December 18, 2003

Supporting Citizen Oversight of Legislation

Hellblazer writes here an anguished cry over the horrible budget process. His politics aren't necessarily my cup of tea but this is a situation that transcends party politics. Both parties do the same sad omnibus bills filled with unwise and unnecessary goodies (Democrats, most recently in 1992-1994, Republicans right now). Stuff like this disappears when exposed to the light of public opinion but the legislation is so big and it's so hard to figure out who did what and when that shining the light on these bad practices is hard to do and expensive.

But this, at heart, is an information systems problem. I've long thought that something tailored to the political process that functioned something like CVS for version control would be a useful bit of citizen oversight. After that, you just need someone to be ballsy enough on final passage to require an actual reading of the bill.

You run a diff (a listing command that highlights the differences between two versions of the same document, short for differential) to spot all the last minute pork that's been inserted and you light up the US Capitol switchboard like a christmas tree before they're halfway through the reading. Put a thousand calls in on the same subject demanding a no vote on the pork and you have a very cowed legisltor.

435 legislators can't stop the shenanigans. They don't have the tools or the manpower even if they want to do it. 10k of volunteers could if they had access to the legislation and version control to spot the last minute funny business. The tool is probably 40% written already in various open source repositories.

Note: I'm not talking about party here. This isn't about party. It's about taking control of out of control spending.

Posted by TMLutas at December 18, 2003 09:19 PM