Don't get us wrong: the U.S. federal government's openness to public scrutiny leaves much to be desired. Still, it's worth noting that some improvements have taken place. Here are a few prominent ones.
- The Internal Revenue Service announced that it will begin publishing tax returns for tax-exempt nonprofit organizations (known as Form 990s) online as open government data, in machine-readable form. This will be of great use to journalists covering the funding of nonprofits and their impact on government. For access, start here. Background info is available from the Chronicle of Philanthropy and the Sunlight Foundation.
- The Government Printing Office has put up a beta version of its new govinfo.gov website, and you can explore and use it now (though it's still in shakedown mode). It includes presidential documents, the Congressional Record, the Federal Register, the House and Senate calendars, and more. Check it out here.
- The data behind Congress' bill-tracking system will now be published in an open format (XML) that can be used by third-party developers who want to build applications to make use of that data. The current Congressional system (congress.gov) is pretty useful, as was its predecessor (thomas.gov). But until now, Congress kept a proprietary grip on the raw data behind these sites. One of the organizations hailing the move was the Sunlight Foundation, which builds apps that make use of the data.
- The Occupational Health and Safety Administration will require employers to submit workplace injury data electronically and will publish it online. Environmental reporters often follow occupational exposures and injuries because they can overlap environmental threats to a larger public. OSHA published the final rule requiring these improvements in the Federal Register May 12, 2016.