I am posting this entry on behalf of our reference intern, Michele Penn, who brought this very cool site to my attention.–Jordon
Are you trying to find text of Senate debate on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (a.k.a. the “Stimulus Package”)? What about a presidential signing statement from 2003? How long would it take for you to find those documents, and which web sites would you use?
Two government watchdog organizations, OpenTheGovernment.org and the Sunlight Foundation, have teamed with a nonprofit technology organization, the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT), to create a web site, ShowUsTheData.org. The site asks users to nominate and vote on which unclassified federal government documents should be available online. Here, “online” means findability and access in places other than official “.gov” sites. According to the web site’s documentation, the goal of the project is to “encourage open government and citizen participation in democracy through full disclosure of unclassified government documents in open, interoperable formats.” Visitors to the site can suggest a document created by any of the three branches of government or vote on up to three “Most Requested Documents.”
The collaborators on this project do not accuse the federal government of hiding or limiting access to government information; rather, the argument is that most web users look to commercial search engines for government information, and that information is difficult to find there or not there at all (because departments and agencies do not open their sites to web crawlers). The E-Government Act of 2002 has made government documents easier to find, but the bill to reauthorize the Act died in committee last fall. Government documents are organized by branch on GPOAccess.gov, but that site can be cumbersome for inexperienced searchers and users who are not aware of government jargon. Groups like the CDT and the Sunlight Foundation want for documents to be accessible where most people first tend to look: the commercial search engine.
This project is timely, as the Obama administration has committed to open government and transparency in governmental action. Whether for a clerkship or personal use, it is likely that you will have a need to find government documents. Check out ShowUsTheData.org to vote for the documents you’d like to feature more prominently on the web.