Sunlight tells Congress to save transparency sites

Despite criticizing the quality of data posted on federal transparency websites like Data.gov and USASpending.gov, the Sunlight Foundation is urging Congress not to slash funding for the programs.

The government transparency watchdog wrote to the leadership of both parties on Monday voicing their concern about a measure in the House spending bill that would cut funding for the sites from $34 million to $2 million.

"An open and accountable government is a prerequisite for democracy. Keeping these programs alive would cost a mere pittance when compared to the value of bringing the federal government into the sunlight," the letter states.

Sunlight co-founder and executive director Ellen Miller criticized the quality of the data on the sites during an interview with The Hill last week, arguing many agencies have failed to turn over the high-value data sets promised by the Obama administration.

Miller said the lack of improvements to the data sets and the administration's lack of action on the transparency front in the past year has been disappointing to the open government community. But Sunlight spokesman Gabriela Schneider said the group still views the sites as worth preserving.

"You're not going to improve transparency if you take away the funding for these websites," Schneider said, distinguishing between Miller's critique of the sites and arguments they should be abolished altogether.

Federal chief information officer Vivek Kundra, who spearheaded the development of Data.gov, has repeatedly defended the sites as giving the public unprecedented insight into federal spending. Kundra has promised improvements in the quality of data since last year.