What sorts of government information should be easier to get?

On Tuesday, the White House issued an order mandating greater openness in the federal government. What sorts of government information should be easier to get?

Comments from the Public Insight Network:

I would like to be able to able to “drag and drop” any type of event data – such as legislative voting records of a bill, purchases by an agency, crime report in my neighborhood, right on to my Google home page to get updates in real time. There are many standards (RSS/Atom etc.) that make this easy to do. I think the key is not WHAT event data I want but that we need to hold state and federal agencies responsible for using modern web technologies for all public data. This can be done with free Open Source software. Ignorance of open standards and free software is not a valid excuse for not doing this today! -Dan McCreary, St. Louis Park, MN

NRCS data. Billions of dollars go to federal farm subsidy programs and the FOIA forbids sharing specifics of that data, even among agencies. The federal info could be very valuable to state agencies working on pollution control projects and also represents a major lack of transparency in a federal program. -Thomas Miller, Blaine, MN

I would like to see very clear and very precise information on private donations to our elected officials. Specifically how much money, goods, and services were donated and what interest group the donations represent. I would like this information made public as soon as the donations are made – not several years after a vote was taken on an issue. -Brian Lueth, Arden Hills, MN

Sales tax information – there are about 150,000 businesses in Minnesota and there are lots of resources to estimate the amount of sales tax collected (e.g. Reference USA or LexisNexis). Excise taxes are public for alcohol distributors and cigarette distributors and it does not appear to have much impact on their businesses and competitiveness. We could go a long way in tax compliance by promoting a high levels of transparency by making this tax information public. Let’s work toward making more tax information public. Of course, there is some level of Republican/Democrat tensions here – but good policy is good politics. -Randy Sanford, River Falls, WI

Information about contributions to political parties that are over $1,000 and an easy way to access what earmarks are attached to bills passed by congress, better yet a system that connects earmarks with contributions in the same data base. -Dan Frank, Pine River, MN

In theory, I believe all information that doesn’t have national security implications should be available. The difficult part is making it available (1) so it is searchable and (2) at a reasonable cost. Anything that is currently considered part of the public record (which is just about everything within the government) should be made available on the internet. This would be time consuming going backward, but not difficult for information going forward. The architecture just needs to be developed and implemented. -Mike Spack, St. Louis Park, MN

Government, since it is OUR government, should be totally transparent, excluding, perhaps, military decisions. The FDA, especially, should be transparent, allowing everyone to see how they conclude that products are safe for ingestion. –Beverly Stone, Brooklyn Park, MN

Almost all types of government information. There has been much too much withholding of a variety of information. Public figures should expect to operation under much more scrutiny than they usually have. Openness is never bad in a democracy– and would even be better in dictatorships. -Bruce Kittilson, Golden Valley, MN

I think that with the exception of a few national security issues, most government information should be available to the public. A key question for me is the form in which government information is available. Much of the information is only available online. A large percentage of US population, including the poor and the elderly, do not have access to internet, and have trouble accessing ANY information at all. -Rosa Maria de la Cueva Peterson, St. Paul, MN

I would like to be able to easily find out who our elected officials are actually working for. How is it that a congressperson can enter office with perhaps $100K in the bank and leave after a couple terms with millions in their account and tens of thousands in their families accounts? Who is paying them for representation as it surely isn’t their constituency. -Rod Gingrich, St. Paul, MN

Spending: Which elected official requested each spending program, how it will be funded, who benefits (organizations and individuals) and where are they located, whether the spending program has an end date, who administers the spending, how much the administration costs, and the vote tally on the bill authorizing the spending. Regulations – which elected official(s) requested the regulations, who it impacts, its estimated costs, who administers it, who benefits and how it’s implementation will affect business and individuals, when does it end. Medicare – who will be impacted and in what degree when funds run out in the next few years. -Steven Yager, Maple Grove, MN

People should be able to get any information the government holds on themselves from any agency through a single request to a central source. Information on others who are not public figures should be protected in a manner similar to HIPAA for medical information. The right to privacy for nonpublic figures should be paramount. -Glenna Case, Minneapolis, MN

Information on what private industry, business, and non-profit groups are receiving my tax dollars. I would like to see what groups are benefiting and how much money they are receiving, especially now with the government spending our tax dollars like drunken sailors (apologies to all you sailors out there…). I would like to drill down into the data further and find the specific businesses and non-profit groups that are receiving taxpayer money. I want to know why they got it and what they are doing with our money. There has to be some type of accounting for all this money being given away (or so called loans). -Elton Fordyce, Madison, MN

We should be able to know who our officials are meeting with, as a matter of public record. As in the case when Vice President Cheney met in secret with powerful oil industry leaders, that helped shape our nations energy policy, during the Bush years. -Robert Sunderlin, Richfield, MN

Personally, I’d like to know more about the hidden “extras” that get tacked on to pending bills that have nothing to do with the issue of the bills. Just from what little I have learned, the government wastes a lot of unnecessary money these. Also, I’d like to know more about the extras in compensation and perks received by our elected officials. Almost all Americans are tightening their belts and cutting back during this economy, and I’d like to know if they are doing the same or whether they just keep spending since they are paying for any of it – the taxpayers are. -Wanda Burdick, Coon Rapids, MN

Information that the government has on you should be extremely easy for you to get, whether through an assigned PIN or similar process. Medical information on you should be centralized to be used only by health professionals in any state when you go in to the doctor or in times of emergency, criminal history should be easily accessible to law enforcement on any level in all states, and private industry should never have access to any person’s information without that person’s explicit consent. -Monte Gruhlke, Champlin, MN

The cry for more access to government information has grown totally out of control. People have a right to a certain level of privacy. But government involvement in our lives continues to grow. It’s a massive collision and the pendulum has swung way too far. Government, courts, press and private enterprise must realize there are great dangers posed by people intent on wrongdoing and they are accomplices in the resulting chaos affecting innocent victims! Let’s be reasonable people — a new concept. All these parties must realize they can’t have it all their way and reel in their private interest crusades. -Lance Olson, Minnetonka, MN

Most all gov info is public data. However, issues vital to National Security should be private. -Mary Markas, Buhl, MN

Information people need for daily living – what’s happening in my town or school, information about jobs, the environment where I live, public transportation, resources for healthy living, how my local taxes are put to work. People also need to know more about SOURCES of information and access tools, e.g. local libraries, and about their information rights, e.g. the Data Practices Act. Government information must be accessible to all including people with disabilities, those who do not read or speak English, the vast number of people for whom technology is an intractable barrier. -Mary Treacy, Minneapolis, MN

Openness should be the norm for ALL government information, with exceptions for national security and personal privacy. At federal, state and local levels, reports and statistics on government activities and programs help citizens evaluate their governments and participate in the democratic process. At the federal level, full access should be provided, for example, to reports from the Congressional Research Service. Hundreds of reports are prepared for Congress by professional, non-partisan researchers, but only some are available to the public. These and all government research should be easily available both online and in libraries. -Julia Wallace, Minneapolis, MN

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