White House launches ethics.gov website to improve data transparency

The White House launched a new website Thursday (March 8, 2012) – ethics.gov.   The new website seeks to promote government transparency as well as fulfill a campaign promise for President Obama to  “create a centralized Internet database of lobbying reports, ethics records, and campaign finance filings in a searchable, sortable, and downloadable format.”   From ethics.gov, users can access the following databases:

  • White House Visitor Records
  • Office of Government Ethics Travel Reports
  • Lobbying Disclosure Act Data
  • Department of Justice Foreign Agents Registration Act Data
  • Federal Election Commission Individual Contribution Reports
  • Federal Election Commission Candidate Reports
  • Federal Election Commission Committee Reports

The official White House factsheet can be found here.

“It’s important that the administration is playing a new role in gathering ethics and influence information through a single search point,” said John Wonderlich, policy director for the Sunlight Foundation, an organization that works to increase access to government information.  It is important to note that this new role is historically uncommon at the global level. Nathaniel Heller of Global Integrity said that in other countries, it’s usually non-governmental organizations putting together a couple of them, and because of the difficulty, they don’t capture as much data from as many agencies.

The launch of ethics.gov is an important milestone in government transparency.  However, Politico and many other organizations continue to harshly criticize the Obama Administration’s success with its open government initiatives.  Wonderlich said Thursday he still labels the Obama administration as only “partially fulfilling” its transparency promises, but that the launch of Ethics.gov helps a bit toward keeping those promises.

How does the launch of ethics.gov fit into the overall success record concerning government transparency?  What do you make of the new role the administration is playing?