FEC will put campaign finance data online

The Federal Election Commission last month awarded a software development and research company a contract to make campaign finance reports available and searchable online.

The FEC awarded SDR Technologies Inc. the $190,000 contract to make the reports available on the FEC's World Wide Web site (www.fec.gov) by Jan. 2. Eleven other companies bid for the contract.

Campaign finance reports -- filed by candidates, political parties and political action committees -- give detailed information about receipts and disbursements and have become the focus of an intense degree of scrutiny following revelations about the way money was raised for recent elections.

The changes to the FEC site will give people outside the Washington, D.C., area easy access to the documents, said Jim Pehrkon, deputy staff director of the FEC. Previously only a portion of the reports were available at the site and no search function was available. People who wanted more information had to personally visit the FEC offices.

After Jan. 2, the FEC Web site was scheduled to provide access to complete campaign finance reports on the next business day after the report was submitted, Pehrkon said. Users also were to have access to all reports filed in 1997, Pehrkon added. The FEC had not put the site online as of press time last week.

A $300,000 appropriation for the project was included in the Treasury, Postal Service and General Government Appropriations bill for fiscal 1998. SDR's $190,000 bid, which Pehrkon said was one of the lowest, covers start-up and operational costs for 18 months.

Richard Hooper, director of the data systems development division at the FEC, said SDR won because of its experience with large data files, including state campaign finance reports and similar Internet projects. SDR also included in its bid a high-speed DS3 transmission (T-3) line connecting their data center to the Web backbone.

"Their configuration is extremely robust, and they will be able to bring images to the screen in less than five seconds, assuming you retrieve the data with a fast modem, probably at least 33.6 [kilobits/sec]," Hooper said.

Reports will continue to be scanned in at the FEC in tagged image file format and converted to graphics interchange format, which is necessary for distribution on the Web. The images will then be indexed and uploaded to SDR servers on a dedicated T-1 line and available for viewing, said Glenn Luxenberg, technical director of SDR.

"We have a direct pipe into the backbone of the Internet. We're not using servers that are 15 hops away," Luxenberg said.

The FEC will continue using the write-once, read-many system that it has used since 1993. The system now contains more than 2 million pages, which will be added to the Web server "on a fairly aggressive schedule," Hooper said.

FEC spokesman Ron Harris said high-profile investigations into suspected violations of campaign finance rules during the recent campaigns was not a factor in the timing of the project.

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