I was looking for information about the US stimulus package (American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan) and I finally found it on the blog section of whitehouse.gov. There is post there, inviting to take a look, send thoughts, comments and ideas. I clicked on the link with great expectations and found a page with four further links on the left hand side and a form for comments on the right hand side. To provide a comment you have to provide name and email address, and limit yourself to 500 characters.
Then I looked at the first link. It has a quite obscure title (Text of the Conference Report – Division A). Clicking on it took me to the House web site, and more precisely to a 496 pages long PDF document with the following title: MAKING SUPPLEMENTAL APPROPRIATIONS FOR JOB PRESERVATION AND CREATION, INFRASTRUCTURE INVESTMENT, ENERGY EFFICIENCY AND SCIENCE, ASSISTANCE TO THE UNEMPLOYED, AND STATE AND LOCAL FISCAL STABILIZATION, FOR THE FISCAL YEAR ENDING SEPTEMBER 30, 2009, AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES. The title only takes 270 characters…
The second link refers to a Text of the Conference Report – Division B and happens to be a 577 pages long PDF file.
I then moved to the third link, called Joint Explanation Statement – Division A. I clicked on it with some expectation, and found a 136 pages long PDF file.
The fourth document, unsurprisingly called Joint Explanation Statement – Division B, is 285 pages long.
Indeed the information I was looking for about the details of the plan is there, but would I ever be able to browse through over a thousand pages? Would the average American be? And, if so, what could he or she say in less than 500 characters?
I am sure that, after the final approval and President’s signature, the plan will be made available in a much more readable form. And there are other sites, such as the US Senate Committee on Finance, where easier-to-read versions are available.
However it is somewhat ironic that an administration that is making openness and transparency a fundamental attribute of its policy fails to take the extra effort of making such an important plan readable and understandable by many when asking for comments.