Bringing Light Into The Law: Access To Law In A Rapidly Changing World

Public access to the laws of the land is a principle that has thrived for centuries. Without it, citizens would be powerless to navigate everyday interactions with their governments and the “rule of law” could collapse. Unfortunately, the scope of “law” has expanded rapidly and public access is struggling to keep up.

Laws passed by Congress and State legislatures are far from the only documents that have the power of law. Technical standards, secret court opinions, municipal regulations, complex international trade documents, and more touch every American. These are often nearly impossible, and sometimes illegal, for the public to access.

The Advisory Committee on Transparency is excited to host a conversation on Monday, September 22 from 2:00 – 3:30 pm in room 2203 of the Rayburn House Office Buildingexploring these “secret laws” and discussing ways to boost the public’s ability to access and understand them. You can register for this free event here.


*Daniel Schuman, Policy Director, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington

*Gabe Rottman, Legislative Counsel and Policy Adviser, American Civil Liberties Union

*Patrice McDermott, Executive Director,

*V. David Zvenyach, General Counsel, Council of the District of Columbia

*Moderator: Matt Rumsey, the Sunlight Foundation

The Future Of FOIA: Moving The Freedom Of Information Act Into The 21st Century

To celebrate Sunshine Week and recent House passage of the FOIA Act, the Sunlight Foundation and the Advisory Committee on Transparency are hosting an event on the Future of FOIA. The panel discussion will assess efforts and ideas to bring the Freedom of Information Act into the future, ensuring that it continues to be an effective tool to shed light on the inner workings of government far into the 21st century.

The event will be held on Wednesday, March 19 from 2:00 – 3:30 p.m. in room 2203 of the Rayburn House Office Building. The panel of experts will include:

  • Amy Bennett: Assistant Director,
  • Ali Ahmad: Majority Staff, House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform
  • Corinna Zarek: Policy Adviser for Open Government, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy
  • Krista Boyd: Minority Staff, House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform
  • Ginger McCall, Moderator: Associate Director, Electronic Privacy Information Center

The DATA Act And Beyond: Video And Recap

Last month, we convened a panel of experts to discuss trending topics in government spending transparency. Our panel included Hudson Hollister, Executive Director of the Data Transparency Coalition, Nancy DiPaolo, Chief of Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs at the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, and Navin Beekarry, an Associate fellow at George Washington University Law School’s Center for Law, Economics, and Finance.

We are happy to share video from the event:

The DATA Act And Beyond: An Event Exploring Government Spending Transparency

Following the flow of government spending data is a complex, and often fruitless, pursuit. At the federal level there are few standards to ensure consistent reporting across agencies, public reporting is limited, and the accuracy of data is difficult to verify. The infrastructure used to track federal spending has often been updated in an ad-hoc manner and is in need of a thoughtful redesign.

The DATA Act, legislation that incorporates lessons learned and best practices from federal agencies, is moving through Congress and could soon become law. If passed, it will ensure that more, and more accurate, federal spending data is made publicly available online.

We are excited to host a panel assessing the current state of spending transparency and examining the challenges facing its future. Our group of experts will discuss the DATA Act’s prospects, detail efforts underway within the executive branch, and explore the future of spending transparency. The event will take place on Monday, December 16 at 2:00 p.m. in room 2203 of the Rayburn House Office Building.

We hope you will be able to join us and ask that you please RSVP here.


*Hudson Hollister: Executive Director, the Data Transparency Coalition

*Nancy DiPaolo: Chief of Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs, the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board

*Navin Beekarry: Associate Fellow, Center for Law, Economics, and Science George Washington University

*Moderator Kaitlin Devine: Senior Web Developer, the Sunlight Foundation

Transparency Caucus Event – FOIA: Today’s Challenges And Tomorrow’s Opportunities

The Congressional Transparency Caucus is holding an event this Tuesday, March 12, 2013 to discuss recent progress in FOIA reform and explore what still needs to be done to improve public access to government records. The event will take place in room 2203 of the Rayburn House Office Building and will start at 3 p.m.

The Transparency Caucus will hear from a number of noted FOIA experts:

The Congressional Transparency Caucus is co-chaired by Representative’s Mike Quigley (D-IL) and Darrell Issa (R-CA). The Caucus seeks to enact legislation that will bring openness and accessibility to the federal government.

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