Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Sunlight Foundation's "Transparency" Ratings of Congress Members' Websites

First, background on the organization from its mission statement:
The Sunlight Foundation, a 501 (c)(3) educational organization, is designed to use the transformative power of the Internet and new information technology to enable citizens to learn more about what Congress and their elected representatives are doing, and thus help reduce corruption, ensure great transparency and accountability by government, and foster public trust in the vital institutions of democracy.
In that spirit, they just put out an evaluation of each congress member's web site to see how well they scored on what they're doing in congress, how much they help visitors to their sites to find the disclosures tjeu are legally-required to file, and other information that promotes transparency like releasing the member's daily schedules or saying what earmarks they've sponsored.

Their conclusions were, no big surprise, that most congress members score poorly, though some fared pretty decently (Boxer at 40%, a passing grade). This kind of investigation is important to push transparency, and I think over time they'll make a lot of headway.

One important thing they'll have to keep in mind is the reliability of their data. The one member's evaluation I looked at (Harman's, of course) had incorrectly dinged her for things they shouldn't have.

Perhaps the scrutiny of readers like myself will help scrub this report to make sure it's accurate - they say the internets are self-correcting, don't they? - but nonetheless it was unfortunate to have this report not get it right from the start.
For what it's worth, here's my post on the matter to the Sunlight Foundation blog.
The grade for Harman's site is wrong for two and possibly three questions:
A list or a link to bills the member has sponsored or co-sponsored.

The name(s) of the committee(s) and subcommittee(s) on which the member serves.

Links to the Web sites of the committee(s) on which the member serves

Your survey says she doesn't have these things, however a look at her site says otherwise.

From the front page, you click on "Issues", which brings you here. And on that page, you have:

A Legislation section with links for sponsored and cosponsored legislation; and,

A Committees & Coalitions section with presumably up-to-date links to her committees.

I'm not certain offhand that Energy and Commerce, and the House Select Committee on Homeland Security are her only committees, but if they are, then she's also got the list of committees she serves on (which means she shouldn't be dinged for question 2 either).

It's a little concerning to see that this was done incorrectly. I hope you'll go back and check other reports, perhaps focusing on those completed by anonymous reviewers, as this one was.

I'm certainly no big fan of Harman in a lot of areas, but she, like every other congressperson, deserves to be judged fairly. I trust you'll take a look at this and correct the mistakes. FYI, people are already referencing the incorrect Harman score. so the sooner the better. (PS. I am pretty sure that they haven't monkeyed with their page since your report came out -- it would be rather dishonest, for one, and and I haven't seen her office resort to that kind of thing. But also, despite the links they set up, Harman's office devotes very little time and energy to the website it would be totally out of character for them to react that quickly).
Hopefully, they react promptly on this.

...Harman's reported score, even after being corrected, won't score very well. While getting decent marks for providing info on her official duties, she'll still get goose-eggs for disclosure and transparency.

2 Comments:

Anonymous dixiecrat said...

Can't tell if you are a crafty conservative, throwing off the scent with those references to MoveOn et al, or you are just focused on negatively targeting a fairly well balanced representative.
Either way, I'm out of here

6:29 AM  
Blogger PeterB said...

Really? I can't remember anyone mistaking me as a conservative before, crafty or otherwise.

I just corrected the record for Harman, and that is what triggers you to say I am
"focused on negatively targeting" Harman? That confuses me.

7:51 AM  

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