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We Can’t Wait: Strengthening Our Democracy Through Open Government

Summary: 
With the launch of Ethics.gov, President Obama is taking another step that ensures an unprecedented level of openness in government.

At the United Nations General Assembly in September 2010, President Obama said: “The common thread of progress is the principle that government is accountable to its citizens.” A government, however, is only truly accountable to its citizens when it is transparent and subject to citizens’ direct participation.

These principles have guided the Administration from the beginning. On his first full day in office, President Obama signed the Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government—a document that has helped to guide the federal government into a new era of openness and public engagement. Since then, the President has redoubled his Administration’s efforts to live up to that early promise—creating Data.gov to increase public access to government information, aggressively tracking the federal government’s use of federal dollars with websites like Recovery.gov and USASpending.gov, introducing the “We the People” initiative to give all Americans an opportunity to petition the government on a range of issues affecting our nation, calling for a large-scale transformation in how agencies maintain their records, and launching an effort to cut waste and streamline government operations

These efforts and others demonstrate that President Obama has made open government a high priority. In furtherance of that commitment and in celebration of Sunshine Week, the President is taking yet another step that ensures an unprecedented level of openness in government. 

President Obama promised he would “create a centralized Internet database of lobbying reports, ethics records, and campaign finance filings in a searchable, sortable, and downloadable format.” Today, with the launch of Ethics.gov, he’s delivering on that promise. In a single, user-friendly format, anyone can access and search the records of seven different datasets:

  • 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

Never before has this measure of government-verified data been available and so easily searchable in a centralized location.

On Ethics.gov, the public will be able to find millions of White House Visitor records. You will be able to see agency reports of payments from non-Federal sources for travel to meetings and conferences.

You’ll find records for entities registered with the Federal Election Commission. This includes federal political action committees and party committees, campaign committees for presidential, House and Senate candidates, as well as groups or organizations who are spending money in connection with elections for federal office.

You’ll also find records for each candidate who has either registered with the Federal Election Commission or appeared on a ballot list prepared by a state elections office. This includes contributor information for each contribution of $200 or more from an individual to a federal committee.

You’ll also be able to find lobbying registrations and reports filed under the Lobbying Disclosure Act.  

Ethics.gov takes an important step to increase transparency and accountability. This is good for government and good for the American people.

As with other sites in the Data.gov community, Ethics.gov is designed to grow and change over time. We hope that you will visit the site, make use of the information contained there, and offer suggestions for its improvement. The site, which is one of many examples where the President has worked to leverage technology to forge a more open relationship between citizens and government, is designed for you – so let us know your views. 

For more information about President Obama’s open government efforts, click here.

Mark Zuckerman is Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Director for the White House Domestic Policy Council, Macon Phillips is Special Assistant to the President and Director of Digital Strategy, and Chris Vein is Deputy Chief Technology Officer for Government Innovation for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.