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Watching Them Watching: Issa Touts Video Archive of Oversight Hearings

BY Nick Judd | Friday, January 6 2012

As of today, the House Committee on Government Oversight under Rep. Darrell Issa has released 1,139 videos of hearings going back to the 103rd Congress of 1993-1994, committee staff announced today.

These videos, dusted off from the House committee's archives, join hundreds more going all the way back to 1987 on House.Resource.org, a repository for archived video and hearing transcripts gleaned from C-SPAN, the House and the Internet Archive as part of a collaboration between Carl Malamud's Public.Resource.org and House Speaker John Boehner. At the start of this Congress, Boehner asked Issa's Oversight committee — which had been recording its own video of hearings, doubling up on video already recorded by the House Broadcasting Studio, since the 2010-2011 session of Congress — to take on archiving and publicising video of committee hearings as a pilot project. The House this year also launched its own streaming of floor proceedings.

“The completion of this project is yet another step forward in making the business of Congress more open and accessible to the American people,” Issa said in a press release. “I look forward to building off the proven Oversight video transparency model, harnessing technology to arm citizen-watchdogs with information that makes Congressional hearings more than just transcripts.”

That's just a bit lofty: the real meat, for citizen watchdogs, would be things like machine-readable online access to information about legislation and legislators (which we keep hearing is on the way) and better access to more government databases, such as something better than this one, which tracks past performance for government contractors. Issa is involved in initiatives that would do this. For example, legislation he sponsored, called the DATA Act, includes provisions to consolidate and streamline the way the federal government tracks individual contractors and contracts. President Barack Obama announced a separate initiative the same day the DATA Act was unveiled which would revamp government accountability by executive order rather than act of Congress, and now has a set of recommendations from a presidential board created last year to spearhead that effort.

Meanwhile, though Oversight's Seamus Kraft tells me this video initiative will continue to stream Issa's committee hearings live and post the archives to Resource.org and YouTube soon afterwards, there's no word on whether other committees will start doing the same.

By the time this project landed on Issa's desk, Kraft said, "we didn't have to do any new work because the foundation was already laid."

"So when the speaker asked Chairman Issa to do this," he said, "from Chairman Issa on down to me and folks below me, this was part of our daily job, these videos were part of our hearings already."

The Oversight committee staff is working to get closed captioning for all the videos, and is tagging them with metadata to make them more accessible.

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