Congress open up the tap for Legislative Data!

Today the Government Publishing Office and Library of Congress completed a full revolution in public access to legislative information. Information about legislative actions in congress–the bills, summaries of the bills, and their status–is now available online, in bulk, in a structured data format. As I wrote in December, this has great significance:

  • It marks the publication of essential legislative information in a format that supports unlimited public reuse, analysis, and republication. It is now possible to see much of a bill’s life cycle.
  • It illustrates the positive relationship that has grown between Congress and the public on access to legislative information, where there is growing open dialog and conversation about how to best meet our collective needs.
  • It is an example of how different components within the legislative branch are engaging with one another on a range of data-related issues, sometimes for the first time ever, under the aegis of the Bulk Data Task Force.
  • It means the Library of Congress and GPO will no longer be tied to the antiquated THOMAS website and can focus on more rapid technological advancement. (At least for data from the 113th and 114th Congresses).
  • It shows how a diverse community of outside organizations and interests came together and built a community to work with Congress for the common good.

Many more good things are on the horizon, and we have hopes for many more from Congress and civic coders, but for now, congratulations to our tireless friends in Congress and the legislative support offices and agencies that have labored to make this happen. Read their announcement here.

Congress Poised for Leap to Open Up Legislative Data

Following bills in Congress requires three major pieces of information: the text of the bill, a summary of what the bill is about, and the status information associated with the bill. For the last few years, Congress has been publishing the text and summaries for all legislation moving in Congress, but has not published bill status information. This key information is necessary to identify the bill author, where the bill is in the legislative process, who introduced the legislation, and so on.

While it has been in the works for a while, this week Congress confirmed it will make “Bill Statuses in XML format available through the GPO’s Federal Digital System (FDsys) Bulk Data repository starting with the 113th Congress,” (i.e. January 2013).  In “early 2016,” bill status information will be published online in bulk– here. This should mean that people who wish to use the legislative information published on Congress.gov and THOMAS will no longer need to scrape those websites for current legislative information, but instead should be able to access it automatically.Continue Reading

Second Congressional Hackathon a Great Success

On Friday, the House of Representatives held its second Congressional Hackathon, co-hosted by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer.InHackWeTrust flag

The major, unstated purpose of the hackathon was to bring people together to sustain the effort to modernize technology in congress. The hackathon did exactly that, gathering congressional staff, legislative support staff, and members of the public to build those relationships in a constructive atmosphere. It was an incredible success.Continue Reading

More info on Congressional Hackathon

Today Reps. Hoyer and McCarthy released more information on the upcoming Congressional Hackathon. Here is the press release. The Congressional Data Coalition will be hosting a happy hour afterward.


 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer (MD-5) and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (CA-23) today announced details of the upcoming Second Congressional Hackathon that will take place next week on Friday, October 23, 2015 from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm in the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.Continue Reading

Library of Congress, GPO Should Publish the Digitized Congressional Record

At a meeting in April, the Government Publishing Office announced its collaboration with the Library of Congress to digitize all bound volumes of the Congressional Record from 1873-1998. The Congressional Record is the official record of the proceedings and debates of the United States Congress.

The digitization project is pursuant to a 2010 Joint Committee on Printing letter. GPO explained at the April meeting that it had digitized all of the volumes and the “[Library Services and Content Management business unit] was in the acquisitions process for the next step of reviewing the digital content and creating descriptive metadata.”

GPO and the Library should release the digitized volumes now. Even without metadata, the Congressional Record could be searched and put to other uses. Other digitization projects concerning documents held by the Library have taken years while descriptive metadata was created. By contrast, a volunteer-led effort to create descriptive metadata for the Statutes of Large took a matter of months and cost the government nothing. Continue Reading

Congressional Technology Fellowship Program Launches

Travis Moore and New America’s Open Technology Institute announced the creation of TechCongress, a new fellowship program that places technologists in congressional offices. It will launch in 2016, and they are actively seeking applicants.

This is a great initiative with tremendous promise.

Save the Date: Second Congressional Hackathon Oct. 23

The Second Congressional Hackathon will take place at the U.S. Capitol on October 23 from 10-5. Hosted by Majority Leader McCarthy and Democratic Whip Hoyer, the hackathon is intended to explore how we can modernize Congress–from open data to updating constituent engagement.

To RSVP, go here.

The First Congressional Hackathon–#InHackWeTrust–was a great event, with tons of information about the ongoing work of the House and, equally as important, it presented a fantastic opportunity for real conversations between staff, technologists, and advocates. I wrote about it here.

With the same offices behind this hackathon, we have high hopes. Since the first congressional hackathon, there has been a series of public meetings and conferences hosted by the Clerk of the House, the launch of new pro-transparency congressional policies and tools, the creation of the open source caucus, and a civil society-organized congressional hackathon entitled #Hack4Congress. With so many new resources available (and more coming soon), and a spirit of cooperation between congressional staff and the public, I cannot wait to see what can be accomplished.

We will post more information as it becomes available.

Congressional Open Source Technology Caucus Launches

Reps. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) and Jared Polis (D-CO) announced the formation of the Congressional Open Source Technology Caucus last week and are looking for other representatives to serve as founding members. This comes after a June announcement that open source software is now permitted in the House of Representatives.Continue Reading

Open Source Software Now Permitted in the U.S. House of Representatives

Members and staff may use official resources to participate in open source projects, procure and publish open source software

WASHINGTON, D.C. (June 25, 2015) — The OpenGov Foundation, the Sunlight Foundation and the Congressional Data Coalition (CDC) today announced that Members, Committees, and staff within the U.S. House of Representatives are now able to use official resources to procure open source software, to fully participate in open source software communities, and to contribute software code developed with taxpayer dollars back to the public under an open source license.Continue Reading

It’s Time for Congress to Publish CRS Reports

This morning the New York Times editorialized in favor of public access to Congressional Research Service reports.

Given the extreme partisanship and gridlock in Congress, it’s more crucial than ever to have an informed electorate. Putting these reports in the public domain is an important step toward that goal.

Over the years our coalition has submitted testimony in favor of public access to these reports, most recently in March. In summary, the reports explain current legislative issues in language that everyone can understand, are written by a federal agencies that receives more than $100 million annually, and there is strong public demand for access. A detailed description of the issues at play is available hereContinue Reading