eOutreach Blog
9Mar/12

Ethics.gov Launches

The White House rolled out a new "open government" initiative with a special section of the Data.gov website. According to the New York Times:

The Web site, Ethics.gov, allows users to cross-check several federal databases for information about lobbyists and their activities, contribution and spending records for candidates for federal office and political action committees, travel by administration officials and visitors to the White House.

In my early testing of the site, I tend to concur with some of the initial views of John Wonderlich of the Sunlight Foundation who wrote:

We should be clear about what this new site does and doesn't do -- neither money and politics research nor executive branch oversight  are going to be revolutionized by this search page -- at least not yet. We'll see to what degree this new interface becomes the main destination for investigative journalists or ethics officials.  That's unlikely to happen right away.

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We'll have more comments on what the administration has put together as we dig into the data and the presentation, especially since they will have had to fight with many of the same complex issues as our expert technologists have. Pulling together these various datasets into a unified search isn't as simple as just matching the names; there are all kinds of complex problems involved in combining government datasets into this kind of search interface. We hope that having the White House share an explicit stake in the format of FEC data or lobbying records will strengthen public advocates' hands as we try to fix their flaws.

At eOutreach, we spend a lot of time working on data mining issues, including on government websites. Normalizing disparate datasets isn't a lot of fun, so if the government can get its act together through this process to make the information more accessible, I'm all for it.

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Posted by Chip Griffin

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