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Dr. Gridlock
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Posted at 11:29 AM ET, 03/14/2011

Plane tickets and transparency

The Department of Transportation may require airlines to make all of their prices public, in a move that could make it easy to search and compare prices. The disclosures would include ticket prices and the rapidly-proliferating added fees, for baggage, prime seats, extra legroom, movies, food and the like. (With the Federal Aviation Administration’s budget under pressure, those fees could continue to increase.)

But not everybody’s in favor. Many airlines want to decide “where and how to display those extra fees,” according to a column in the New York Times. That’s code for trying to hide them. Regardless of how the text looks on airlines’ sites, the information should be provided in a structured digital format, which programmers can use to gather and present comprehensive info across the board for consumers, as well as analyze trends.

This unsolicited advice comes with the start of Sunshine Week, during which the press puts a special focus on ensuring that government is transparent and accessible, and that it does so in the smartest way.

To that end, the New York Times continues: “In 2008, Congress overwhelmingly passed and President George W. Bush signed legislation mandating an online database of reported safety issues in products, at saferproducts.gov... But a majority in the House of Representatives passed an amendment last month that might have stopped this initiative in its tracks. The amendment, sponsored by Representative Mike Pompeo, a Kansas Republican, would have prohibited the agency from spending any further money to start the site. One goal, of course, was to cut the budget.”

In this era of austerity, though, two things about the budget and disclosure are important to note. The first is that more information means better, informed decisions, which mean an increased ability to save money, avoid bad investments and spot waste and fraud--both for the government and in our personal lives, as consumers and taxpayers.

The other is that of all the programs targeted for cuts, one category of expenditure is becoming increasingly unnessesary and wasteful: Those on dead trees for lengthy documents (such as the Federal Register) that languish in warehouses and bookshelves, virtually inaccessible to those seeking information.

Information provided online in structured form is more open and better for citizens--and much cheaper, too.

By Luke Rosiak  |  11:29 AM ET, 03/14/2011

 
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