Category Archives: Publications

June 4, 2015

Preparing for New York’s Next Constitutional Convention Referendum
GothamGazetteLogoThe Gotham Gazette publishes J.H. Snider’s call for significant advance preparation, including innovative educational activities, for New York’s November 7, 2017 referendum on whether to convene a state constitutional convention.

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December 8, 2014

The Capital (Annapolis, Maryland)Gov.-elect Hogan faces K-12 test
The Capital publishes J.H. Snider’s analysis of the power struggle over membership in both the Anne Arundel County Board of Education and the commission that nominates its members.

November 20, 2014

The Capital (Annapolis, Maryland)School governance can be fixed
The Capital publishes J.H. Snider’s critique of the school governance system in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, including his recommendation for executive branch appointment of the superintendent.

November 4, 2011

Constitutional Convention records speak for themselves
WarwickBeaconLogo--PNGThe Warwick Beacon and Cranston Herald publish J.H. Snider and Beverly Clay’s critique of the state constitutional convention historical arguments widely published in local Rhode Island newspapers.

 

October 24, 2014

Constitutional Convention and the out-of-state-money bogeyman
ProvidenceJournalFrontPageMasthead--BlueThe Providence Journal publishes J.H. Snider and Beverly Clay’s critique of campaign finance claims made in the current advocacy campaign over convening a constitutional convention in Rhode Island.  Covered in Rick Hasen’s Election Law Blog.

October 21, 2014

Constitutional Convention purpose? Democratic reform
ValleyBreezeNewspapersLogoThe Valley Breeze publishes J.H. Snider and Beverly Clay’s critique of arguments concerning the November 4, 2014 state constitutional convention referendum that have been widely published in Rhode Island local newspapers.

October 17, 2014

1787: Vote No Against Convening a National Constitutional Convention
GoLocalProvGoLocalProv publishes J.H. Snider’s satire on the constitutional convention debate currently taking place in Rhode Island.

September 25, 2014

R.I. handbook shows blatant bias
ProvidenceJournalFrontPageMasthead--BlueThe Providence Journal publishes J.H. Snider and Beverly Clay’s critique of Rhode Island’s 2014 Voter Information Handbook and proposal for a different method of providing such information.  Covered in Rick Hasen’s Election Law Blog.

August 2, 2014

R.I.’s poor preparation for convention
ProvidenceJournalFrontPageMasthead--BlueThe Providence Journal publishes J.H. Snider and Beverly Clay’s critique of Rhode Island’s Bi-partisan Preparatory Commission to provide information to voters about Rhode Island’s upcoming state constitutional convention referendum.  Covered in Rick Hasen’s Election Law Blog.

June 13, 2014

‘Dark money’ drives R.I. constitutional convention votes
ThProvidenceJournalFrontPageMasthead--BlueProvidence Journal publishes J.H. Snider and Beverly Clay’s critique of Rhode Island’s state constitutional convention campaign finance disclosure laws.

March 21, 2014

R.I. needs a constitutional convention
ProvidenceJournalFrontPageMasthead--BlueThe Providence Journal publishes J.H. and Sage Snider’s op-ed providing a historical, political, and democratic analysis of Rhode Island’s November 4, 2014 referendum to convene a constitutional convention.

December 16, 2013

Baltimore SunThe public, not the courts, should decide
J.H. Snider’s op-ed in the Baltimore Sun on the proper role of the judiciary in limiting voters’ ability to choose among political candidates.

September 20, 2013

Updating Americans’ First Amendment Right to Petition Their Government
HarvardLawSchoolLogo--JPEGJ.H. Snider’s luncheon presentation sponsored by theHarvard Journal of Law & Technology, Harvard Law School, Cambridge, Massachusetts.  The presentation includes a Powerpoint and webcast (compatible with Apple’s Quicktime).

August 8, 2013

Think Tanks’ Dirty Little Secret: Power, Public Policy, and Plagiarism
Harvard University's Edmond J. Safra Center for EthicsThe Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University publishes J.H. Snider’s working paper on the incentives for credit taking vs. giving at Washington, DC public policy think tanks.  Covered in Think Tank Watch, August 13, 2013.

May 6, 2013

3rdWorldConferenceOnResearchIntegrity

Alleviating Think Tank Plagiarism
J.H. Snider’s presentation at the 3rd World Conference on Research Integrity, Montreal, Canada.

January 21, 2013

The Huffington PostThe Presidential Inaugural Ticket Sweepstakes
The Huffington Post publishes J.H. Snider’s commentary critiquing the misleading and undemocratic way Congress has been allocating tickets to the presidential inaugural swearing-in.

January 15, 2013

TheHillLogoPresidential Inaugural Pork
The Hill publishes J.H. Snider’s op-ed critiquing the way the President and Congress have been allocating inaugural tickets to their supporters at public expense.

January 4, 2013

Education WeekIn the Dark About Early School Buses
Education Week publishes J.H. Snider’s commentary on school bus scheduling secrecy in K12 public schools.

December 12, 2012

PoliticoWashington’s Evolving Think Tanks
Politico publishes J.H. Snider’s commentary on what Senator DeMint’s move to the Heritage Foundation reveals about Washington’s evolving think tanks.  Covered in Think Tank Watch.

December 4, 2012

The State Of MarylandJ.H. Snider’s written Testimony concerning needed reforms to Maryland’s Public Information Act submitted to the Maryland General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Transparency and Open Government.

November 5, 2012

Maryland manipulates ‘majority’ vote
MarylandReporter.com publishes J.H. Snider’s commentary critiquing the procedures of the Maryland State Board of Elections.  Reposted in the Washington Post-Examiner.

October 18, 2012

The PatchSpending on ballot questions highest in Maryland’s history
Local Patches publish J.H. Snider’s article on the extraordinary spending on Maryland’s statewide ballot questions.

October 17, 2012

Snider’s prepared Testimony concerning needed reforms to Maryland’s Open Meetings Act before the Maryland General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Transparency and Open Government.

Covered in the MarylandReporter.org‘s Committee asks for recommended changes in Open Meetings Act, October 18, 2012.

September 23, 2012

Baltimore SunOn gambling vote, what is meant by a ‘majority’?
The print edition of the Baltimore Sun publishes J.H. Snider’s commentary arguing that Maryland’s General Assembly, depending on its political self interest, has inconsistently interpreted majority clauses in Maryland’s Constitution.

September 23, 2012

The Huffington PostThe White House’s We The People Petition Website: First Year Report Card
The Huffington Post publishes J.H. Snider’s 1st year report card on the White House’s We the People petition website.

August 31, 2012

AACPS Creates Online Video Archive of BOE meetings
The Severna Park Patch publishes J.H. Snider’s commentary on the accessibility of the local public school system’s public meetings.

July 19, 2012

Maryland General Assembly Releases Beta Legislative Website 2.0
Patches in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, publish J.H. Snider’s coverage of the most recent meeting of the Maryland General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Transparency and Open Government.

July 18, 2012

J.H. Snider’s prepared Testimony concerning the future of the General Assembly’s legislative information website before the Maryland General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Transparency and Open Government.  A video of the testimony, including Q&A with the legislators, can be found here, starting at 1:06:20.

May 8, 2012

The Huffington PostThe Real Meaning of the GSA Scandal
J.H. Snider’s Huffington Post article critiquing public’s fixation on a scandal involving negligible waste.  TR Daily reports on the comparison drawn between the GSA and NTIA-FCC.TR Daily


March 12, 2012

The Federal Agency You’ve Never Heard of
J.H. Snider’s Huffington Post article critiquing the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s management of spectrum, including its culture of secrecy.  For more information, see NTIA Corruption Initiative.

March 11, 2012

The Washington Examiner

Here’s why Maryland politicos must convene a constitutional convention
The print edition of the Washington Examiner publishes J.H. Snider’s commentary observing that, when the issue involves a “political question,” Maryland has one standard for upholding the law for average citizens and another for the politically powerful.  Cited in a March 12, 2013 Washington Examiner editorial, Trashing the democratic process in Maryland.

February 12, 2012

It will take a con-con to untangle Maryland’s gerrymanders
The Washington PostThe Washington Post publishes J.H. Snider’s commentary arguing that the Maryland General Assembly has a conflict of interest in solving the gerrymander problem, which is the type of democratic reform problem constitutional conventions were invented to address.

January 19, 2012

Baltimore SunState ignores voters on constitutional convention; Majority voted in favor of con-con in 2010, yet it hasn’t been convened
The Baltimore Sun publishes J.H. Snider’s commentary arguing that the refusal of Maryland’s Governor and General Assembly to convene the con-con voters supported violates Maryland’s Constitution.  Paul Jacob’s Common Sense covered it under the headline Constitutional Coup d’état?  For more information, see Marylanders for a State Constitutional Convention at MarylandConCon.org.

December 8, 2011

Government-wide Information Sharing for Democratic Accountability
The Center for Technology Innovation at the Brookings Institution publishes J.H. Snider’s paper on why the politics of using unique identifiers to track powerful political players across government databases may be less dismal than widely believed.  The Open Government Coalition gives it the lead spot in its weekly newsletter.  It was also covered in the U.K.’s Great Emancipator, the Campaign for a Stronger Democracy’s December Newsletter, and American City & County‘s December Newsletter.


November 19, 2011

Update on the White House’s new petition website 
J.H. Snider’s latest ruminations published on the National Coalition For Dialogue and Deliberation’s community news website.  The Campaign for a Stronger Democracy gives it the lead spot in its November Newsletter.

October 31, 2011

The Case of the Missing White House Petitions 
The Huffington PostJ.H. Snider’s Huffington Post article on the frustrations, including technical glitches, citizens experience using the White House’s new We The People petition website.  Daily Candy featured two quotes from the article, and Techpresident.com cited it when reporting on the White House’s subsequent announcement that it was working to fix the technical glitches.

October 27, 2011

Whither Journalistic Ethics?  Why Politico has fallen short in its coverage of spectrum issues 
The Huffington PostJ.H. Snider’s Huffington Post article on the material but undisclosed conflicts of interest Politico has in covering spectrum policy issues.

October 24, 2011

The Huffington Post

The Broadcast Industry’s Free TV Scam Redux: Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me 
J.H. Snider’s Huffington Post article on the newly announed Free TV and Broadband Coalition.

October 20, 2011

What Is the Democratic Function of the White House’s We The People Petition Website?
The Huffington PostJ.H. Snider’s Huffington Post article critiquing the October 18, 2011 front page article in the Wall Street Journal, which is bereft of understanding the democratic purposes of a petition website.  America Speaks reposted it on its blog Campaign for a Stronger Democracy commented on it.

October 17, 2011

Could Federal Government Privacy Policy Kill Online News? 
The Huffington PostJ.H. Snider’s Huffington Post article discussing an underappreciated linkage between privacy policy and media policy.

October 11, 2011

The White House’s New We the People Petition Website
The Huffington PostJ.H. Snider’s Huffington Post article critiquing the White House’s new website facilitating the public’s First Amendment right to petition its government. The Wall Street Journal reposted it on its blog, and a week later ran a similar story on its front page.

October 5, 2011

The Huffington Post

Soaking the Rich in Obama’s Jobs Plan?  Its multi-billion dollar spectrum giveaway undercuts the president’s populist message
J.H. Snider’s article, published in the Huffington Post and reposted on the Wall Street Journal‘s blog, criticizes the tacit spectrum giveaway contained in the American Jobs Act of 2011.  TR Daily reports on the article.

August 30, 2011

Maryland’s Congressional Redistricting: Let’s Make it Transparent and Accountable
The Severna Park Patch publishes J.H. Snider’s written comments to Maryland’s Congressional redistricting committee regarding the transparencyt of its proceedings.

July 6, 2011

Making Public Community Media Accessible
The Center for Technology Innovation at the Brookings Institution publishes J.H. Snider’s paper on the need to rethink public policy regarding local public media, especially the design and use of public meeting rooms.  The paper is covered in the Deliberative Democracy Consortium’s newsletter and National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation’s monthly update.

March 23, 2011

Maryland’s Open Meetings Act
Maryland Senate testimony by J.H. Snider on House Bill 48.

March 15, 2011

 

Sunshine WeekMaryland’s Public Information Act
Maryland Senate testimony by J.H. Snider on Senate Bill 740, an amended version of House Bill 37 (see February 1, 2011 below).

March 15, 2011

Joint Committee on Transparency and Open Government Act
Maryland Senate testimony by J.H. Snider on Senate Bill 644.

February 17, 2011

Maryland’s Open Meetings Act
Written comments to Maryland House of Delegates by J.H. Snider on  House Bill 48.

February 1, 2011

Maryland’s Public Information Act
Maryland House of Delegates testimony by J.H. Snider on House Bill 37.

November 14, 2010

Give Marylanders the constitutional convention they voted for 
The Washington Post publishes  J.H. Snider’s op-ed on the implications of the results of the Nov. 2 Maryland constitutional convention ballot referendum.  The online version, with a different title and URL, was published on the afternoon of Nov. 13 under the title Con-con promise comes due for O’Malley.

October 22, 2010

Is Con-Con Phobia Justified?
The National Press Club
iSolon sponsored event at the National Press Club, 3:00 pm to 4:30.   The accompanying press release, featured late breaking news from Maryland’s two gubernatorial candidates: O’Malley and Ehrlich Endorse “Yes” Vote On Nov. 2 Maryland Con-Con Ballot Referendum. The event was reported on in the October 25, 2010 issue of the Daily RecordExperts: Md. constitutional convention unlikely.

October 22, 2010

Connecting the Dots for Democratic Accountability
The National Press Club
iSolon sponsored event at the National Press Club, 1:00 pm to 2:30 pm.  At the event, J.H. Snider presented his working paper: Connecting the Dots for Democratic Accountability: Semantic Web-Based Information Sharing Policy and the Future of Investigative Reporting.  An updated draft was posted here on Thursday, October 28, 2010.  The Powerpoint presentation of the paper can be found here.

October 12, 2010

A Historic Year for State Con-Cons
The Huffington PostThe Huffington Post publishes this article co-authored by J.H. Snider and G. Alan Tarr on why 2010 is a historic year for state con-cons, a much ignored and misunderstood mechanism of democratic reform.

September 22, 2010

The road to term limits in Maryland:  A constitutional convention is the state’s best chance for reform
The Baltimore Sun publishes J.H. Snider’s oped arguing that a state constitutional convention may be the best way to pass democratic reforms, such as term limits, where the legislature has a blatant conflict of interest with voters.  For more information on Maryland’s November 2, 2010 ballot item to convene a state constitutional convention, see www.MarylandConCon.org.

August 3, 2010

The New America FoundationThe Challenge of Writing a New Constitution with Direct Democracy, panel presentation at the 2010 Global Forum on Modern Direct Democracy
J.H. Snider describes the role state constitutional conventions should play in the democratic process, with a focus on Maryland’s state constitutional ballot item on November 2, 2010.

June 14, 2010

Education WeekIt’s the Public’s Data: Democratizing School Board Records
Education Week publishes J.H. Snider’s article on using new information technology to enhance accees to public school board records.

May 24, 2010

Federal Trade Commission Staff Discussion Draft: Potential Policy Recommendations to Support the Reinvention of Journalism
The Federal Trade CommissionThe FTC discussion draft cites iSolon.org’s conflict-of-interest automation proposal six times (see March 10, 2010 presentation and working paper below).  The draft will be discussed at the FTC’s June 15, 2010 National Press Club event on the Future of Journalism.

May 8, 2010

 

2010 Freedom of Information Summit
The National Freedom Of Information CoalitionJ.H. Snider presents on Transparency in the Digital Age.  WikiFOIA summarized the summit here.

April 18, 2010

Maryland’s Fake Open Government
The Washington Post publishes J.H. Snider’s commentary on what’s wrong with open government in Maryland and how to fix it.  One proposal is to update Maryland’s Constitution.  For information on how that might happen, see MarylandConCon.org

Snider, J.H., Maryland’s Fake Open Government,Washington Post, April 18, 2010, p. C5.

Throughout the world, democracy has more legitimacy than authoritarianism. That’s why so many rulers profess more adherence to democratic norms than they practice. Classic illustrations include Russia, Iran and Venezuela, which political scientists characterize as “facade,” “pseudo” and “fake” democracy. America lacks such blatant democratic fakery, but less obvious forms can still thrive.

Fake transparency occurs when officials seek the democratic legitimacy but not the accountability that comes with open government. Fortunately, new information technology, which allows public records to be posted online the moment they are created, can deter such practices.

Laws requiring transparency are most effective in fostering democratic accountability when they force disclosure of politically controversial decisions. Unfortunately, right-to-know laws in Maryland and elsewhere tend to be weakest on exactly this type of access.

Over the years, I’ve made many requests for such information at all levels of government. Although federal transparency is hardly perfect, my worst experiences with government secrecy have been at the local level. Consider my experiences with the implementation of Maryland’s right-to-know laws in Anne Arundel County, where I live.

To find out how my County Council member voted during her term, I had to identify myself, pay $400 (25 cents a page for four years of written minutes) and endure an inquisition by council staff members who assumed that I had to be running for council.

To find out how much county public employees are paid (including benefits), I had to identify myself and endure harassing phone calls from employees (whom the public information officer alerted to my request), and then I didn’t even receive the information I was entitled to under Maryland law.

In response to my request for a copy of a printed public document, I was told that to save the county money, I had to access it online. But I was not told that the controversial part of the document was omitted from the online version.

When I alerted Maryland’s Open Meetings Law Compliance Board that the chair of a public body had held a special meeting to discuss controversial issues without the legally required public notice, the chair’s mere claim to have sent such notice — backed by no corroborating written evidence or testimony — was deemed adequate to satisfy the law.

While investigating whether members of a public body were violating the spirit of Maryland’s Open Meetings Law by conducting business via e-mail, I discovered that getting an answer to that question was impossible because the county destroys centralized e-mail records after 30 days and Maryland’s Public Information Act allows officials 30 days to respond to a request.

Admittedly, my county government has an award-winning Web site and happily provides tons of noncontroversial information. But in a democracy, the test of right-to-know laws is accessibility to the information that public officials don’t want to give you.

To address the problem of fake transparency, the simple principle that public equals online should be adopted. A bill recently introduced in Congress, the Public Online Information Act of 2010 , attempts to do this for the federal government and points the way for local governments, too.

During the just-concluded session of the Maryland General Assembly, a half-dozen government transparency bills were introduced (and failed to pass), but none was remotely as ambitious or simple in aspiration. The default transparency standard in the state should be that all documents subject to a Public Information Act request should be online and free to the public from the moment of their creation. Indeed, this transparency principle should be incorporated in the state constitution.

A key feature of the federal transparency bill is its separation of public record creation from control. Until now, the only practical option was to give the foxes control of the chicken coop; that is, creators of public records also had control of access to them. But with the advent of the Internet, this argument no longer holds. After a record is created, it can now be transferred to an independent body for immediate archiving and posting online, including automatic redaction of confidential information. In Maryland, the Maryland State Archives could take on such a role. This checks-and-balances principle of separating public record creation from control should also be made part of Maryland’s constitution.

Unfortunately, practical politicians have an incentive to care about the appearance but not the reality of open government. As a result, they have been slow to exploit the potential of new information technologies to reduce fake transparency and strengthen democracy. It is the job of voters to demand that they do so.

–The writer is president of iSolon.org.

April 6, 2010

Spotting Holes in OpenGov Plans for Public Engagement
Steve Buckley from U.S. Transparency interviews J.H. Snider about his essay,Deterring Fake Public Participation

March 10, 2010

How Will Journalism Survive the Internet Age?
The Federal Trade CommissionJ.H. Snider presents his proposal for using semantic web technologies to automate conflict-of-interest reporting at this FTC workshop.  The proposal consisted of apresentation (an audio recording of the presentation starts at 143:20) and accompanying working paper, both with the same title, “Automating Conflict-of-Interest Reporting.”

March 1, 2010

The Stennis CenterHow can we strengthen two-way communication with the public and improve governing in the new media environment?
J.H. Snider’s presentation before the 111th Congress Stennis Congressional Staff Fellows Program.

February 19, 2010

International Association of Public ParticipationDeterring Fake Public Participation
The International Journal of Public Participation publishes J.H. Snider’s essay on the growing plague of fake public participation in America.

February 9, 2010

WYPR Radio’s Midday Show on Maryland’s November 2, 2010 ballot referendum on whether to convene a constitutional convention. 
Baltimore Sun columnist and Midday host Dan Rodricks moderates an hourlong discussion on the pros and cons of a Maryland constitutional convention with iSolon.org President J.H. Snider, Maryland Senate Minority Leader Allan Kittleman, and Maryland Legislative Counsel Dan Friedman.

January 22, 2010

Open Government: Defining, Designing, and Sustaining Transparency
Princeton UniversityJ.H. Snider presents his arguments on how the open government public policy debate should be framed at this two-day workshop sponsored by Princeton University’s Center for Information Technology Policy.   The video of Snider’s presentation begins at 38:00.

January 8, 2010

Md’s Ballot Surprise: Voters in November will have a rare opportunity to shape the state’s constitution
The Baltimore Sun publishes J.H. Snider’s op-ed on Maryland’s 2010 ballot item to call a constitutional convention.  For additional information, seeMarylanders for a State Constitutional Convention.

November 30, 2009

Think Tanks
For a TV broadcast aired throughout the Middle East, theVoice of America interviews J.H. Snider on the lack of think tank accountability in the United States.

September 5, 2009

 

If Men Were Angels….: Should the Checks & Balances System Include Electoral Reform Juries?
Paper presented at the Representation and Electoral Systems Division’s theme panel, Citizens’ Assemblies and Deliberative Democracy, at the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, Toronto, Canada.

July 22, 2009

Automating Watchdog Reporting
Harvard Veritas LogoHarvard’s Nieman Watchdog publishes J.H. Snider’s article arguing for the development and implementation of a Bias Modeling Language to automate watchdog journalism.  This article launches iSolon.org’s BML Semantic Web Project.

July 9, 2009

Citizens Assembly News Digest — Special Edition — July 2009
This special edition of iSolon.org’s Citizens Assembly News Digest provides an analysis of the referendum results on the recommendations of the f British Columbia’s Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform.

June 27, 2009

Harvard Veritas LogoTaking steps to deal with media parasitism
Harvard’s Nieman Watchdog publishes J.H. Snider’s second article in a two-part series on  the problem and solution to media free riding.

June 22, 2009

Harvard Veritas LogoFree riding: a deeply embedded media tradition
Harvard’s Nieman Watchdog publishes J.H. Snider’s first article in a two-part series on  the problem and solution to media free riding.

June 12, 2009

Harvard Veritas LogoThe switch to digital TV—an early bailout that went awry
Harvard’s Nieman Watchdog publishes J.H. Snider’s critique of the digital television transition on its final day.  The transition began more than 20 years ago.

May 20, 2009

Education WeekDemocratize School Budget Data
Education Week, the leading trade publication in K12 public education, publishes J.H. Snider’s commentary on how to use new information technologies to democratize public access to school budget data.  Cited in Open School Checkbook Registers, Bluegrass Institute, May 21, 2009, and An Argument for School-Level Budget Transparency, Reason Foundation, August 17, 2009.

Democratize School Budget Data

President Barack Obama has repeatedly said to the public that when it comes to education spending, “we need to hold ourselves accountable for every dollar we spend.” Rather than think of the president’s goal as a rhetorical flourish, why not take it seriously? Specifically, why not require all school checkbook expenditures to be made accessible online — and in a structured, downloadable database that would allow citizens to search for and slice and dice the data in whatever way they might want?

Historically, school districts have published and posted on their Web sites budget data in summary views only. Summary views answer questions such as how much a district spent on student transportation in general, but not on a particular bus route; how much it spent on energy in general, not at a particular school; and how much it spent on total employee benefits, not a particular benefit such as sick leave.

There are three primary reasons citizens should support breaking school officials’ monopoly on budget-summary views.

First, officials have a conflict of interest in providing summary views. Rational administrators can be expected to use summary views for purposes of public relations rather than democratic accountability. As a matter of common sense, they will hide controversial information within large, uncontroversial categories. Their summary views will answer questions that they, not citizens, would most like to have asked. The budget presentation will be like a politician’s press conference where the reporters can ask only preapproved questions.

Second, school officials cannot think of every useful budget summary, any more than Google can anticipate how hundreds of millions of Americans will search its data or a library can project how patrons will use its collection.

Third, unless citizens are given access to data down to the checkbook level, they cannot effectively integrate budget figures across different governments (for example, to compare two similar school districts two thousand miles apart) or with nonbudget data (to find out a school contractor’s lobbying expenditures, for instance).

The Obama administration has already made great strides in democratizing budget data. For example, it has plans to put online, at recovery.gov, all the expenditures in the $787 billion stimulus bill, including $97 billion for education. In launching this Web site, President Obama said: This is your money. You have a right to know where it’s going and how it’s being spent.”

The historical forces pushing governments to democratize budget and other data run deep. Congress has its own Web site, usaspending.gov, which lists the money spent on every federal contractor. The state of Missouri also has a database that provides searchable line-item expenditures for all grants, contracts, and pubhe-employee compensation.

Many federal databases also already provide raw data online in a structured, downloadable format, including data from the departments of Commerce (such as U.S. Census numbers) and Labor (a raft of labor statistics) and the Environmental Protection Agency (toxic-waste inventories and the like).

According to a survey conducted by Peyton Wolcott, a Texas-based educational transparency advocate, more than 2 percent of U.S. school districts had started posting their check registers online by February of this year. The first to do so were all in Texas, where an executive order issued in 2005 provided districts with a strong financial incentive to post their checkbooks. If they did so, they could avoid a mandate to spend at least 65 percent of their budgets in the classroom.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration is pushing to create national standards for local and State education data, so that comparisons across districts can easily be made. Although this effort is currently focused on studentassessment data, it should be extended to budget data.

Specifically, federal, state, and local education checkbooks should all be made available online in a single, standardized format using so-called semantic Web technologies, which make it possible to more easily search and use Web content. XBRL, an international data tagging language adopted by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for the financial reporting of public companies, could be the basis for such a standard. RDFa, a semantic Web technology endorsed by the World Wide Web Consortium, would allow decentralized structured data integration, just as Google compiles data from millions of Web sites into a single search engine.

Not all raw data collected by school systems should be, made public. Privacy concerns dictate that health claims, home addresses, and Social Security numbers not be disclosed. But privacy concerns are now being used to withhold far too much school budget data essential for democratic accountability.

At a minimum, no school system should be able to prevent access to computerized budget databases because checkbook records contain a mix of private and public data. Federal guidelines should require that all human-resource, student-attendance, and budget-software pro grams purchased by local school districts be able to automatically redact the private data and post the public online.

The information revolution has created unprecedented opportunities to democratize access to school data. But so far, few of them have been seized. With the. Obama administration committed to both a huge increase in education funding and more accountability for how those funds are spent, now is a good time to focus on democratizing access to budget data.

Such public access would still leave schools in the dark ages when it comes to using new information technology to enhance their democratic accountability. But it would help point them in the right direction, and send a strong signal to the public that enhancing schools’ democratic accountability, not merely their responsiveness to market forces, can and should be a powerful option in the toolkit of those seeking to make our schools more accountable to the public.

J.H. SNIDER is the president of iSolon.org. He is a former school board member and has written widely on education policy.

Source: Snider, J. H., Democratize School Budget Data, Education Week, 02774232, 5/20/2009, Vol. 28, Issue 32

May 11, 2009

Journal of Information Technology & Politics

Would You Ask Turkeys to Mandate Thanksgiving? The Dismal Politics of Legislative Transparency
The Journal of Information Technology & Politics publishes the final version of J.H. Snider’s working paper researched during the Spring of 2008 while Snider was a Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government’s Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy.

May 4, 2009

Hudson InstituteThe Case for Redistricting Juries: Lessons from  British Columbia’s Revolutionary Experiment in Democratic Reform
J.H. Snider’s Working Paper presented at the Hudson/iSolon conference on redistricting reform.

May 4, 2009

 

Hudson InstituteReforming American Redistricting:  Lessons from British Columbia
Conference on redistricting reform cosponsored by the Hudson Institute and iSolon.org.

March 18, 2009

Public School Systems Should Post Compensation Data Online
The Washington ExaminerThe Washington Examiner publishes J.H. Snider’s Sunshine Week commentary on the need to proactively disclose public expenditure data.

February 26, 2009

Mixing Advocacy, Scholarly Research and Journalism: Can the New America Foundation Square the Circle?
The Center for Media and Democracy’s PR Watchpublishes J.H. Snider’s article on the ethical tensions in a successful, state-of-the-art, public policy think tank.

February 18, 2009

Open Government Rhetoric Versus Reality
The Washington ExaminerThe Washington Examiner publishes J.H. Snider’s commentary on the politics of the recently passed digital TV legislation.

February 8, 2009

Need Teachers? Show Them the Money
The Washington Post publishes J.H. Snider’s commentary on the need for better public disclosure of teacher compensation data.  For a related commentary published in Education Week, see America’s Million-Dollar Superintendents.

February 3, 2009

Strengthen Think Tank Accountability
PoliticoPolitico publishes J.H. Snider’s commentary on the need for better public disclosure of think tank ethics and ethical conflicts.

January 21, 2009

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Don’t Delay the Digital TV Transition 
Ars Technica publishes J.H. Snider’s commentary critiquing U.S. House and Senate bills seeking to delay the digital TV transition.

July 14, 2008

Would You Ask Turkeys To Mandate Thanksgiving?  The Dismal Politics of Legislative Transparency
The Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy publishes J.H. Snider’s Working Paper #1.  Published in the Journal of Information Technology & Politics, May 2009.

December 2, 2008

 

Future Shop CoverFuture Shop One-Page Flyer
Publicity for Future Shop.

July 14, 2008

Would You Ask Turkeys To Mandate Thanksgiving?  The Dismal Politics of Legislative Transparency
The Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy publishes J.H. Snider’s Working Paper #1.  Published in the Journal of Information Technology & Politics, May 2009.

July 14, 2008

Would You Ask Turkeys To Mandate Thanksgiving?  Using Citizens Assemblies to Reform the Process of Democratic Reform
The Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy publishes J.H. Snider’s Working Paper #2.

June 28, 2008

Harvard Hosts 2-Day Citizens Assembly Conference; New Zealand Parliament Allocates $4.3 million for a Citizens Assembly
The latest issue of iSolon.org’s Citizens Assembly News Digest.

June 27, 2008

iSolon.org Launches Citizens Assembly Facebook Group
The Citizens Assembly Facebook group provides an online place for academics and practitioners interested in citizens assembly based democratic reform to come together as a community to pursue their common interests.

May 17, 2008

Crackpot or Genius?  Canada Steps onto the World Stage as a Democratic Innovator
The Journal of Public Deliberation publishes J.H. Snider’s concluding remarks at the Harvard University Canada Program’s conference on democratic deficits and citizens assemblies, May 8-10, 2008.

May 14, 2008

See full size imageDesigning Deliberative Democracy (Cambridge University Press, 2008)
The Journal of Public Deliberation publishes J.H. Snider’s review of the first major book to be written about citizens assemblies.

March 20, 2008

The Quest to Protect Creative Policy Ideas
The Chronicle of Philanthropy publishes J.H. Snider’s commentary on the problem of rewarding innovative public policy ideas when it isn’t practical to patent such ideas.

February 21, 2008

 

Harvard Veritas LogoIs the spectrum just too complex for reporters?
Nieman Watchdog 
publishes a commentary summarizing J.H. Snider’s Kennedy School presentation.

February 19, 2008

The Government’s $19.3 Billion Auction of Spectrum (as of Round 61 on February 12, 2008) Why don’t you know more about the government’s allocation of this vital natural resource?
J.H. Snider argues at a Kennedy School dinner sponsored by the Shorenstein Center that spectrum politics has become a paradigmatic example of special interest politics and that the quality of spectrum journalism is a major cause of the problem.

January 17, 2008

Saskatchewan Premier and Citizens Assembly Advocate Defeated; New Zealand Parliament Debates and Defeats Citizens Assembly Legislation
The latest issue of iSolon.org’s Citizens Assembly News Digest.

October 19, 2007

Ontario Citizens Assembly Referendum Defeated; Addendum: Saskatchewan Premier Promises a Citizens Assembly if Re-Elected on November 7
The latest issue of iSolon.org’s Citizens Assembly News Digest.

September 14, 2007

Ontario’s Public Education Campaign Launches; U.K.’s Prime Minister Explores Creating a Citizens Assembly
The latest issue of iSolon.org’s Citizens Assembly News Digest.

June 19, 2007

Citizens Assemblies: A Mechanism for Enhancing Legislative Transparency and Accountability
iSolon.org policy brief prepared for the workshop, “Toward More Transparent Government,” held at the National Academies of Science on June 19, 2007.

June 15, 2007

From Dahl to O’Leary: 36 Years of the ‘Yale School of Democratic Reform’
See full size imageJ.H. Snider’s book review essay tracing the history of the citizens assembly proposal from Dahl’s 1970 After the Revolution (Yale University Press) to O’Leary’s 2006 Saving Democracy (Stanford University Press).