The public has a right to know what its government is doing. It is the responsibility of Congress to make as much congressional information available for public use as quickly as it can, without restriction and in useful formats that facilitate the development of new information services and encourage re-publication. Congress should also create information in formats that facilitate its long-term use, re-use, and preservation.
1. Congressional information should be made publicly available to the maximum extent possible. Congress and its supporting offices and agencies should adopt a strong presumption in favor of proactive disclosure of congressional information.
2. Congressional information, such as a particular bill or committee report, should be electronically published in both human and machine-readable formats as close as possible to the time it was created and be available in perpetuity. Priority should be given to time-sensitive information.
3. Aggregates of congressional information, such as all legislation considered in a congress, should be released both as raw data and via a contextualized portal like Congress.gov and placed into a central depository like FDsys.gov. However, the absence of a contextualized portal or limited information available therein should not impede the publication of raw information.
4. Entities responsible for the creation of congressional information should consult regularly with one another, those responsible for maintaining or archiving information, and those responsible for publishing information to the public. Policymakers and technologists should be included in these conversations. The Bulk Data Task Force may be a useful model for institutionalizing this process.
5. Entities responsible for creating, maintaining, archiving, and disseminating congressional information should meet regularly with representatives of the public regarding what information should be released to the public and the methods and formats in which it should be published. Policymakers and technologists should be included in these conversations. A regularly-meeting advisory committee, perhaps as part of an entity like the Bulk Data Task Force, would be a useful way to institutionalize the process, although informal methods also should be pursued.
Facilitating information publication and reuse
6. Congressional information systems should be built and operated in part with the goal of contemporaneous release of information to the public. Information systems should be built or updated with facilitation of public access in mind. Congress should maximize utility of information in part by creating a “virtuous” information cycle that helps assure high data quality through internal reuse of information published to the public.
7. Information released to the public should be complete, primary, timely, accessible without restriction or qualification, machine readable, in an open format, license-free, without cost, high quality, well documented, and available in perpetuity. Publication of information in bulk and structured formats is essential, with APIs and other methods of information dissemination strongly encouraged as a supplement to bulk access. Information should be published in ways that take advantage of modern technology.
8. Congress should publish information in ways that facilitate reuse by third-parties, whether by individuals, the public sector, or the private sector. We do not support agreements that limit access to ostensibly public information to any one party or small group or use “official status” as a basis for barter (i.e. favorable or exclusionary agreements on access to information made in return for a good or service) with publishers or other third parties.
9. Historic congressional information, such as committee reports from prior congresses and the Statutes at Large, etc., all should be publicly available and published in those modern formats that most strongly enable reuse, republication, and long-term preservation. Digitization notwithstanding, a sufficient number of paper copies should be retained for archival, public-access, re-digitization, and quality-assurance purposes.
10. Most information electronically-published by Congress need not be authenticated. As a general rule, Congress should ensure information electronically published is textually identical to authenticated versions in custody of the issuing body. To the extent that official purposes require authentication, any content integrity verification method should be structured so as not to interfere with data re-use or re-purposing. Open, internationally recognized standards should be employed whenever possible. Methods of authentication, such as using hashes in conjunction with a secure website, are wholly appropriate for these purposes.
Defining congressional information
Congressional information includes legislative information and records held by committees and legislative branch agencies as well as other information on the operation of Congress. It refers to documents and data.
At its core, congressional information includes the text and status of bills and amendments, committee reports, floor and committee votes, committee membership lists, congressional and committee rules, floor and committee transcripts and video, floor and committee schedules, member contact information, the statutes at large, slip laws, public and private laws, messages from the President (such as veto communications, nominations, and proposed treaties), and the U.S. Code. For the purposes of this definition, subcommittee and joint committee information should be treated just like committee information.
Congressional information also includes other reports generated or received by Congress, the work of congressional offices (such as the Clerk of the House or Secretary of the Senate) and legislative support agencies (such as the Government Accountability Office, the Library of Congress and its Congressional Research service, and the Congressional Budget Office), public communications by members of Congress or between members of Congress, ethics information, lobbying information, internal expenditures, a live feed on when floor or committee votes are called, reports on the operations of legislative offices and agencies, staff lists, historical information, and so on.
Since congressional information encompasses some confidential communications—such as those between members of congress and their staff, between members, between staff, between members of the public and elected officials, and so on—as necessary, and consonant with a presumption in favor of disclosure, the release of this information may be subject to a delay and, in a small number of circumstances, withheld entirely.