Videos On “Kick-Starting The 113th Congress”

At last Monday’s Advisory Committee on Transparency event, 16 lightning talks were given on transparency-related topics like FOIA, lobbying reform, and opening up congress. The three-minute presentations distilled some of the best thinking by advocates and activists on what the government could do right now to be more open. We’re pleased to make those videos available to you.

  Here’s a list of the talks, broken up by issue area, with links to the videos. Lobbying Reform

  • Sarah Bryner, of the Center for Responsive Politics, encouraged the release of federal lobbyist unique IDs alongside other lobbying data. (Video)
  • Lisa Rosenberg, a Government Affairs Consultant for the Sunlight Foundation, argued that lobbyist registration rules should be tightened to catch those who avoid the current high reporting thresholds. (Video)
  • Robert Maguire, of the Center for Responsive Politics, argued that the IRS should publish online the tax reports that all nonprofits are required to file and include all organizations in summary data. (Video)

Congressional Operations

The Executive Branch

  • Jeremy Miller, the Policy Director at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, urged expansion of public access to the DOJ’s office of Legal Counsel opinions.  (Video)
  • Jim Harper, of the Cato Institute, argued that the Federal government’s organization chart should be online in a machine-readable format. (Video)
  • Hudson Hollister, the Executive Director of the Data Transparency Coalition, urged facilitation of Federal spending tracking by requiring all federal awards to have a unique government-wide identifier. (Video)

Improving Member Offices

  • Lorelei Kelly, the Smart Congress Pilot Lead at the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute, encouraged members of Congress to partner with local colleges to add “Technology Mashup Fellows” in their district offices. (Video)
  • Josh Tauberer, who runs, argued that members of Congress should hire a “transparency director.” (Video)


  • Rick Blum, the Coordinator of the Sunshine in Government Initiative, argued that any attempt to carve exemptions into FOIA must go through the relevant committees of jurisdiction. (Video)
  • Justin McCarthy, of Judicial Watch, contended that the FOIA’s “deliberative process” and other b(5) privileges should be explicitly defined in law. (Video)
  • Gavin Baker, an Open Government Policy Analyst at the Center for Effective Government, argued that agencies should be required to proactively publish more data online. (Video)

Courts and Access to Law

  • Steve Schultze, the Associate Director at the Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton University argued that Federal court opinions stored in PACER should be freely available online to all taxpayers. (Video)
  • Harlan Yu, a partner at Robinson + Yu, argued that Federal law should be made more understandable by enacting the U.S. Code into positive law. (Video)

Kick-Starting The 113th Congress: Ideas Congress Can Use

Looking for ideas to make government more transparent and accountable? Join the The Advisory Committee on Transparency on January 28th for “Kick-starting the 113th Congress,” a series of short presentations on what Congress could do right now to make government more transparent.

The presentations will take place on Capitol Hill, in the Rayburn House Office Building, room 2203. After the dozen-or-so lightning talks, there will be an opportunity to mingle and talk with the presenters.

The lineup includes representatives of the Cato Institute, the Center for Effective Government, the Center for Responsive Politics, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, the Data Transparency Coalition,, Judicial Watch, the New America Foundation,, Princeton University, Robinson & Yu LLC, the Sunlight Foundation, the Sunshine in Government Initiative, and the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Please RSVP to


  • Jim Harper from the Cato Institute
  • Gavin Baker from the Center for Effective Government
  • Sarah Bryner from the Center for Responsive Politics
  • Sheila Krumholz from the Center for Responsive Politics
  • Robert Maguire from the Center for Responsive Politics
  • Jeremy Miller from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington
  • Hudson Hollister from the Data Transparency Coalition
  • Joshua Tauberer from
  • Justin McCarthy from Judicial Watch
  • Lorelei Kelly from the New America Foundation
  • Steve Schultze from the Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton University
  • Harlan Yu from Robinson + Yu
  • Lisa Rosenberg from the Sunlight Foundation
  • Rick Blum from the Sunshine in Government Initiative
  • Celia Wexler and Yogin Kothari from the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists



Talk To Congress: Public, Orgs Invited To Share Transparency Ideas At Jan. ACT Event

The Advisory Committee on Transparency is excited to invite the public and advocacy organizations to speak directly to Congress about making our government more transparent. The January 28th event, entitled Kickstarting the 113th Congress,” will feature a diverse array of speakers giving short talks on concrete, actionable proposals to open up the government.

Individuals and organizations interested in participating should submit presentation proposals to by close of business on Thursday, January 10. Times slots are limited.

Talks will be modeled after Ignite Talks, an example of which you can watch here. Each speaker will have three minutes and 12 powerpoint slides to define the problem and propose a solution.

The presentations will take place on Capitol Hill, in the Rayburn House Office Building, room 2203. Afterward, speakers will be encouraged to mingle with and answer questions from the audience.

If you have any questions, or want to learn more, contact mrumsey (at)

Transparency And The Obama Presidency: Looking Back And Looking Forward – Video And Event Recap

How transparent has President Barack Obama’s administration been? While the first term seemed to start with several bold initiatives, members of the transparency community have been disappointed with the apparent lack of initiative since then. Panelists gave the administration mixed reviews at the Dec. 3, 2012 Advisory Committee on Transparency event examining what’s happened over the past four years and what in store for the next four.

Participants in the panel discussion, moderated by Daniel Schuman, policy counsel at the Sunlight Foundation and director of the Advisory Committee on Transparency, had a hard time listing the Obama administration’s accomplishments without mentioning caveats in the same breath. Anne Weismann, chief counsel at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said the administration’s efforts may have been well intended but were not always well executed. The decision to release the White House visitor logs, for example, resulted in more transparency about who is trying to influence the executive branch, but also resulted in some staff taking meetings to coffee shops.

Weismann gave the administration credit for working to make some changes at a time when there is a history of secrecy in many federal agencies. She pointed to the Open Government Directive as one way the White House tried to direct agencies to adopt a more open culture. Changing that culture can be very difficult, and it certainly takes time, she noted.

Hudson Hollister, executive director of the Data Transparency Coalition, looked at the progress of the administration from the open data perspective. He said that while there were strides toward publishing more government data, the most useful government data is still not being published – information, for example, used by executive branch agencies to guide their decision making. Another problem is that some of the data that is being published is not in a machine readable format, which makes it difficult for outside groups to analyze and reuse that information. One of the biggest questions about the administration’s transparency record, Hollister said, comes in regard to government spending. The Digital Accountability and Transparency Act, known as the DATA Act, was proposed in 2011 and enjoys bipartisan support, but the White House has actively undermined the spending-disclosure measure.

Josh Gerstein, a White House Reporter at POLITICO, framed the administration’s transparency record as a tale of two Obamas. The President seemed to initially be much more supportive of openness, but has since backed away from it. In the current negotiations about the so-called fiscal cliff, for instance, Obama has allowed a series of secret meetings with CEOs, interest groups, and others. After being criticized for similar moves during the heatlhcare reform talks several years ago, Obama had said he realized a need to be more transparent. His actions belie his words.

All of the panelists agreed more needs to be done if Obama wants to improve his transparency record, and his second term will afford him a second chance. The panelists also discussed the need for the transparency initiatives that do exist to be institutionalized lest they be lost.

The video of the event is available on C-Span.

The conversation drew attention in the media, with Washington Post coverage of the discussion highlighting some of the administration’s achievements and disappointments.

Transparency And The Obama Presidency: Looking Back And Looking Forward

The Advisory Committee on Transparency will host an event on transparency in President Barack Obama’s administration on Monday, December 3 at 2:00 pm in the Rayburn House Office Building, room 2237.

When President Obama took office in 2009 he pledged to lead the most transparent administration in history. During his first term, he issued the Open Government Directive, set a new course for FOIA, and led the creation of the Open Government Partnership. At the same time, many observers have criticized the administration for lacking openness or failure to follow through in a number of important areas.

We are pleased to host a panel discussion on the evolving norms and behaviors of the Obama administration toward transparency. A panel of experts will explain how the transparency landscape has changed over the past four years. They will also look ahead at prospects for further advances and possible impediments to future progress in the Obama administration’s second term.


  • Anne Weismann: Chief Counsel, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington
  • Hudson Hollister: Executive Director, the Data Transparency Coalition
  • Josh Gerstein (Invited): White House Reporter, POLITICO
  • Moderator Daniel Schuman: Policy Counsel at the Sunlight Foundation and Director of the Advisory Committee on Transparency

We hope you can join us. Please RSVP to

The Advisory Committee on Transparency educates policymakers on transparency-related issues, problems, and solutions and shares ideas with members of the Congressional Transparency Caucus. It hosts events to discuss important and wide-ranging transparency policy issues with experts from a variety of backgrounds and develops educational publications and provides timely information to the public and members of Congress. Learn more at

Save The Date: Transparency And The Obama Presidency

The Advisory Committee on Transparency is holding a panel discussion on Transparency and the Obama Presidency from 2:00 to 3:30 pm on Monday, December 3, 2012 in room 2237 of the Rayburn House Office Building. The event will focus on the administration’s efforts to fulfill President Obama’s transparency agenda during his first term and explore possible next steps for his second term. Speakers and more details TBA.

Is Congress Serious About Transparency? Video And Event Recap

How serious is the 112th Congress about transparency? The answer to that question depends on who you ask, as panelists proved at an Oct. 1 Advisory Committee on Transparency panel discussion. Though the 112th Congress received mixed reviews of its transparency record, panelists agreed some key improvements have been made and there is still room for progress.

The panel discussion, moderated by ACT Director and Sunlight Foundation Policy Counsel Daniel Schuman, made the different views on congressional transparency progress clear. Hugh Halpern, staff director of the House Committee on Rules, praised the 112th Congress and its leadership for modernizing how it operates and shares information with the public. One critical step he noted was that Congress for the first time recognizes paper and electronic documents as being equal. That means the cumbersome step of printing is eliminated, and having information available in electronic format brings it one step closer to being available online for the public. He also cited mandatory web-casting of committee events, an effort to obey the “3-day rule” requiring posting of bills for three calendar days before votes, and the launch of where information is posted for public review. Halpern noted Congress is still in the process of implementing rules changes made in the 112th, and he does not see the need for many rules changes for the 113th. Halpern emphasized that the 112th Congress is open to constructive criticism, but he thinks the group can be very proud of its transparency record.

Jim Harper, director of information policy studies at the Cato Institute and founder of, had some different thoughts on how the 112th performed in the transparency arena. The Cato Institute graded Congress on efforts to be more open, based on factors such as authoritative sourcing, availability, machine discoverability, and machine readability, and the results were not good, Harper said. The grades are a lagging indicator, Harper added, because Congress is making more data available and the transparency community has yet to sift through the data and understand it.

John Wonderlich, policy director at the Sunlight Foundation, agreed with Halpern and Harper that there has been progress in gaining access to the official work of Congress. He has been under-appreciated in terms of how much information if offers. Timestamps, for example, allow viewers to assess how long bills were available before votes, adding an accountability element to the posts. The 112th Congress’ record on ethics and influence is mixed because the laws regulating campaign finance are unclear, Wonderlich said. He cited the STOCK Act as one example of an improvement that will provide new financial disclosure information to dig into, though he said it could be improved by requiring real-estate disclosures. Wonderlich also assessed how political power functions, noting that it has been disorderly for the past two years because of divided government.

During a question and answer session at the end of the panel discussion, the panelists also discussed topics ranging from why the public should care about access to Congress to what next steps should be taken toward greater transparency. Halpern, Harper and Wonderlich once again found common themes: that a transparent Congress is key to our system of government, and more steps should be taken to advance the progress that has been made so far in bringing information to the public.

Is Congress Serious About Transparency? Looking At Progress In The 112th Congress.

The Advisory Committee on Transparency will host an event on legislative transparency on Monday, October 1 at 2:00 pm in the Rayburn House Office Building, room 2203.

Over the past two years, Congress has embraced and avoided efforts to make its proceedings more open and understandable to the public. It recently unveiled a new legislative information website that will ultimately replace THOMAS, but held secret “supercommittee” meetings on reducing the budget deficit. The House of Representatives now requires legislation to be online for 3 legislative days, but earmarks have been pushed underground in both chambers. All the while, a growing community of parliamentary monitoring organizations have begun identifying standards against which legislative transparency can be measured.

We are pleased to host this panel discussion on the evolving norms and behaviors of the Congress towards transparency. The panel of experts includes Hugh Halpern, Staff Director of the House Committee on Rules; Jim Harper, Director of Information Policy Studies at the Cato Institute and Founder of; and John Wonderlich, Policy Director at the Sunlight Foundation. They will explain the steps each house has taken towards openness, some of the impediments that could deter future progress, and prospects for further advances in the 113th Congress.

The President’s Super-Regulators: What’s Next For OIRA?: Video And Event Recap

by Alex Engler

On August 20, the Advisory Committee on Transparency hosted a panel discussion with experts on the federal regulatory process concerning the role of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. Moderated by Daniel Schuman, director of ACT and policy counsel of the Sunlight Foundation, the panel took a detailed look at how to improve and adjust OIRA’s function in order to create greater efficacy, accountability, and transparency in the regulatory process.

Curtis Copeland, a former regulatory analyst at CRS and GAO, began the conversation by providing a brief historical account of OIRA. He spoke about the expansion of OIRA’s focus from mostly approving agency data collection to performing comprehensive reviews of economically significant regulations. Copeland mentioned two concerns that made this shift controversial. First, OIRA was seen as a challenge to separation of powers – how did this extension of the White House have the authority to influence the statutory requirements of federal agencies? Second, OIRA was criticized for acting as a “black box” in which regulations were changed or impeded with no transparency.

Susan Dudley, former OIRA Administrator under George W. Bush who is currently the Director of George Washington University’s Regulatory Studies Center, continued the discussion by describing OIRA as an office of non-partisan and dedicated civil servants that acts as a “dispassionate and analytical second opinion on agencies’ actions.” She argued that OIRA needed more staff to confront expanding responsibilities and to make up for previous reductions that reduced FTE staff from 90 to fewer than 50. Dudley also claimed that OIRA was less susceptible for special interest pressures than other agencies.

Michael Fitzpatrick, former OIRA Associate Administrator under President Obama, who recently moved to government relations at GE, agreed with Ms. Dudley’s depiction of OIRA, and asserted that the regulatory process greatly benefited from OIRA review. Fitzpatrick said that the criticism of OIRA leveraged by both sides of the political spectrum was indicative of a well functioning non-partisan agency, and also cited a need for more FTEs. He went on top argue that independent agencies should be accounted for at some level in the regulatory review process – specifically citing the Independent Agency Regulatory Analysis Act proposed by Senators Portman, Warner, and Collins.

The Director of Public Citizen, Robert Weissman, contended that the federal rulemaking process is “profoundly broken” and is, contrary to the assertions of the OIRA panelists, far more accessible to industry interests and lobbyists. He stated that OIRA meets with business interests five to six times for every single meeting with public interest groups. Weissman described OIRA as a major factor in the systemic delay of necessary regulations – specifically citing an OSHA rule regarding silica exposure that has been held up by OIRA for over eighteen months without explanation. He strongly urged OIRA to shift its role towards addressing holes in regulatory capture and promoting interagency coordination. Absent that shift, he suggested that there were many deficiencies in transparency at OIRA. Weissman also asserted that OIRA is a one-way ratchet that only weakens regulations, and never strengthens them.

Save The Date: The President’s Super-Regulators: What’s Next For OIRA?

The public is invited to attend a panel discussion on federal rulemaking that will focus on the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. Hosted by the Advisory Committee on Transparency, the event will take place on Monday, August 20 at 2:00 pm in the Rayburn House Office Building, room 2203.

OIRA reviews regulations that impose more than $100 million in annual compliance costs for affected industries, and its influence can extend to other rulemakings as well. With the imminent departure of OIRA’s administrator, Cass Sunstein, the time is ripe to evaluate the Obama administration’s approach to rulemaking, its transparency, and how OIRA should fit into the rulemaking process.

The panel of experts includes Susan Dudley, a former OIRA administrator under President Bush; Michael Fitzpatrick, a former associate administrator under President Obama; Curtis Copeland, a former specialist with the Congressional Research Service; and Robert Weissman, President of Public Citizen. The panel will discuss OIRA’s role in rulemakings, its evolution, its openness, congressional oversight, and where we can go from here.