Home > data science, statistics > What would a data-driven Congress look like?

What would a data-driven Congress look like?

December 17, 2014

Recently I’ve seen two very different versions of what a more data-driven Congress would look like, both emerging from the recent cruddy Cromnibus bill mess.

First, there’s this Bloomberg article, written by the editors, about using data to produce evidence on whether a given policy is working or not. Given what I know about how data is produced, and how definitions of success are politically manipulated, I don’t have much hope for this idea.

Second, there was a reader’s comments on this New York Times article, also about the Cromnibus bill. Namely, the reader was calling on the New York Times to not only explore a few facts about what was contained in the bill, but lay it out with more numbers and more consistency. I think this is a great idea. What if, when Congress gave us a shitty bill, we could see stuff like:

  1. how much money is allocated to each thing, both raw dollars and as a percentage of the whole bill,
  2. who put it in the omnibus bill,
  3. the history of that proposed spending, and the history of voting,
  4. which lobbyists were pushing it, and who gets paid by them, and ideally
  5. all of this would be in an easy-to-use interactive.

That’s the kind of data that I’d love to see. Data journalism is an emerging field, and we might not be there yet, but it’s something to strive for.

Categories: data science, statistics
  1. Allen Knutson
    December 17, 2014 at 9:22 am

    #2 sounds absolutely wonderful, but what could ever make it happen?


  2. December 17, 2014 at 10:36 am

    Would have been great if we had that kind of transparency – or any transparency – with Obamacare. We’ve all been Grubered.


  3. December 17, 2014 at 11:06 am

    1, 2, and 5 (for whatever data is captured) would seem to be pretty straightforward. Well, as straightforward as any analysis of a 1600 page document…or is it 1700 pages?


  4. December 17, 2014 at 11:42 am

    Transparency should, though doesn’t always, lead to the end game — accountability. But even transparency itself is not sufficient, it is at least necessary. Let’s hope journalism heads that way.


  5. LKT
    December 17, 2014 at 12:56 pm

    It’d be nice to just have this type of descriptive figure for each budget (here for 2010) as a start:


    • December 17, 2014 at 3:21 pm

      Yup, although I don’t really understand that graphic. What is the cylinder on the left?


  6. Auros
    December 17, 2014 at 4:20 pm

    My understanding is that the CROmnibus was brought to the House floor, already in complete form, by the House Leadership, with no individual legislator taking credit (or blame) for any particular provision. This is part of why I think we should put legislation under Source Control. An individual account, belonging to an individual legislator, should be the trace-able source of every change.


    • December 17, 2014 at 4:21 pm

      Yup, although obviously parts of it – like the swaps pushout – had already been introduced in the past, and voted on, and crucially lobbied for.

      I like the idea of traceability.

      On Wed, Dec 17, 2014 at 4:20 PM, mathbabe wrote: > >


  7. December 17, 2014 at 5:41 pm

    Isn’t this the sort of analysis that Sunlight Foundation is doing? http://www.opencongress.org/


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