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Sunlight Says House Appropriations Committee Not Making the Grade in Online Transparency

BY Miranda Neubauer | Tuesday, April 17 2012

Despite a House of Representatives rule adopted in January 2011 requiring that video of hearings be made available online, a full quarter of House hearings are not making it online, according to a new analysis by the Sunlight Foundation.*

That's thanks in large part to the House Appropriations Committee, whose hearings account for 70 percent of those not available online, per Sunlight.

The organization tracked 200 House hearings over 20 days, to see if they were being broadcast live, and then tracked 407 hearings from January 17 to April 2 to see if video from the hearings was being archived.

The analysis found that 25 percent of hearings were not being live-streamed and 22 percent were not archived:

Of the 49 hearings that were not live-streamed, 47 were Appropriations Committee hearings (Armed Services and Foreign Affairs were the other two). Similarly, of the 91 hearings that did not have video archived on the committee website, 74 were Appropriations Committee hearings.

With nearly every other committee managing to put video of its hearings online, Sunlight says that the Appropriations Committee should be able to do so as well given that it has a large hearing room with cameras pre-installed, and that it could request coverage from the House Recording Studio if it met in the Capitol building.

"Whenever logistically possible, the main committee room - which is equipped with webcast and video capabilities - is used for hearings and mark-ups," a committee spokeswoman, Jennifer Hing, told techPresident.

"It should also be noted that the Appropriations Committee often conducts exponentially more hearings per week than any other committee, all of which are open to the public and media," she also said in the statement.

Sunlight also looked at the availability of video on committee websites and the Library of Congress THOMAS website. While Sunlight found that the committee websites were generally to easy to navigate, it saw room for improvement on THOMAS.

While recordings are sensibly organized by committee, they are given impenetrable names like "USHR07 Armed Services Committee." Is that a full committee or subcommittee hearing? What is the name of the hearing? Occasionally recordings are titled by the date and time of the hearing, but this is not done consistently. Generally, they are only labeled by "date created," which may or may not be the date the hearing took place. And if multiple hearings took place on the same day, it's difficult to tell them apart.

In comparing the videos available on THOMAS to those available on Committee websites, Sunlight found nine of the ones that were missing from the websites, still leaving 83 unarchived. Sunlight also points out that Carl Malamud and the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform have together published online over 1,100 committee hearing videos from 1993 to the present.

Disclosure: TechPresident's Andrew Rasiej and Micah Sifry are senior advisers to the Sunlight Foundation.