THE BLOG
08/02/2009 09:15 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

A Simple Idea to Help Open the Government

The problem is simply stated on the homepage of Citability.org. "Government websites are ever changing and cannot be cited. Content changes without notice or accountability." The solution has a simple starting point: create permanent, date stamped URLs for each paragraph of every federal document posted to the Web.

Researchers eyes light up when they hear this idea. "Of course," they say, "that would make it so easy to find government information online." It would make it easy to track changes to documents, such as bills and regulations, as they evolve throughout the policy formation process. It would make it possible to use a common search engine to find all comments written about any paragraph in any federal document.

Citability.org is the latest project from the League of Technical Voters to help create a transparent government. Silona Bonewald, the League's executive director, is big on simple solutions to problems many think are to complicated to solve. This is the latest, and perhaps most elegant of her simple solutions.

Imagine the level of accountability such a system would put on Congress. We could all track how legislators modify each line of the budget as it moves through the process. And legislators could keep an eye on what the media and voters are saying about key provisions of any bill.

All you would have to do is search for the URL in any search engine and see all who link to the paragraph. If the link is to an older version of the paragraph, it would take you to a list of all older and newer versions of the paragraph in the archive. The end result is all these comments across the entire web become linked, they become a conversation.

Citability.org isn't the complete solution to the transparent government puzzle, but it clearly is a first step towards it. And given that Congress, for example, has already implemented permanent URLs for each bill, adding paragraph and date markers to those links is a small adjustment.