Policy and News Updates for October 21, 2008

In This Issue: [click on the link to go to the corresponding section]

News from Coalition Partners & Others

I. Permanent Links for THOMAS

II. Federal Contractor Misconduct Database Available

News from Coalition Partners & Others

Sunlight Foundation Launches FARAdb

The Sunlight Foundation launched the beta version of FARAdb, a tool that allows users to find details about the efforts of foreign agents to influence U.S. public policy. FARAdb is easier to use and provides information in a more usable format than the database maintained by the Department of Justice that provides users with access, through a balky search engine, to filings by foreign agents in a pdf format.The beta version contains records filed in 2006 and 2007 by lobbyists for entities from 15 foreign countries.

TRAC Wins Release of IRS Audit Data

After flouting a series of court orders for over two years, the Internal Revenue Service turned over to TRAC, the Transactional Records Access Cleainghouse housed at Syracuse University, thousands of pages of data requested under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The pages contain agency statistics on audits of all types, including individual, corporate, partnership and S corporation audits. TRAC has long used these kinds of statistics to provide the public with useful and usable information on the agency’s enforcement of U.S. tax laws.

VoterWatch Launches TransparencyMatters.org

VoterWatch has released Transparency Matters, a community for journalists, non-profit members and others who are interested in U.S. government transparency. The site allows members to to communicate directly with one another and to post blogs, videos, photos, events and ideas.

UCS Rates Scientific Candor at Agencies

The Union of Concerned Scientists released “Freedom to Speak? A Report Card on Federal Agency Media Policies.” The report grades 15 agencies on the extent that their media policy and practices allow scientists to participate in the scientific community and speak freely about their research to the media and the public. The report also suggests solutions for the next administration to ensure free and open communication between
scientists, the media, policy makers, and the public across the government.

New Site Offers Voter Registration Guidelines for Nonprofits

The Nonprofit Voter Engagement Network has created an online tool to help nonprofits engage their supporters in voting and democracy on NonprofitVOTE.org. The site includes 501(c)3 guidelines that help nonprofits understand the range of nonpartisan activities they may conduct related to voting and elections.

I. Permanent Links for THOMAS

The Library of Congress has published on THOMAS, the primary direct source for the status of federal legislation, directions for creating “handles,” permanent links that allow Web researchers to directly refer to specific legislation. The addition of permanent links to THOMAS was one of several recommendations made in the Open House Project report. Permanent links help to modernize THOMAS and make it a more effective tool for citizens to find out what their government is doing. The Sunlight Foundation launched the project last year as a collaborative effort by government and legislative information experts, congressional staff, non-profit organizers and bloggers to suggest attainable reforms to make the House of Representatives more transparent. As a result of the discussion and activism spurred by the project, Congress and House administrators have made several of the suggested changes; however, there are still several common-sense reforms the next Congress can adopt to make their work more transparent, and re-instill the public’s confidence in Congress.

II. Federal Contractor Misconduct Database Available

As discussed in the October 7 Policy and News Update, Congress declined to make the database of federal contractors that will be created thanks to a provision in the 2009 Defense authorization bill available to the public. The government’s decision to withhold the information is baffling, given most of the information is available now in the Project on Government Oversight’s (POGO) Federal Contractor Misconduct Database. In fact, POGO recently re-released and updated the database, doubling the number of contractors listed and adding new sort and search features.