gross example of this is Ebonics. By not requiring black kids to learn English, they are automatically regarded as stupid. Condemned to what is effectively baby talk, because whites are either too evil to fund the schools properly, or too culturally thenthative to correct them. Obama would not be president if he hadn't mastered subject verb agreement.

It follows that any struggle against the abuse of language is a sentimental archaism, like preferring candles to electric light or
hansom cabs to aeroplanes. Underneath this lies the half-conscious belief that language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we shape for our own purposes.
- George Orwell

Go back to making excuses for your ignorance and laziness.

And stay off my lawn.

Re:Verbification and Neologism Running Amok! (1)

Arthur Grumbine (1086397) | more than 4 years ago | (#28933259)

Dear Sir,

I apologize for my apparently callous reply to your statement about using the word 'source' as a verb. I was not aware, at the time that I replied, that you had suffered so much abuse at the hands of words that had gained new meaning within the last hundred years. I now see that my understanding of language as a collection of conventions that can be expanded upon by people (even people with MBAs or marketers) is wholly anathema to your understanding of the sancrosanct character of the vocabulary you grew up with. I sincerely hope that this apology eases any anguish that I, or any silica trapped in your cervix, may have caused you.

Re:Verbification and Neologism Running Amok! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28933437)

Merriam adds new words every year to drum up new sales, it's an advertising gimmick. Most dictionaries are descriptivist, meaning they add whatever the fuck for whatever reason. They list how words are USED, not just what they mean.

...

The 'languages evolve/change' bit is an excuse for the ignorant or by marketeers and MBAs to justify their buzzwords.

Indeed. There ought to be a book that is used to describe how people use words, and not merely what they originally meant. One that describes their style of speaking or writing as dependent upon choice of words, their phraseology, wording, usage, or language.

I'm thinking of putting together such a book, based on those precepts, but I can't think of something good to call it. Maybe something related to the above terms [reference.com] ?

(Disclaimer: If the parent was being sarcastic I apologize for misrepresenting then with the quote. I can't tell.)

Re:Verbification and Neologism Running Amok! (1)

hchaos (683337) | more than 4 years ago | (#28934859)

"Verbification" is also a neologism, even though the activity that it describes has been occurring in the English language for several hundred years, so don't think you're going to stamp it out any time soon. Also, "source" has always been a verb, and it's use as a noun is probably the result of nounification some 500-700 years ago.

One word: (1)

TheGreatOrangePeel (618581) | more than 4 years ago | (#28932023)

WikiConstitution

compoundword (1)

spud603 (832173) | more than 4 years ago | (#28932039)

can we tag this with 'compoundword'?

Classification and Definition (3, Interesting)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 4 years ago | (#28932119)

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.

Re:Classification and Definition (2, Interesting)

QuantumRiff (120817) | more than 4 years ago | (#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.

Re:Classification and Definition (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 4 years ago | (#28936563)

direct a department (DOD) to purchase something that they did not specify that they wanted. They did not want the 7 F22's

Some feel that DOD is being pumped full of "liberal wussies", and is thus not objective.

     

We already pay people to read legislation (4, Insightful)

SEWilco (27983) | more than 4 years ago | (#28932225)

"Senator, have you read this bill?"

Right! (1)

msimm (580077) | more than 4 years ago | (#28932505)

But we don't pay them to understand it so how are we supposed to know where the money went?!!

Re:We already pay people to read legislation (1)

vldmr_krn (737) | more than 4 years ago | (#28936231)

"Senator, have you read this bill?"

But who moderates the moderators?

But can wee trust them not to filter the data (2, Insightful)

richardkelleher (1184251) | more than 4 years ago | (#28932545)

I'm all for exposure to the public of this type of data, but, can we trust them not to filter the data to forward their own political agenda. I think not. Like every group in Washington, they will filter out the sins of the people whose views they support while exposing the sins of those whose views they oppose.

Also, can we trust that the "Crowd" they attract to sift out this data will not be partisan in what they record. Again, I think not.

I've been watching this crap play out for half a century and studied the games that went on for the half century before that and it is always the same old crap. The design of our system of government perpetuates it.

Re:But can wee trust them not to filter the data (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 4 years ago | (#28933289)

Yeah, if only our system was designed to work without involving any people.

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