Recap of the 2018 Legislative Data and Transparency Conference

Congress held its sixth annual Legislative Data and Transparency Conference this past week.

Lest we forget, these conference are extraordinary. Hosted by the House of Representatives Committee on House Administration, it pulls together the vast majority of the internal and external Congressional stakeholders to talk in detail about the House and Senate’s operations. It provides a forum for candid questions and conversations with the people who are the decision-makers and the implementers, and changes are often made in response to the conversations.

Unlike prior years, I’m reluctant to do this write up because so much has happened and I’m sure I will leave out important items. I’m publishing my real-time notes here, and I hope that you’ll forgive the impressionistic nature of this write-up.

Legislative Branch Innovation Hub

GPO has launched a legislative branch innovation hub website, built on GitHub, that “seeks to highlight Legislative branch activities that use technology to cultivate collaboration, foster data standardization, and increase transparency.” Wow, right?

GPO is encouraging the public to file pull requests and otherwise to use this as a platform to communicate with Congress about technology and transparency. But even more than that, the website crosses silos and will be used by multiple stakeholders inside Congress. For example, It seems to encompass the Clerk’s vision of a resource for where to find legislative branch data.

Comparative Prints Projects

The House Clerk is continuing its efforts to provide real-time comparison between documents. Its long term version is to deploy platforms to all House staff and others to create, on demand, visuals of changes in important documents. This includes changes between bill proposals and current law; and also how an amendment would change a bill. Here’s an example of a comparative print.

Updated Clerk’s website

The Clerk of the House is continuing to modernize its website, which can be viewed in alpha at Clerkpreview.house.gov. By end of 2018, the Clerk intends to update the help and resources, member election stats, disclosures, and notes there’s a new version of HouseLive.

API for GovInfo

GPO has launched an API for most of the information contained on GovInfo, its gigantic website of government reports and documents. This is a big deal, as the API will provide an incredible useful complement to bulk access. At the moment not included are the documents published in bulk, like legislation, but they are taking requests for additional items to make available through the API.

Senate website

The Senate’s website is now mobile friendly and they’ve completely redesigned the information architecture behind that site.

Ask Alexa

The Clerk’s office came up with a clever project to integrate their data holdings with Alexa, the web app for Amazon’s echo. You can ask whether the House is in session, who your representative is, and what meetings are happening today. Submit ideas for other questions Alexa should answer here.

USLM

A lot of what makes it possible to put legislative information to use is having it generated in a structured data format. The Congress has been working hard to make its information available in the United States Legislative Model (USLM).

The Congress has developed a new USLM schema (version 2.0) and are asking for feedback. They’re also currently working on moving public bills and statutes into USLM, which will empower many of the new tools they wish to develop (such as important updates to legislative drafting).

Congress.gov

The Library of Congress is continuing to make welcome incremental improvements in Congress.gov, such as efforts to track committee names as they’ve changed over time and improve saved alerts. (See their enhancements timeline.)

The Library didn’t answer address questions about integration of CRS reports onto the Library’s website, although they showed a few images and suggested a September 18, 2018 implementation date. (Their implementation plan suggests non-compliance with both the requirements of the law and best practices for creating web resources.) They didn’t get into the joint House/Senate committee calendar, which will shortly be required by law. They did give a presentation on their app challenge, won by a high school student for a neat visualization of treaty info, and some of the experiments being conducted by LC Labs.

Other Presentations

The conference featured a number of great presentations, by Ed Walters’ presentation on “9 ways the government can work with private publishers on public access” stood out. It’s worth watching it on video.

Additional Resources

For more, the conference agenda is here; video of the conference is here; and my recap of prior conferences are here.

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