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Groups compile list of hard-to-access public records

Less than a month after President Obama gave administration officials 120 days to develop a governmentwide transparency directive, watchdogs are compiling a list of the 10 "most wanted" unclassified government documents currently unavailable in an easily accessible format.

ShowUsTheData.org, a project just launched by the Center for Democracy and Technology and Open the Government, has received more than 80 suggestions so far, with financial industry bailout funds and Congressional Research Service reports topping the list. Other popular requests include details on the rationale for and usage of USA PATRIOT Act powers, congressional voting records, and memoranda from the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel.

Internet users have until March 9 to vote for the unclassified information or data they most want to see posted or updated. The results will be released during Sunshine Week, March 15-21.

CDT Vice President Ari Schwartz said the first major test of Obama's e-government regime is Recovery.gov, a searchable database of economic stimulus-related spending that went online today before the president signed the $787 billion package. At a briefing with other CDT officials, Schwartz expressed disappointment with Obama's failure to follow through on his campaign pledge not to sign legislation without posting it online for five days to allow public review and comment. The administration has since limited this requirement to "non-emergency" bills, which meant that neither the State Children's Health Insurance Program nor the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act received five-days of scrutiny before becoming law.

CDT President Leslie Harris was less critical, saying the administration needs "a little bit more time" to get its e-government house in order. But Harris criticized the administration's decision last week to continue, pending completion of a Justice Department review, the Bush administration's policy of asserting "state secrets" privileges in national security cases.

Lawmakers will get a chance to examine the transparency of stimulus spending at a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing scheduled for March 5. OMB Director Peter Orszag is expected to testify along with GAO Acting Comptroller General Gene Dodaro and Phyllis Fong, chair of the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency.

"It is critical to ensure that systems are in place -- ahead of time -- to oversee this massive level of spending and that the public is provided with as much information as possible about where their money is going," Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Joseph Lieberman said Saturday.

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