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John Wonderlich

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Jan 25, 2008, 12:37:42 PM1/25/08
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Sean Moulton

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Jan 28, 2008, 6:22:50 PM1/28/08
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The Senate Finance Committee is considering new rules on Wednesday (Jan. 30) to increase transparency of the committee’s meetings.  While the proposed changes are a welcome step toward openness and transparency, the draft rules contain several serious problems.  We need to give the committee quick feedback on these problems and get them fixed before Wednesday’s markup.

 

Most notable are the following three problems:

 

1) The rules only require the posting of one of the following meeting records, a transcript, an audio recording or a video recording, even though often more than one of these is produced.  OMB Watch recommends that all records of committee meetings be posted online.

 

2) The proposed rule would establish a 21 business day deadline for posting meeting records, which translates into more than a calendar month.  This is far too long for the public to wait and OMB Watch is recommending a 5 business day deadline be established for most records, with one exception for corrected transcripts.

 

3) The draft rules would also allow the committee to delete meeting records after the conclusion of a Congress.  Coupled with the poor timeframe provision, this could result in records of committee meetings occurring in the last month of a Congress never seeing the light of day.  OMB Watch is recommending permanent archiving of committee records.

 

Attached is a short a summary of the draft rule changes and OMB Watch's recommendations to strengthen the draft language.  And here is a link for the draft rules: http://www.ombwatch.org/budget/012808-1400-proposed%20Finance%20Committee%20rules%20change%20_2_.pdf

 

Please join us in urging the committee to correct these problems.  Calls should be made to Bill Dauster, Deputy Staff Director and General Counsel for the Senate Finance Committee at 202-224-4515.    

 

 

 

Sean Moulton
Director, Federal Information Policy
OMB Watch
1742 Connecticut Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20009
Phone: (202) 234-8494
Fax: (202) 234-8584




Combined Federal Campaign #10201

Senate Finance Committee record rules.pdf

John Wonderlich

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Jan 29, 2008, 1:31:15 AM1/29/08
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Sean,

Thanks for pointing this out.

The proposed Finance Committee rules changes seem to be an attempt to bring the Senate Finance Committee's rules into line with the new S1 requirements now coming into effect, which is now necessary, since some of stipulations of the Finance Committee's rules contradict the new requirements, as the memo you linked points out.
 

1) The rules only require the posting of one of the following meeting records, a transcript, an audio recording or a video recording, even though often more than one of these is produced.  OMB Watch recommends that all records of committee meetings be posted online.

I'm in total agreement that maximum exposure is more helpful, and may be required, depending on how the Senate Rules committee enforces the section 508 requirements for accessibility.  The proposed change would bring them into compliance with the new requirements, and no more.  All public committee proceedings should be posted online.

 

2) The proposed rule would establish a 21 business day deadline for posting meeting records, which translates into more than a calendar month.  This is far too long for the public to wait and OMB Watch is recommending a 5 business day deadline be established for most records, with one exception for corrected transcripts.

I think this is a really important point.  C-SPAN can't cover all committee hearings, and citizens (or members of Congress, for that matter), can't pay attention to all of the proceedings that relate to their work.  Some members of Congress probably can't even get all of the proceedings for the committees that they themselves serve on.  While having committee transcripts posted within 21 days online across all congressional committees would constitute a vast improvement, and a significant improvement, really recognizing the role of the public observer in congressional committee proceedings will only happen with much closer to real time disclosure.  The corrected transcript point is also key here, since there is good reason for both a cleaned up version of the transcript and a reasonable delay in producing one.

Finally, I'd like to point out that the 21 day requirement applies to "a video recording, audio recording, or transcript of any meeting...Except with respect to meetings closed in accordance with this rule", which excludes committee records like votes, budgets, or other correspondence, which I'd love to see posted.  I don't think any committees post this information, although I'd like to be wrong on this point.

 

3) The draft rules would also allow the committee to delete meeting records after the conclusion of a Congress.  Coupled with the poor timeframe provision, this could result in records of committee meetings occurring in the last month of a Congress never seeing the light of day.  OMB Watch is recommending permanent archiving of committee records.
 

 Finally, I find this:

`(B) Information required by subclause (A) shall be available until the end of the Congress following the date of the meeting.

 to be an interesting point, given my morning today at the National Archives (NARA).  In my understanding, committee records actually become the property of the Center for Legislative Archives (part of NARA), either at the end of each Congress, or when Chairs retire or are replaced.  Member papers, however, are property of the members themselves, which is why members often choose repositories like local universities to give their papers to.  Sometimes quarrels have apparently erupted over who owns a particular set of records, since it isn't always clear which of a chair's records apply to a committee (and are therefore public), and which are member records (and are therefore private.)

In any case, records that are clearly committee records have a future prescribed for them by law: they're supposed to pass into the safe keeping of the CLA at NARA.  This strikes me as a good idea, or else you'd have committee chairs changing hands from one person to the next, with often varying staff and probably different records management techniques.  It probably makes sense to move the records to an archival setting at the end of each Congress for this reason.

That said, I also don't particularly like the wording of "shall be available until [anything]", since that should be something more like "shall be available in perpituity".  This is our legislative history, as it's created. 

Certainly, CLA intends for all of these records to remain publicly available, but whether that means online as S1 stipulates is in question.  In other words, we may have a situation in which the initial disclosure of committee documents online provides better access than their permanent storage.

I can think of two piecemeal solutions to this offhand.  One is for the committees to proactively maintain separate digital records of transcripts, linked from their website, building a digital history of proceedings (this may be a bad idea, since committee chairs might make bad archivists, and have, to say the least, an adversarial relationship to one another).  Another solution would be to make sure that the web capture being done every 2 years by CLA involves all of the committee documents.  (I think this would also be difficult, since the capture is sort of automatic, and they'd need to have every committee ready to go at the same time--hardly a solution to this kind of question.)

I think this leaves the last point, about what happens to the online committee documents after each Congress, unresolved.

Turns out it's probably easier to get committee documents online than it will be to get them to stay there.

John

Attached is a short a summary of the draft rule changes and OMB Watch's recommendations to strengthen the draft language.  And here is a link for the draft rules: http://www.ombwatch.org/budget/012808-1400-proposed%20Finance%20Committee%20rules%20change%20_2_.pdf

 

Please join us in urging the committee to correct these problems.  Calls should be made to Bill Dauster, Deputy Staff Director and General Counsel for the Senate Finance Committee at 202-224-4515.    

 

 

 

Sean Moulton
Director, Federal Information Policy
OMB Watch
1742 Connecticut Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20009
Phone: (202) 234-8494
Fax: (202) 234-8584




Combined Federal Campaign #10201



John Wonderlich

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Jan 29, 2008, 2:13:58 AM1/29/08
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sorry, one more thing.  I should correct where I said that most committees don't publish votes, budgets, or correspondence, since it is misleading.  Some committees make a point of posting many of their documents, including especially oversight documents and correspondence.  See particularly the House Judiciary Committee and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

David All

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Mar 4, 2008, 2:00:51 PM3/4/08
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One of the chapter’s of the Open House Project that I focused on (with Paul Blumenthal) was the dire need to update Franking Rules governing a Member’s use of the Internet to connect with their constituents.

Since then, I’ve been hearing quite a bit from insiders on Cap Hill and in the Committee along from reporters that the Rules are going to get a major overhaul. I’m hearing that the effort is almost single-handedly being led by Republican Vern Ehlers.

Do any of you have contact with the Chairman’s office to help confirm or deny if the Rules are getting an update?

Also, does anyone have a link to the actual Rules that I can link to? I didn’t find them in the Open House Project Resources so that leads me to believe they’re not online.

Thanks,

David

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Peggy Garvin

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Mar 5, 2008, 9:09:48 AM3/5/08
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Is this what you are looking for:

http://cha.house.gov/PDFs/franking/franking2.pdf

 

Peggy

 


John Wonderlich

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Mar 6, 2008, 1:23:29 PM3/6/08
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Just wanted to make the quick point that I've seen leadership figures from both parties in the House pushing for sensible franking reform.  Seems to be a bipartisan effort.

David All

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Mar 6, 2008, 1:40:09 PM3/6/08
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Agreed.

Had a good conversation with a key staffer in Pelosi’s office yesterday about the issue. There was some discussion about having a bipartisan group of citizens (us) and Congressional staff to start working on the issue.

I raised my hand as a volunteer for the effort. I’ll send a note out to the group for other participants as I hear about it.

Progress, slowly.
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