Shining a Light on Earmarks

I am serving as a mentor for the Eric and Wendy Schmidt Data Science for Social Good program this year. Madian Khabsa (one of my fellows) and I wrote about our Congressional-earmarks project for the DSSG blog.  Here's the beginning of the article:

Earmarks have been called “the best known, most notorious, and most misunderstood aspect of the congressional budgetary process.” These government budget items allocated to specific people, places, or projects are alternately described as a subversion of democracy or an important negotiation tool to smooth the passage of controversial legislation. But despite the attention earmarks attract, they remain extremely tedious and time-consuming to identify in federal bills and reports that may be hundreds of pages long.

This summer, Data Science for Social Good fellows Matthew Heston, Madian Khabsa, Vrushank Vora, and Ellery Wulczyn and mentor Joe Walsh, working with Christopher Berry at the Harris School of Public Policy, will help shine a light on earmarks, building computational tools to automatically identify them in Congressional texts.

You can read more here.

The DOD Takes out the Trash

The Washington Post's political-science blog, The Monkey Cage, briefly covered my research conducted with The University of Alabama's Greg Austin on Department of Defense media behavior (article).  Here's the abstract:

Are political actors more likely to release bad news when it is least likely to be noticed? Former government and administration spokespersons claim they chose when to release information harmful to their cause when they were on the job (see Norris 2005); there are numerous anecdotes of negative news stories being released late on Friday (see Theimer 2009); and an episode of The West Wing suggests that the politicians try to release lots of bad news together on Friday, an act the fictional White House deputy chief of staff calls “taking out the trash.” Despite these popular accounts, there has been little systematic investigation of strategically timed news dumps. In this paper we look at the empirical record of Take out the Trash Day. We begin by outlining and building on the reasons that political actors would strategically release information, taking into account the mediating role that technology may play (Lee 2005). We then correlate the positivity and negativity of more than 12,500 Department of Defense news releases from October 1994 through February 2013 to their release days. We find mixed evidence for the hypothesis.

This article is part of a larger research agenda on taking out the trash.  I have also found that the president holds most Medal of Honor ceremonies between Monday and Thursday and that federal courts have overturned a disproportionate number of same-sex marriage bans on Friday.  I will blog more about those results as I refine them.