OpenGovernment: Empower individuals and organizations to track government at every level

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When 9 Trillion dollars goes missing from the Federal Reserve and the Federal Inspector General can’t explain the details of that missing money, what can “we” the people do about it? (See a visualization of 1 Trillion Dollars)

Watch this YouTube video to learn more about this insane debacle. Sadly, Alan Grayson (the questioner) never asked the simple closed-ended question, “So, is that a Yes or No?”. However, collectively, we can ask that question if we have open access to government data.

While OpenGovernment may not provide the answer to that specific question directly, it will certainly provide a level of government transparency like we’ve never seen before at the state, city, local and international levels.

What is OpenGovernment?

OpenGovernment is an open-source Ruby on Rails application for aggregating and presenting open government data, and it is based on OpenCongress.org, the most-visited not-for-profit site for tracking the federal U.S. Congress.

As a joint project of two 501(c)3 non-profit organizations, the Participatory Politics Foundation and the Sunlight Foundation, OpenGovernment will empower individuals and organizations to track government at every level.

A ‘beta’ version of OpenGovernment is planned to launch this month (January 2011) with information for five state legislatures: California, Louisiana, Maryland, Texas, and Wisconsin.

Moving forward, they are looking for non-profit funding to extend civic engagement to all 50 U.S. states, major cities, other countries, and beyond. Just as OpenCongress has grown to become a popular community site for watchdogging the U.S. Congress, OpenGovernment will empower individuals and organizations to track government at every level. And like OpenCongress, OpenGovernment is a non-partisan public resource, independent from any government entity or political party.

How can I give my support?

You can support the open-source work on OpenGovernment by becoming a Booster of the non-profit Participatory Politics Foundation (a tax-exempt recurring donation of $1/day), giving a one-time charitable gift, or by forking the code on GitHub and start hacking.

Their biggest limiting factor isn’t ideas, or a lack of valuable government info to make accessible, but rather web development time. There’s a huge wish list of data & features for this open-source community site, so hop in #opengovernment on irc.freenode.net, or join their Google Group to get in touch. Also, the project’s README is super thorough in setting up the application to start hacking.

Special thanks to Jeremy Ashkenas for this tweet about OpenGovernment’s Rails model for legislature.rb.

class Legislature < ActiveRecord::Base
  has_one :upper_chamber
  has_one :lower_chamber
  has_many :chambers
  has_many :committees
  has_many :primary_committees, :class_name => 'Committee', :conditions => 'committees.votesmart_parent_id is null'
  has_many :sub_committees, :class_name => 'Committee', :conditions => 'committees.votesmart_parent_id is not null'
  has_many :lower_committees
  has_many :upper_committees
  has_many :joint_committees
  belongs_to :state
  validates_uniqueness_of :name
  validates_presence_of :name

  has_many :sessions

  CONGRESS = Legislature.find_by_name("United States Congress")
  MAJOR_PARTIES = ["Democrat", "Republican"]
end

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