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This Week On Capitol Hill: Sunshine!

March 12, 2007 - by Donny Shaw

Sunshine Week has officially begun! Momentum to make the government more transparent has been continually building up, and this week is a time for all of the energy surrounding issues of corruption, transparency, and accountability to come to the forefront. Bloggers, activists, watchdog groups, libraries, non-profits, schools and members of Congress are coming together this week with efforts to further the cause of creating a more open government. Here are some of the more official efforts to watch this week:

Sunshine in the House of Representatives

The House will spend the later half of the week dealing with several pieces of government transparency legislation. Here is a list of the bills that they will be considering, starting on Wednesday:

Suspensions (three bills):

1) H.R. 1309 – The Freedom of Information Act Amendments of 2007

  • – a bill designed to speed the government’s response to Freedom of Information Act

2) H.R. 1255 – Presidential Records Act Amendments of 2007

  • - a bill to restore disclosure requirements overridden by an executive order from President Bush in 2001, which allowed former presidents to withhold documents from the public, and would force former presidents to turn over official documents 12 years after leaving office.

3) H.R. 1254 – Presidential Library Donation Reform Act of 2007

  • - requires organizations raising funds for presidential libraries to disclose the names of donors and the amount of money they contribute.

Subject to Rules (two bills):

4) H.R. 985 – Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2007

  • - a bill to expand employees’ rights to seek a judicial review of their allegations, and to increase the Merit System Protection Board’s authority to sanction violators.

5) H.R. 1362 – Accountability in Contracting Act

  • - a bill to require federal agencies to announce within 14 days their reasons for awarding no-bid contracts.

(Above bill descriptions mainly taken from subscription-only Congress Daily)

Sunshine in the Senate

On Wednesday, the Senate Rules and Administration Committee will hold a hearing on the Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act. The bill would require senators to file their campaign-finance reports electronically, like the House of Representatives already requires its members to do. Having this information easily available to the public would be a major advance towards making politics, in the Senate, more transparent.

Paul Blumenthal has posted a list of witnesses who will be testifying at the hearing. The hearing starts at 10AM and you can watch a live stream of the proceedings from C-SPAN. Thanks to C-SPAN’s exciting policy change last week, the footage shot at the hearing will be considered public domain — anyone can post it to their blog or archive it however they want.

Sunshine in Earmark Reform

Later today, The Office of Management and Budget will release a major report that will attempt to “identify and catalogue earmarks in all appropriations bills and certain authorization bills, including report language.” The report comes after President Bush, on January 3, 2007, called on Congress to reduce earmarks by 50%. It is meant to show the current level of earmarking against which the cut-in-half goal will be measured.

Unfortunately, it looks like the report, as it is released today, is not going to be as complete as expected. Mark Tapscott is claiming that the reason for this is that the White House is pressuring OMB to release only a limited database, in fear of “offend[ing] members of the appropriation committees in Congress.” On the other hand, Bill Allison is giving OMB the benefit of the doubt, believing in their claims that some of the data has yet to be reported by government agencies, and that the data that has been reported is still being worked through.

Sunshine image by giagia

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