Before the Senate version of the legislative branch appropriation gets officially publicly released on THOMAS this afternoon, (as discussed in PDF on the Senate Approps Cmte website, we should probably start to talk about the House version of the legislative branch subcommittee of appropriations, since they’re responsible for providing funding for the things we’re discussing. The reports also make for great reading, if you’re interested in government infrastructure planning or information resources funding allocation. The House leg branch report is a great window into some of the priorities of the current House leadership.
If you’re interested in reading the report for yourself, search THOMAS for House Report 110-198. I’m not sure what the number will be for the Senate report. Incidentally, it’s somewhat disappointing that there isn’t a link
to the reports or to the legislation from the appropriations committees; they’re only providing links to press releases on their websites. Since house rules dictate that committee reports provide greater detail, they’re a great way to access the substance of new legislation without wading through the legislative language. The reports also provide a nice summary of dissenting views from the committee. Why aren’t these reports featured more prominently on committee and member websites? As it is now, they’re lost on THOMAS, beyond the reach of even a stable link (Incidentally, here’s a letter from six senators requesting a THOMAS ugprade from December 2003).
In any case, the House version of the FY 2008 leg branch funding bill report is full of details relevant to government IT resources and transparency, and I’d like to share a few things that caught my attention as I was reading it. (page numbers are from the pdf version).
- Improved access to Roll Call Information: On page 9 of the committee report (House report 110-198), the committee writes, “The committee believes the public could benefit from more easily accessible roll call information.” They go on to request a coordinated inquiry between the Clerk of the House and THOMAS to create a system allowing “roll call searches by specific word, and report back to the Committee on Appropriations of the House by December 1, 2007.” While this is great, it seems to me that a more forward stance would stress the public availability of structured data sets, allowing the value added step of keyword searching to be publicly developed. A british official recently remarked to me that government services should focus first on those things that only they are able to do (make data available), and then secondarily on issues like presentation. Adding a keyword based rollcall search to THOMAS would be an improvement though, clearly.
- Personal Service Contracts: The committee is also requesting a new level of disclosure of “personal service contracts awareded annually by the agencies of the Legislative Branch.” Can anyone give examples of what these contracts look like? It appears to be a good move (it looks like this spending wasn’t well accounted for before) but I’m not really familiar with what they’re brooching here. (p. 5)
- On Preservation: The report explains the the National Digitial Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program (NDIIP, under the LOC) isn’t fully funded this year. The committee seems to regret this, and would, if approved, “authorize the transfer of funding between Library accounts that might become available during the fiscal year to increase funding for this program.” I wonder to what degree they’ve considered the distributed Federal Depository Library Program as a suitable adjunct to the centralized (read, potentially less reliable) LOC program, especially since it would cost very little to just make structure information available to federal depository libraries, which could then engage in distributed digital preservation. Either the LOC or the GPO (or NARA?) should gain the role of database centralizing with a public access component. Many other projects could then be taken on publicly (the value added ones).
- On the topic of the FDLP, page 29 of the report lists “$300,000 for the Federal Depository Library Program Tangible Distribution Systems modernization.”
- Office of Technology Assessment: p. 30 lays out the House version’s appropriation for the GAO to take on the former responsibilities of the (formerly independent, in ‘95) Office of Technology Assessment: “The committee believes it is necessary for the Congress to equip itself with effective means for securing competent, timely and unbiased information in the legislative assessment of matters pending before the Congress.” GAO got $2.5 million for it. The senate version will apparently include this appropriation as well, as the press release from Senate appropriations says:
- $510 million to fund the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which is $29 million or 6% above FY 2007. This includes funding for GAO to initiate a Technology Assessment function within its office. Several Senators requested funding to restore the former Office of Technology Assessment which was closed in 1995. GAO believes tthis service to Congress at a minimal cost to taxpayers.
- CRS restriction: number 36 on page 35 explains that part of the House version will “prohibit the publication of [CRS] material unless approved by the appropriate committees.” Somehow I doubt this will dampen the private market for CRS reports.
Those are the features of the House report that struck me as especially
relevant to the work of the Open House Project. I’m looking forward to your
thoughts. I also encourage you to read the report, it’s really a
fascinating look at Congress, with fun details like the committee requesting
the CAO to look into getting Fair Trade Coffee for the House, or the LOC
starting a student loan repayment program to help them retain employees.
The report also provides a great summary of the minority position on the
policies and procedures of the House leg branch subcommittee.