The House Rules Should be Publicly Available in Advance of Their Adoption

At the start of the 115th Congress, there was a fight over whether the Office of Congressional Ethics should continue its existence. I won’t get into the merits of the disagreement here (although I’ve written about it elsewhere), but how it occurred is interesting.

The Office of Congressional Ethics is one of the many offices and agencies created by the rules of the House of Representatives, which are adopted on the first day of the new Congress. The House Rules are contained in a simple resolution, and that resolution usually is released to the public at most 24 hours before the vote, and sometimes with even less notice. At the start of the 115th Congress, the Republican Conference did not finalize the proposed rules until the night before they were to be considered by the House, and the full text didn’t leak out in full until the day of the vote.

More or less, this is the general practice of both parties, which is neither transparent nor helpful to the deliberative process. And yet, bills and joint resolutions were publicly available online for 3 days in advance of when they were voted on, just as the House rules require. What was going on?Continue Reading

The House of Representatives Orders Seconds on Legislative Transparency

Once again, at the start of the 115th Congress, the House of Representatives included an order in its rules package in support of public access to legislative information. (m) BROADENING AVAILABILITY OF LEGISLATIVE DOCUMENTS IN MACHINE-READABLE FORMATS.—The Committee on House Administration, the Clerk, and other officers and officials of the House shall continue efforts to […]

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Ending GovTrack’s bulk data and API

Open legislative data has been a core part of GovTrack’s mission since 2005, when there wasn’t very much of it. We were the first to provide comprehensive information about Congress’s legislative activities in an open, structured data format — a technical format that software developers (building websites and apps), journalists, and researchers used for new […]

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Why I Came To Believe CRS Reports Should be Publicly Available (and Built a Website to Make it Happen)

I first started working for Congress as a senate intern in September 2001. I was 23 years old and had no experience working on policy. I found myself responding to letters from constituents on issues that I’d never heard of previously. It was then that I first encountered the Congressional Research Service and its reports. […]

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Five bad arguments against public access to CRS reports

This week the progressive organization Demand Progress, along with the Congressional Data Coalition, launched EveryCRSReport.com. This new project site makes available, with the help of friendly Congressional offices, all Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports on Congress’ own internal site. The public now has access to more than 8,200 reports in one searchable database (you can […]

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It’s Time To Make Taxpayer-Funded Congressional Reports Available To The Public

This piece was originally published in the Daily Caller and co-authored by R Street Institute technology policy program director Zach Graves. American taxpayers support the $140 million a year expenditures of the Congressional Research Service, an independent and highly influential think tank housed within the Library of Congress. The agency’s mission is to advise members and committees […]

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House launches a public-facing phone directory for all staff

As promised at the 2016 Legislative Data and Transparency Conference, the House of Representatives launched a public-facing phone directory for all its staff. This is a tremendously useful tool. It provides authentic, up-to-date information on the people who work in the people’s house. While it (reasonably) does not contain email addresses, it has phone numbers, […]

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Kudos to House of Reps. for Releasing its Spending Info as Data

Today the House of Representatives published its spending information as structured data (a CSV) in addition to printing three volumes of tables. This is the second time it has done so. (I wrote about it the last time it happenedand why it is important for accountability.) Okay, Senate, it’s your turn. Publish your semi-annual spending […]

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The Constitution (Annotated) In Your Pocket

After a powerful speech by Khizr Khan at the Democratic National Convention, sales of pocket U.S. Constitutions have skyrocketed, becoming the second best selling book on Amazon. This is great! But the words of the Constitution are unsufficient to provide an understanding into how it has been applied by the courts over the last two […]

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Report from the 2016 Legislative Data & Transparency Conference

Today the House of Representatives’ Committee on House Administration hosted its fifth annual Legislative Data & Transparency Conference in the U.S. Capitol. The Conference brought together staff from House and Senate and legislative support offices, civil society advocates, technologists, overseas legislatures, and featured a speech by House Speaker Paul Ryan. More than 150 people attended, […]

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