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Transparency Roundup

Sunshine Week

Sunshine Week was March 13-19. Here are a few highlights (and lowlights):

Data

  • Sunlight Labs takes a look at the data quality on USASpending.gov

We at the labs have written about USASpending.gov severaltimes now. We’ve recently been able to make use of their bulk data downloads to regularly populate some of our webapps with federal grants and contracts data. However, we also have an old snapshot of the data that we received in April of 2010. This snapshot was received on a hard drive that we shipped to USASpending engineers — before the bulk data downloads existed. Thankfully, we don’t have to go through that process anymore. I wondered how the data has changed over the past year. Last year, the USASpending team took a lot of flak for their data quality issues. Has it been improved? I thought I’d take a look back and see how two data snapshots from April 2010 and December 2010 compare.

  • Washington Monthly takes a look at how transparency can prevent accidental deaths in hospitals.

That’s because the public, the payers, and the providers themselves typically lack access to the data necessary to make such a life-and-death determination. In the airline industry, if a pilot so much as accidentally makes a wrong turn moving away from the gate, anywhere in the world, the event is instantly recorded in global databases and scrutinized by government agencies and the industry itself. The knowledge gained from this continuous process leads to big and little changes in aviation protocol, equipment, and personnel. As a result, there was not a single airline fatality anywhere in the developed world last year.

In health care, by contrast, patient safety experts often remark that the death toll from medical errors in U.S. hospitals is equivalent to three jumbo jets falling out of the sky and killing all the passengers on board every forty-eight hours. But even the most egregious errors go largely unreported, and when they are reported, they are often buried and ignored. For the most part, all the public gets to hear about are industry-wide estimates and statistical averages of the kind presented above. Because we lack specific knowledge of where these injuries are occurring and under what circumstances, we can’t know precisely what to do about the ongoing catastrophe or whom to reward when specific solutions are found.

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