On the Records: Digging Through Disclosure
Writing about congressional travel required days of tedious work because the information isn't easily accessible.
Both houses of the U.S. Congress have disclosure sites with ethics, financial and travel records filed by members.
That's helpful, if one can make any sense of this, but a meaningful analysis sometimes takes more digging.
The U.S. House gift and travel site, for example, allows the public to download annual batches of electronic travel records in both .txt and .xml formats. The records list each member's name, district, travel date and destination.
They also list the names of industry and non-profit groups paying for trips — but not the dollar amounts spent on transportation, lodging, food and other items. These are listed in scanned paper records — flat PDF files that can also be downloaded from the Web.
So to write today's congressional travel story, we had to spend days combining information from the paper records with the electronic. This made it possible to sum, sort and analyze the data to find out who took the most trips at the highest costs. (We're also hoping to release a visualization later today or next week, btw).
We love the challenge, but it shouldn't be so difficult for average folks to check up on their elected representatives.
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