House transparency caucus vows to regain public's trust in government

One of the group's first actions will be to ensure that information posted on the Web from every branch of government is consistent, searchable and downloadable.

Twenty-seven House Republicans and Democrats kicked off a congressional transparency caucus on Thursday with a panel discussion on how the government can earn back Americans' trust.

"We're going to do a review and find out whether the public accepts the current disclosure," said Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., co-founding chairman of the caucus and ranking Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

One of the group's first actions will be to ensure that information posted on the Web from every branch of government is consistent, searchable and downloadable, he said. The uniform level of reporting would allow citizens to have a better context for comparing spending figures such as federal officials' compensation and earmarks, or appropriations for lawmakers' pet projects.

The goal of the caucus, which was announced in March, is to advance transparency and accountability across government. Measuring these goals will require online access to government information in formats that can be searched and downloaded for free, according to the caucus' principles. The group plans to make such information available by educating lawmakers, taking legislative action and overseeing existing polices.

"Our greatest challenge and mandate in government is regaining the public's trust," said Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., the caucus' other co-founding chairman. "It means not just paying lip service, but taking financial responsibility, transparency and ethics as seriously as the voters want us to. If we can make the tough decisions and prove these as our priorities to the public, trust will follow."

Thursday's event included a dialogue among leaders from several government transparency groups, including the Project on Government Oversight and the Sunlight Foundation.

POGO General Counsel Scott Amey, who focuses on contract oversight, said he hopes the caucus will eradicate the stovepipe mentality in agencies that has created numerous databases and systems but little useful information. Too often, he said, he has to search one database to find a contract, another to locate a request for proposals and a third for the track record on the contractor's past projects. "Due to the lack of transparency, unhealthy programs are allowed to fester for far too long . . . and that leads to waste, fraud and abuse," Amey noted.

Following the panel, the packed room in the Rayburn House Office Building asked activists questions and commented on the formation of the caucus.

J.H. Snider, president of iSolon, a nonprofit institute focused on using information technology to bring about democratic reform, said, "You've got a very impressive caucus here, but I don't see the democratic leadership," referring to influential representatives such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md.

Daniel Schuman, policy counsel at the Sunlight Foundation and panel moderator, acknowledged the caucus was a work in progress. Sunlight announced on Thursday it will serve as an advisory committee to the caucus. Schuman, who is the director of the new advisory committee, pointed out that the caucus includes about 6 percent of the House and some of its members hold leadership positions on committees.

"Doing this across party lines, across ideologies . . . I think that is an encouraging sign," he said.

Caucus members include:

Melissa Bean, D-Ill.

Bruce Braley, D-Iowa

Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah

Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas

Vernon Ehlers, R-Mich.

Bill Foster, D-Ill.

Wally Herger, R-Calif.

Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C.

Steve Israel, D-N.Y.

Darrell Issa, R-Calif.

Walter Jones, R-N.C.

Jim Jordan, R-Ohio

Doug Lamborn, R-Colo.

Daniel Lipinski, D-Ill.

Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa

Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-Mo.

Patrick McHenry, R-N.C.

Walt Minnick, D-Idaho

Scott Murphy, D-N.Y.

Jared Polis, D-Colo.

Mike Quigley, D-Ill.

Tim Ryan, D-Ohio

Aaron Schock, R-Ill.

Mark Souder, R-Ind.

Jackie Speier, D-Calif.

Mark Steven, Kirk, R-Ill.

Greg Walden, R-Ore.