- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 3, 2012

Despite promising his administration would be “the most open and transparent in history,” President Obama has lagged in making government information accessible to the public, and been bested when it comes to public access to data by the House Republicans, according to grades to be released Monday by the libertarian Cato Institute.

The administration received abysmal grades for “virtually ignoring” a promise to post laws online for five days before the president signed them, for not clearly laying out which offices have what spending authority, and for a test of the Freedom of Information Act in which “19 of 20 cabinet-level agencies disobeyed the public disclosure law.”

Databases of contracts use an exorbitantly-priced, proprietary system known as DUNS to keep track of companies, making it impossible to tell how much money is flowing to a given company’s subsidiaries without paying up.

Meanwhile, the Republican-controlled Congress received credit for revamping decades-old systems for browsing legislation online in the 44-page paper by Jim Harper, an expert on how government keeps track of and disseminates information.

But when it came to budget documents – the architect of the House Republicans’ budget is vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan – Congress received a D, while the White House got a B-.

“Neither are producing stellar data, but Congress’s edge is made more acute by the strong transparency promises the president made as a campaigner in 2008, which are largely unrealized. My pet peeve is the lack of a machine-readable government organization chart, not even at the agency and bureau level. Seriously? Seriously,” Mr. Harper said in an email.

The Cato Institute, which frequently criticizes both Democrats and Republicans, notes that in the modern age, government should release frequently-changing information like disbursements and bill text in a machine-readable format, leaving it to computer programmers and researchers in the private sector, at nonprofits and in the media to focus on presentation and analysis.

Although some government information that was once locked away in Washington filing cabinets is now online, it is far too often equally locked up in cumbersome PDF documents, making it difficult to analyze numbers in programs like Microsoft Excel, the report said.

“The House is showing modest success and promising signs with some well structured data at docs.house.gov and good potential at beta.congress.gov,” Mr. Harper added.

Read the report here: http://www.cato-at-liberty.org/obama-lags-house-republicans-on-data-transparency/