The chairman of the GOP House transition team, Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), on Wednesday laid down the operating philosophy for the incoming leaders when it comes to making House business more transparent: "How do we open it up? How do we make it more accessible? How do we bring the public in?"
Walden commented at a press conference with presumptive House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) as the new team starts to grapple with how to deliver on its promises to allow the public to "watch your business being done and maybe help us do that business better."
Don't underestimate the challenges involved in opening up Congress -- where most members even decline to post their public schedules on a website. While much is online, and progress was made under House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), there is more to be done on the disclosure front.
In some areas, the House and Senate stubbornly refuse to change.
The Senate has resisted putting campaign disbursements online, though contributions have long been accessible through the Federal Election Commission database. And in the House, lawmakers for years have been required to file reports on mass mailings they make using their franking privileges -- but in order to see them, you have to go to an office in the Capitol, since the House refuses to put them online.
With a new team coming in, the Sunlight Foundation, a non-partisan group dedicated to making government more transparent, has come up with a series of recommendations. "The House must redouble its commitment to transparency, and deepen the relationship between constituents and representatives," Sunlight urged.
The 112th Congress, to be sworn in in January, "can be the most open and accountable Congress ever, and online transparency can help Congress reach that goal," the foundation said.
John Wonderlich, policy director for the Sunlight Foundation, told Politics Daily, "The appetite is certainly there. The problem is some of the reforms are easier than others."
"They have a lot of good ideas," said Brendan Buck, the transition team spokesman.
-- Post all public House documents online. It's 2010, and, as with the franking documents, the House still forces folks who want to look at a host of public filings to come to the Capitol. "This includes personal financial disclosures, travel reports, recusals, filings regarding negotiations for future employment," Sunlight said in its recommendations report.
-- Earmarks database. While the future of earmarks is being debated, Sunlight is calling for a centralized earmark database, including requests. Many members disclose earmarks on their websites; while legislation has been introduced in the House and Senate, this may be accomplished via rules decided by the House leadership.
-- Posting bills before votes. Pelosi began a policy of posting legislation online for 72 hours before a vote. Sunlight is recommending what has "become routine practice should now be codified in House rules." A 72-hour posting requirement was included in the Republican "Pledge for America."
-- Open meetings of the House Ethics Committee to the public unless they're about allegations against an individual and post all written reports online.
-- Posting hearing transcripts. House committees -- they all have websites -- should follow the Senate example and post transcripts of hearings within 21 days, and get unofficial transcripts out as soon as possible after a hearing. All hearing notices for committees and subcommittee should be published at one central location at House.gov.
-- Live stream everything. Any congressional activity open to the public, from the floor to a subcommittee, should be live streamed.
-- Congressional Research Reports, a goldmine of information, should be available to the public and posted online -- just as the General Accounting Office does.
-- Post "Dear Colleague" letters. Lawmakers often communicate with each other through "Dear Colleague" letters, which are pitches for support for legislation or other projects. These letters should be posted for the public.
A member of the GOP transition committee -- Adam Kinzinger, elected last week from a suburban Chicago district -- was reminded during an interview with Fox News' Bill Hemmer that the public has heard promises about transparency in the past. What's going to be different? Kinzinger was asked.
"So whatever we have to do, that 72 hours of bills being available on the Internet, we have to figure out how to make that happen, including amendments and things along that line. Ultimately, make sure how we can restore that trust. Look, I mean, the reality is, is we are renting the majority -- we don't own it."