June 8, 2009

PDFs & Transparency

After Friday's moderately encouraging news that Speaker Pelosi was publishing lawmakers' expense accounts online, we have some some discouraging news. The first batch of expense reports will be published in the PDF format instead of more open and searchable formats such as XML, spreadsheets or CSV.

It is a shame that the expense reports, which currently exist only as books printed quarterly, will now only be marginally more transparent. The House is making a mistake if it thinks that a "computer version" of the existing paper-bound books is enough. Transparency activists need the data in a workable format, not just the presentation of it.

Those responsible for publishing the expense account information should collaborate with the Sunlight Foundation and produce full, transparent, and accountable records of House expense reports. If Speaker Pelosi is truthful about her dedication to transparency (a subject still up for debate) than she should follow the advice of open government activists.