Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Our See-Through Government

Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for us about what our Government is doing. As if our Government knows what they themselves are doing.

I certainly don't think Congress knows what they're doing. Do you? Yesterday we learned that nobody knows who killed a provision in the stimulus package that would have curtailed bonuses at bailed out companies like AIG:
Building on public outrage and presidential denunciations of executives at bailed out companies getting bonuses, Wyden and his Republican colleague, Sen. Olympia Snowe, crafted a provision in the stimulus bill that would have forced bailout recipients to cap their bonuses at $100,000 (any amount above that would be taxed at 35 percent).

According to Wyden, he "spent hours on the Senate floor," working to get the bipartisan amendment passed. He succeeded -- not a single Senator voted against the provision. "But," says Wyden, "it died in conference."
We've seen this monkey business before. In 2007, as news of the purged U.S. attorney scandal spread, the big question was "who changed the Patriot Act to make it easier to replace U.S. attorneys without oversight?"

Before we get all rabble roused again, let's not forget that computer geeks already have an amazing, simple, and well tested tool that enables worldwide collaboration on open-source software. It's called version control software, and you've probably seen it in action if you've ever clicked the history tab on any Wikipedia article. But here's what version control could mean for Congress:
If bills were created under a system where strike-throughs and additions were carefully tracked, the public would know which legislator made which change to a proposed piece of legislation as it made its way through the Capitol.

At last, there would be transparency in the legislative process. Best-case scenario, it would shame legislators from inserting language against the public interest and only meant to reward political contributors; at worst, it would make such insertions public and allow the voters to punish the politicians who made them.
Ah, but will Congress ever agree to this innovation? It would change the whole way they do business... but isn't that what we voted for? Change?

We finally have a tech savvy President who has promised to appoint a Chief Technology Officer in addition to the already appointed Chief Information Officer. I hope they together will push our men and women in Washington -- though they'll be kicking and screaming I presume -- into this millennium. We urgently need a new see-through government.

Now if only we can create software that tracks whether members of Congress actually read these laws that they pass.


fabutastic said...

You understand, of course, that if we put the whole government on SVN, some geek will just go and fork the country. Then we'll have a brain drain as all our best tech people move to the LinUSofA.

On the other hand, if countries are open source, can open source be a country? If so, I can't wait to visit the Jaunty JackalopeLand theme park in the tiny island nation of Ubuntu.

Kristen said...

Apparently Fox can be a nation, so I guess anything can happen.