Foreign influence? How we built the database of expert testimony

By Christine Lytwynec

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Our story on truth in testimony forms used a combination of data collection, manual data-entry and and field reporting.

To build our Truth in Testimony database, we wrote a computer program to automatically capture the publicly available data about who has testified before House committees, including their Truth in Testimony disclosure forms, from the U.S. House of Representatives Document Repository. Next, we entered the content of the disclosure forms manually into a database. Once we had built the database, we had to ensure accuracy, so we verified the data through a task application we built for the project and fixed errors.

The final database includes details about who testified at which hearings from 2011 through 2018 as available on the House document repository.

We verified accuracy, not completeness. We do not know whether all the forms were uploaded because of inconsistencies in how forms are filed in the repository. Although the Truth in Testimony rule states that the forms “shall be made publicly available in electronic form not later than one day after the witness appears,” sometimes the forms are mislabeled, filed under the wrong witness, or updated well after the hearing took place.

The final database includes details about who testified at which hearings from 2011 through 2018 as available in the House document repository. It also tracks how those witnesses responded on their truth in testimony forms since Congress enacted the rule on disclosure of foreign funding in January 2015.

We used the database to find leads for our field reporting and to better understand congressional testimony in the big picture. Who reportedly testified before House committees? How frequently? Did the committee even ask a question about foreign funding in accordance with the Truth in Testimony rule?

Based on our findings, we interviewed dozens of lawmakers and staffers, witnesses, think tank employees and experts in ethical law, among others, to understand how Congress is implementing the Truth in Testimony rule and determine whether or not it is effective at bringing more transparency.