As independent overseers dedicated to the proper operation of the agencies to which they’re attached, inspectors general promote an open and transparent government through the excavation of the truth. But to get a sense of the work they do and the dirt they dig up, a curious citizen would have to search independently and extensively for each IG’s report.
That’s no fun.
So, the Sunlight Foundation, a strong supporter of government oversight and accountability, launched the “inspectors-general” project a few months ago to source every report it could find to one place using GitHub, a collaborative, Web-based development tool. So far, the project has about 5,500 reports compiled, and the nonprofit is looking for help to collect more.
Using Web scrapers from several different agencies, such as the U.S. Postal Service and the Justice Department, the Sunlight Foundation aims to make every available IG report in federal government accessible in its search engine, Scout.
While the foundation agrees an inspector general report can be dense, it also points out the possibility for the documents to be hostile, scandalous reads. After all, as the Sunlight Foundation wrote in a blog post today, the duties of an IG include “regular audits of the agency’s spending, monitoring of active government contractors and investigations into wasteful or corrupt agency practices. They ask tough questions, carry guns and sue people.”
The Sunlight Foundation gave the 2012 IG report on the General Services Administration as a good example how the documents can be wild rides. That one in particular led to senior-level resignations for GSA.
For now, the Sunlight Foundation only has reports from a few of the 70 or so inspectors general. It hopes that anyone with Python coding expertise and a desire for an accountable government will contribute to scraping more of the agencies’ IG websites. And likewise, the foundation is calling upon the many inspectors general out there to help out by modernizing and standardizing their publishing systems.