ETech 09: Greg Elin, "Mr. Hacker Goes to Washington"

okay well I’m gonna get started thank you very well thank you all this is a mr. hacker goes to Washington my name is Greg Allen I’m actually the chief evangelist at the sunlight foundation i have a new title this year so a quick orientation on our nation started with hackers which i think it’s pretty important it was it was a big change in the system and when it began very important information was always a key part one of the founding one of our founding hackers was a printer himself but back then p2p really meant press + parliament and that has a big consequence as we move forward to today there’s been a huge tradition in the United States of people being involved with their government I mean that’s the founding principle people go individuals going to DC and making a difference but what’s happening right now is that everybody we have this different trend of how people go to DC they don’t go as individual representatives they can go in a different way because of the Internet and the technology so what we have happening now in 2009 we have all these different organized groups of hackers and other people that are bringing people to DC bringing people to local government Oh sunlight foundation of which I’m a part is kind of driven by two quotes sunlight is the bestest infected by disinfectants by Louis Brandeis and given enough eyeballs all bugs or shallow so kind of combining those two ideas and trying to be a catalyst for greater government openness and transparency so the sunlight foundation we’re nonpartisan we’re a non-profit executive director Alan Miller we do it we have a multi-million dollar budget but we do a lot of Grants and we’re actually growing we work very much on digitizing data we’re very interested in the nexus of money and influence and politics we start it by just looking at Congress from 2000 which started by just focusing on Congress because they’re the people’s representatives but we’re starting to get in now the larger federal government and also to state we do investigations we have some journalists that are on staff and the sunlight labs which I actually helped put together is very focused on leading by example by making things we’re actually hiring at the sunlight labs we’re going to be hiring four or five people and we’re transforming the labs from a kind of internal mashup house to open source development the big goal here is actually reestablish an improving trust and that you can do that by more openness and transparency and also seizing opportunities now this opportunity is not merely the first african-american president for the United States or change in political parties which always creates opportunities but the fact is I have been to an event like this and the real opportunity is that everybody has a cell phone and when they are standing there waiting for the speakers that happen because you have to come very early to an event like this they are out they are playing everyone is playing on their cell phones so what’s it like in Washington DC i have come to feel i came to washington DC three years ago in 2006 and I’ve come to feel like it’s really like a big University with a very large ROTC group I’m very important thing is that majority rules almost absolutely in Washington DC so a couple of quick anecdotes because it was only recently in 2006 that we had to change a majority of Congress and so what was what we heard happening is that the majority would get the new blackberries and they would give the minority the old blackberries many of the committee’s the committee’s are really the domain of whoever is the chair and the chair is the most senior person for the majority party many of the committees in Congress and there are about 30 committees in each the house and the Senate have a majority website and a minority website when they switch when when the majority changes offices change because you get the big office if you’re in the majority for certain things and sometimes your number of staff also changes so if you imagine back to the University model you can imagine that you’re suddenly one day there’s an election and the next semester starts and the English department has to change places with the science department I like to think of the Internet as Ethernet I really love how Ethernet works under the hood that anyone can talk that it’s kind of a public network that there’s a protocol

for backing off when there’s a collision really exciting no prioritization but if the internet is Ethernet Congress is a token ring Network if you think about it parliamentary procedure is really about making sure people have the floor so there’s a talking stick you have a certain amount of time on the floor no one else can talk while you’re talking everyone has to wait their turns and this trickles out to the way the rest of the way that the rest of Congress works there were simply no blackberries or cell phones or computers when these procedures and these institutions were set up I was watching the Senate the other day do a roll call vote a hundred senators roll call vote more than ten minutes because they do it they do they call audibles also Congress’s paper-based it’s still a reality more things returning electronic but the reality is that it’s paper base of course and I know that Tim is really into this we fantasize about Congress having versioning system for legislation we keep thinking we’ve got it for code why can’t they do it for legislation we know that it works for documents etc etc and I have to say this is actually a little pet peeve of mine legal code is not the same as software code very few of you are writing software code that is designed to change things that are fifty or a hundred years old so if you think about it we’re very fortunate we live completely in the digital world are the tools that we’re using to create things in the software world are the tools that are using to consume those and underneath the hood is a very rigorous logic in which we’re all kind of trained and if and we’re trained every day by writing the code because if we don’t write it correctly it doesn’t compile it doesn’t run we have this objective third party that’s saying this doesn’t work with legal code it’s all about fuzzy rhetoric so here’s an example as you recall I know that we’ve had a lot of budget crisis that have happened recently etc but as you recall last fall there was a banking crisis that began and there was a desire to move through a very large package seven hundred billion dollars in order to prop up the banking system he had to move through the house and he had to move through the Senate it failed in the house and the Senate had to get it through now the Senate had to move quickly so oops sorry okay so what we’re looking out here what we’re looking at is the Employee Retirement Income Security Act a modification on the employee retirement security act around the provision of mental health and substance related disorder benefits what the Senate decide to do or what I think the or what happened was you’ll notice the bottom line strike they made an amendment to this bill which was already moving through they made an amendment to strike all after the enacting clause and insert the following so if you think about this you’re writing code the code is designed I don’t know to be a word processor and someone comes along and basically says my patch is to turn your word processor into I don’t know a database and so that’s what a patch looks like in Congress or what it can look like and I’m not exactly sure how we do versioning on that this is a video we actually made of the different versions of the bill as it got longer and longer and more earmarks were added you’ll notice that the upper right of this bill there’s actually a link to a drive somewhere on Congress’s network for an xml version of the bill so Congress actually has more than ninety five percent of its bills being written in XML which is actually really cool but we don’t see them until later on in the process we don’t necessarily see them at the earliest stages we don’t necessarily see all bills it even if they’re available in XML we don’t see them right away they have to be enrolled on the floor they have to go through different processes a lot of bills do come up but not all of them come up they move through very quickly so the big point here is the government it’s not so much that it has lots of legacy systems government overall is a legacy system it is an attempt it is designed around getting groups of people to work together and coordinate their activities and it is based on old and it’s designed

around much older technologies from the basically from the Constitution forward so one of the primary assumptions that is embedded in that’s an that’s embedded in the legacy system is that it assumes one Mouse this is actually a project there was a person i think last year is this HP or Microsoft I think did this research where but it really interests eat really interesting work but the interesting thing here of a course is what happens when you have more than one Mouse I always look at this because I imagine the guy with one mouse that’s the elected official then you’ve got the lobbyists and the activists surrounding them but what’s interesting what they found out is once they added more than one Mouse you had to change the underlying software application because the applications have been designed for one user at a time this is the government this is the government operating stack starts at the Constitution I know you all know this but i want to emphasize it there are three branches of government there’s and they are equal branches of government and their checks and balances there’s Congress the executive branch and the judicial Congress has two houses each with their own traditions and rules each with their own set of committees every piece of legislation must move through both of them and get reconciled before it goes to the president assign each representative 435 of them in the House of Representatives represents more than 600,000 people in their district that’s really what elephant when you start thinking about them trying to handle email from those different representatives from those different citizens and you can imagine that if you have 600,000 people majority is majority is only 300 and 300 and 1,000 I mean it’s not a lot it’s not a lot of people so there are so it’s very big it’s very it’s very big and it’s really interesting when you go into the halls of Congress and if you look at congressional website pages there’s there’s much more emphasis on the representative as an individual then there is say the institution of the representation for that state what just as when the committee’s changeover every time the individual who’s elected changeover they are the representative it’s there’s no real sense and you get that as you move through the offices and other things like that what is you see it uncommon underneath on the executive branch lots of different departments this is only a subset of the different departments that exist on the executive branch the executive branch does most of the really the day-to-day lifting of what happens in government sunlights started with Congress we’re now starting to do the executive branch we’re not really involved in judicial judicial branch of course is the one that does the interpretation and makes and makes calls between things i love the slide I love this graphic because that’s essentially what the executive branch looks like there are 13 more than 1300 agencies in the executive branch some of them are independent agencies meaning they were created by Congress rather than the executive branch the FEC is a kind of independent agency and it’s 2,000 people and it’s considered a rather small agency with 2,000 people so the IT operation inside of the FEC is basically about managing fifteen hundred or more computers and laptops and things like that the FCC the FCC does a lot more than simply what’s what’s happening on television there’s all sorts of things with all with a lot of RFID etc etc RFID but anything that has a radio signal and B and it was really set up to cover a very small thing initially and its power has expanded exponentially as new technologies have taken advantage of the radio spectrum so it’s a very and the FCC is going to be a very interesting place so some other other facts here think about every agency is its own enterprise accounting between these different agencies actually start it back under Nixon total IT budget annually 71 billion dollars two points out 2.75 million civilian staff there’s actually a government website that is about staff across the government and

some interesting you can go get all sorts of federal statistics on this site I just called up a few brought up a few numbers here so you can get a sense now this is very interesting more than thirty percent of the civilian workforce many senior positions are retiring are turning over in the next five years yeah it’s kind of still there’s still a big turnover but I check this statistic I’ve got a couple of different statistics but between now and two thousand 12 there’s a lot there’s a lot there’s a very big turnover that’s happening so big opportunity real opportunities Washington DC has a beautiful subway system I really like this it’s really lovely subway system it’s lovely subway system because it was built fairly recently but the reality with infrastructure this is the New York City subway system New York was one of the first subways that was built and one of the things that happens when you build infrastructure and you’re an early mover is you are stuck with that as the technology improves this is the internal IT structure of government the United States government was very smart they invested in my crested in mainframe computers they invested early in automating things so we may laugh it that we may laughing we may look at government and say my god I can’t believe that they have these systems they’re so old and outdated but it’s really the New York City subway system that they have land it with and are trying to change and it’s not an easy it’s not easy also Congress does has a subway system so nothing significant here other than I found a picture of it and I thought it was really cool this is a graphic of the procurement for the Department of Defense well I you know there’s a I don’t have a government runs on I don’t know what the right word would be but the decisions have to be made in advance of the activities it is a pre hoc world in government right so if you’re and this is one of the other big differences between the world we live in it’s very hard to fork a highway or a submarine so there are so there is a pattern where you have to make decisions and you have to make commitments that are going to happen over many years and you have to make them up front in a very rapidly changing marketplace technology cultural environment and as we know very well on geo political environment so how do you do that so basically everything is thought it’s you know measure once you know measure measure twice cut once and you think about the implications of that when you’re trying to procure it I recently heard from some friends at GSA that they are now working on their 2011 budgets I think the other thing is this is this ends up looking the way it does not because people don’t know what they’re doing is because they’ve made mistakes and they’re trying to figure out how to do it better exactly so there’s also a lot of other people that are in Washington DC there are think tanks everywhere you can’t turn around without knocking over a non-profit or a lobbyist and there’s also something called the Federal Advisory Committee forget what the last one is but faka for short there are more than 1,000 ongoing committees that are set up for the public for individuals with expertise to interact with the 1300 agencies some 75,000 people so they’re actually as a mechanism for expertise to come into the different agencies reason it was set up is you don’t want to be you don’t want to necessarily let people provide advice for free to people in government you would say why not well the problem is is you know what happens if Microsoft is providing advice on what kind of infrastructure to design to design or Google is providing advice so you’re very cautious about what the quid pro quo is so it’s act so it’s actually so there’s a process set up for that okay I’m going to pick up the pace a little bit gramm-leach-bliley sunlight focused a lot on money and politics a website tracks contributions you can actually see who voted no for the repeal of the glass seeing you lack

versus who voted yes in terms of their total campaign contribution dollars it’s not always this obvious but and we can’t say for certain what is whether there’s just merely correlation here or whether there’s causation but this is the but the repeal of the glass-steagall Act remove certain types of oversight and disclosure rules associated in with the market I love this video if you ever get a chance to to google it or to see it it’s the housing prices from the early 1900’s to today basically graft as a roller coaster that you can ride this is where what it looked like in 2007 when this video was made and they stopped coming back to the coming back to the bailout the initial draft of the legislation from the Fed was only three pages they asked for seven hundred billion dollars and what really got people in saying other than that number is section eight the review where it essentially says that pursuant to this Authority non-reviewable nobody can challenge it friend of mine Bill Allison at the sunlight foundation actually said that he did some other he looked at some other some other legislation and some other rules and said that that’s actually not uncommon because you don’t want every decision that is made with respect to a contractor being examined by a congressional committee think about the boat what’s happened with the Boeing and the Airbus and what kind of time that’s added to the decision or you know figuring things out I wanted to try to impress upon people here the scale of what a billion dollars is so I figured I thought about it and you know a floppy disk 1.4 million dollars 1.4 million that means the stimulus is a 787 gigabyte bill hour 2009 budget is a three point one terabyte budget and that’s the u.s. debt 11 terabytes hi well I you know really does that sound like a small scale for everybody I felt like I I have such a visceral sense of what of the difference between what a terabyte holds and what a megabyte holds yeah but think about okay all right Beck didn’t work I guess something inward okay I guess I pegged myself right okay well billion in trillion okay so 2009 budget is three point one trillion dollars when you start doing numbers that big and you’ve got this group of people that you have to get it by in Congress what you begin to do is you have to build consensus and participation these are earmarks only from a portion only from one particular bill not associated with that with the bill that we are looking with the with the stimulus package but you have this is how the deals are sweetened by cutting earmark deals or making sure that people everyone benefits from what’s happening okay now at the same time government actual actually really works and it works in amazing ways it’s really quite impressive I like this and i think it’s an untold untold story since the nineteen seven in the 1970s people started to try to track how government was spending it how government was spending the money and it started with external people doing financial reports an accounting trying to guess what was going on in the government and that led actually under Nixon to reorganize the office of management and budget and Congress often also set up the Congressional Budget Office those things did not exist until the 1970s and if you think about it we’re kind of in the mainframe era of computers just you know at that point in time we’re getting more office automation it’s you know it’s the early 70s and so we so they start to try to do accounting in the 1980s Reagan comes into office he wants to make government more efficient the they’re talking about bloat they’re worried about all the different all the different spending and we get some interest we get the federal Managers financial integrity act we get the first consolidated reporting so before Reagan was in office there was no consolidated

accounting across the federal government in the executive branch 1990s the trend continues remember this system is only kind of updating and instituting new ideas every four or eight years some big things happened so we get our first chief financial officers in the 90s or I think that might have actually just been a reform act but two big systems that are in bold fads and F pds fads is for the financial Awards accounting data system so any type of Social Security or any type of grant that’s given out to individuals is the fad system roughly I think three hundred million dollars a year something three hundred billion dollars a year sorry and then the fpd s set up in 99 these are both set up in the early 1990s federal procurement data system every government contract for more than 25 thousand dollars has to be reported in 2f PDS so that system actually existed and for many years you’ve been able to download that data but if you want to download that data of all the government contract transactions it was basically a cobalt data file and it had and every transaction had a hundred and twenty fields associated with it not exactly easy for ordinary human beings to use in the 2000s right George Bush passes the e-government act the trend continues we also get the federal financial accountability and transparency act that was sponsored by Coburn and Obama and a co-sponsor was McCain and the federal and the faux foie de Act the federal accountability and transparency act required an end user searchable website for looking through the FA the fads and the FPS and that’s established a site called and so is interesting because we also now getting so this has happens in 2006 now we have the recovery gov and we have the open government directive coming up which I’ll talk more about there’s also a site web content gov because there’s actually a web council of there’s actually Council of web managers inside the government GPS positioning systems CDC did an absolutely amazing design and has information about how they did that design on their site so you can see that the web is really taking hold XML is arriving the middle one is actually called ET gov for emerging technology gov and also XML in the house washington DC the municipality has a wonderful data catalog where you can go you can see all the different data feeds that they put online so why mr. hacker went to Washington 911 I was in New York and I remember people trying to share trying to find people trying to share information at that time and I think what we forget is that when 911 happened a lot of the tools we have today didn’t exist this is the very well-known technorati graph it goes from 0 3 2 07 from 2 million blogs no.3 278 million blogs in 07 here’s what’s happening on the political spectrum at that time so September 11th happened before all of this so meetup gets set up very quickly after September 11 and there are I think that there were a lot of people who were very close to the web who we experienced we’re trying to figure out how to use it and those of us that were in New York and helping out in a variety of different ways and people who were sending emails into the Red Cross of offering assistance people found out very quickly that we had no ad hoc systems we could stand up to track the requests to track the assets that people will offering to track the social networks this was absent so I think it’s kind of interesting what begins to take place we get this and which if I go back for one second Howard Dean has ended by the beginning of 2004 he’s had this meteoric rise raising information raising stuff on the web web blogs are still not very big he’s raised a lot of money and then we get this pop of activity we get the major web two point O site set up we get the web two point O summit suddenly appearing down there you can see blue state digital is created out of people who work for Howard Dean and we get the personal democracy forum set up by Andrew O’Shea and mekas if free to talk about how people are starting to use technology in the web and you can see what happens YouTube my society gets going sunlight is in 2006 the lab is set up shortly afterwards we get other sites up hearing we come up to

we get the a prince eight principles of open data and we’re at the 2008 elections you can see the rapid movement of people coming to this this is an early earmark project that we did but back then into that it had only been a year before this is 2006 only a year before was housing maps com come up suddenly we can start tracking information how people are doing on their different groups we got we have data coming from social networks other people are starting to get involved in the politics and we have a new type of mass participation by 2008 these are all of the Obama house parties that were set up represent it on Google Earth none of this was available in two thousand at the previous presidential cycle in 2004 the new federal CIO is a vet kundra he’s the one who did the data catalog at Washington DC and he has long had this image of the digital public square some cool opportunities that are happening the SEC is going to XBRL and better markup that’s a huge opportunity USA spending describing this this is the front end to the fads of the fpd s it’s actually based on a web site we did fed spending org and the it’s based on a site that nonprofit and they actually bought the code and they have a wiki set up that very few people know about the open house project interactive with members of Congress and sorry the open house project set up a great email list for making recommendations about congressional websites and you’ve all seen Thomas gov gov tracked out us takes information from Thomas gov makes it available in XML and rdf there on the linked open data map open Congress is a sunlight related project by the participatory politics foundation it’s a social network this is a big deal what’s happening with the recovery gov and the agency gov sites the law mandated that they have a site up that show this in from that showed what was happening with the money the exciting thing is that every other agency also had to create a web web pages that were all at their agency gov / recovery and has to be reporting via RSS this is the first time we have seen web native public facing interagency communications and it’s setting off a really great dynamic and this was all launched in one month which tells you something about the growing competence of the web developers inside of government and the prop and the value of doing things in a web way this is a this is a really big deal it’s called the open government directive you can google it you can find out more Obama signed almost in the first week in office he signed the open government he signed a memo about a government transparency and participants should be transparent participatory and collect in collaborative a hundred and twenty days from then so sometime in May there is going to be a directive issue it’s called the open government directive and it’s going to be specific information for agencies to do to make themselves more transparent participatory and collaborative the CTO is going to be involved in that the CIO of a vet kundra is going to be involved in it and there’s and you all have an opportunity to be involved in it as well so this is a real thing that’s happening one of the things we’re doing is our open government list where we’re tracking ideas that we can feed in for what kind of what we would like to have as a part of that operation GOP calm has an RFP out right now because they’re redesigning they’ve already added an API to GOP gov because they want to catch up to what happened during the last election Mobile is going to be huge in 2010 huge oh this is what’s happening it’s sunlight we’re working on building a data Commons we’re doing doing more open source and we’re going to press for more real-time disclosure at the end of this month march 31st submit your applications for apps for America $15,000 grand prize there are already 300 people on the sunlight labs developer list we have some interesting people that are working on applications so this is a real if you want to do something go check out apps for America great I there some all you have to do is use some of our api’s and you can do whatever you want we’re going to start doing hackathons at sunlight I think we’re going to do one at web two point O Expo show us the data I’m going to move a little bit quicker here these are some really important dates we just finished

transparency camp thank you there’s another government actually tomorrow night in San Francisco at meta Webb’s office there’s an open data meet up for a group out here in San Francisco the barcamp government to point o the open government directive is in May they’re going to Vivek Kundra has said that they’re going to launch day to gov I don’t have any more information other than they’re going to launch it and then of course the the o’reilly conference the government nope I want to just go back I’m almost and let’s see these are the patterns that I’m seen that have worked really well you can create model alternatives Carl Malamud did this with the SEC with Edgar putting the information online we did it with feds with OMB watch did it with Fed spending org you can create the alternator on the web people start to use it and force government to adopt it you can aggregate information you can have hosted discussions distributed projects these are the big challenges licensing agreements access for disability access access for disability but web standards actually provide for a lot gets you eighty percent of the way there for doing compliance our big attitude public means online you have to have data that’s human and machine friendly there’s something called the eight principles of open data which we’re pushing to get into government to understand that moving towards more timely information some great places to start sunlight labs API there’s an email list called the poly parts list govtrack taught us is really good help government that’s it thanks this is actually the growth of the word transparency in the new that came from the New York Times using the new New York Times API from 1992 2008 I there a few minutes left for a question right so you you’ve got you’ve got you’ve got both you have both it is it’s so you and if you’ve ever looked at a government contract it’s it’s fascinating because you see the support for minorities you see the support for you know all these different requirements which really are just this silt built up over time of people trying to fix problems so you’ve got two obstacles you’ve got actual laws and you’ve got rules that interpret those laws part of the open government directive includes identifying things that need to change so that so that’s part of the impact that we can have and that the current administration hope app hopes to have through the open government direct through the open government directive but is it is very true that there is not there’s the government is not very good at a time to add time to live how long something is good for I draw any other questions okay right right there’s a there’s a there

there there definitely a lot of people that are in the politics space that are intrigued by the notions of of how to do collaborative policy development collaborative law development how do you have debate online where you can detect the consensus of the group it’s not a big area of focus for sunlight because we’re more focused on pulling information out of the government then this but it’s clearly a big issue of how do you deal with 3,000 or 30,000 comments on a piece of legislation I personally think that someone will figure out how to do that and I don’t know I don’t know how to get that solution so but I know that it’s only going to come with more information being online more tools being available so I think we’re seeing it and I think Congress has started more members of Congress or experimenting with electronic town halls and there’s a group called USA speaks that does some very interesting work on coordinating face-to-face and mediated large-scale discussions but it’s a it’s a very challenging area just not one that we do a lot with dollars that are voted against uh it sounds like a great thing for apps for America contest no i don’t i actually don’t they’re definitely data from the washington post and other places that are tracking bills and they’re tracking votes so you can go to Washington Post has a good votes database gov tracks has a good votes database part of what the sunlight labs API offers is simply an ID registry so that you can if you you can get a member of Congress and you can get their ID in other systems the bio guide the gov track the open secrets The Washington Post vote database Washington Post has also done something called who runs gov that they’ve just that they’ve just launched so but I don’t know anybody that’s actually tried to correlate dollars voted against either in terms of but it’s also very nasty problem because how do you measure a dollar you measure it as a taxed you measured as a directive etc and I’m supposed to be wrapping up but I’m happy to talk to well yeah I mean I should really wrap I should I should wrap do I have two minutes left I should just end it I got two minutes okay I don’t I don’t know if I would recommend a particular I don’t think that there is a once I would basically I would say one that there’s already a trend of people beginning to use the new web two point O tools so I would actually say the first thing to do is to make web a strategic asset inside of the organization and appoint a new media director and build a web team and start experimenting with a range of tools right start twittering start using RSS the open house project has recommendations on how members of Congress information to be better I would certainly say to make your information more transparent to your community I think the members that are starting to make their information more transparent that are starting to do videos are finding that it is resonating with their community and I think any type of web two point O development is an iterative interactive process I don’t think that there’s a single solution yes I i think that there’s a i think that there’s as you start to use these tools though they come with affordances that are hard to resist you know that it there’s a there’s an aspect to you can’t get real transparency unless you’re in the real-time world because if you’re if

you’re only filing lobbyist information or campaign finance information significantly after the fact that doesn’t provide transparency anyway or the transparency it does provide is forensic transparency so i think something like twitter is very powerful because it teaches people it gives them the chance to experience a level of interactivity in real time engagement that they don’t get through other things and that that creates a positive cycle of other types of development but yeah any I mean anything can be gained I think that that’s I’m going to well after we’ve done politicians I think that there’s a real dearth of information about the constituents what is the make up of a congressional district what is its money make up that we don’t have good profiles of congressional districts and their behavior nobody has really developed something that just simply looks at all of the newspaper articles all of the comments all of the blogs and kind of comes up with a weekly gestalt of what the community is talking about so the i think that there’s there’s obviously the executive branch there’s driving down but you’ve got the politicians but just having a good profile on the politic the politicians we can’t have a good profile in the politicians unless we have a good context on who they are representing and that’s what I’d say thank you very much for your for on sticking around for all of us you