Congress and HTTPS

Earlier this week our friends at the Sunlight Foundation released a report that concluded “only 15 percent of congressional websites are HTTPS ready.” The use of HTTPS reduces the risk of interception or modification of user interactions with government online services. Coincidentally, building a congressional HTTPS dashboard is on our congressional tools wish list, and I was able to help Sunlight prior to the report’s release by hand-crafting a complete list of House and Senate committee and leadership websites, along with assorted legislative support agencies and offices and a few other useful legislative branch websites.

In looking over their findings and my background research, a couple of things stood out.Continue Reading

Learning from #Hack4Congress

The Tuesday, May 12 #Hack4Congress awards ceremony at the House of Representatives’ majestic Judiciary Committee hearing room was the culmination of a 6 month long effort to engage technologically savvy members of the public with making Congress more open and efficient. The three winners of congressional data hackathons in Cambridge, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. presented their projects to three members of Congress, a bipartisan array of senior congressional staff, and a packed gallery filled with journalists, advocates, staff, academics, and others.Continue Reading

Emerging Standards of Parliamentary Accountability Panel Discussion

by Júlia Keserű

The 3rd International Open Government Data Conference in Ottawa is part of a full week of open data events. Alongside the pre-conference events, the National Democratic Institutethe Sunlight Foundation, and the Latin American Network on Legislative Transparency, as core partners in OpeningParliament.org, a community of civic organizations dedicated to opening up parliamentary data, will co-host a three-hour pre-conference event on the afternoon of Wednesday, May 27, from 2:00 to 5:00pm. The meeting will be held in the Shaw Conference Centre in Ottawa, Room 201.

The goal of the pre-conference discussion is to discuss emerging standards for parliamentary accountability, as well as the data needed to monitor compliance with them. The panelists will showcase some of the relevant work around standards and norms on openness, including the introduction of discussion documents on standards on three specific topics:

1) Parliamentary Conduct and Ethics (presented by Scott Hubli and Greg Brown, National Democratic Institute)

2) Money, Politics and Transparency (presented by Lindsay Ferris, Sunlight Foundation)

3) Lobbying (presented by Daniel Freund, Transparency International EU)

The discussion will be co-moderated by Senator Hernán Larraín, chair of the Bicameral Commission on Transparency of the Congress of Chile, and Alisha Todd, director general of ParlAmericas.

A panel discussion and introduction of these new global standards will be followed by breakout sessions on each of the three topics. If you have any questions, please email Dan Swislow (dswislow@ndi.org) or Julia Keseru (jkeseru@sunlightfoundation.com).

Please RSVP for the open parliament pre-conference event using this link.

New tool: Roll Call Vote Comparisons

The indefatigable Joe Carmel, creator of LegisLink, just unveiled a new tool for comparison of House Roll Call Votes. Drawing on a combination of official source material and prior work by Josh Tauberer (of GovTrack fame), the Roll Call Comparison Tool allows the easy comparison of two roll call votes, even if they don’t take place in the same session of Congress.

Why is this important? Often times, congressional staff and advocates compare multiple votes to identify strong supporters or opponents of legislation, or figure out where a new vote is likely to come out. This work is often done by hand and can take an hour to complete per comparison. This new tool makes it instantaneous. His work was prompted by the Congressional Data Coalition’s new list of congressional civic technology tools that should be built.Continue Reading

Audio of CDC at SXSW on “Your Laws, Your Data”

In March, several members of the Congressional Data Coalition spoke at SXSW in a panel entitled “Your Laws, Your Data.” (Daniel Schuman, Congressional Data Coalition co-chair; Molly Schwartz, associate fellow, R Street Institute; Molly Bohmer, data curator, Cato Institute; and Rebecca Williams, policy analyst, data.gov.)

Audio from that conversation is now available.

Report from the 2015 Legislative Data and Transparency Conference

The House of Representatives recently held its fourth annual Legislative Data and Transparency Conference. The conference provides a unique opportunity for members of Congress, congressional staff, legislative support office staff, legislative support agency staff, and the public to meet and discuss efforts to make congressional information more useful and more widely available to stakeholders inside and outside Congress. As in prior years, it was a significant success.

This blogpost covers highlights of the conference, but if you want more, here are video, slides, and the agenda for the day’s activities.Continue Reading

Identifying Legislative Data Resources and Project Ideas

As a community, we can do a better job to help people find federal legislative data sources and identify useful technology projects. This has become increasingly apparent in the wake of last week’s Legislative Data and Transparency Conference and the hackathon #Hack4Congress. Accordingly, I am pleased to announce two new community projects.

First, I’ve started an index of structured legislative data. It is published in a hackpad, so anyone can edit the document to add new ideas or clean up the first draft.

Second, I’ve started a comprehensive list of useful projects that rely on legislative data. It too is published on a hackpad. Ultimately, each project should be fleshed out with a description, links to where necessary data can be found, and the status of the project. If there are additional tools that should be built, please add them there.

Finally, we should create a more comprehensive listing of tools that allow people to follow Congress and make use of its information. For now, see this blogpost as a useful starting point.

House Appropriators Look at Legislative Branch Transparency

At last week’s full committee markup of the Legislative branch’s appropriations bill, Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL) offered an amendment that set the stage for more transparency around Congressional Research Service reports; Rep. Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) successfully pushed for an amendment to create a House Technology Task Force; and Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA) offered and withdrew an amendment to create a task force on establishing a bicameral chief technology officer.

Also debated were cuts in funding to the Government Publishing Office’s online document repository FDSys and the defunding of the Open World Leadership Council, an international legislative exchange program. Included in the final appropriations bill was the continuation of a cost-savings effort to limit or ban the distribution of print copies of documents to congressional offices, including bills and resolutions, the Congressional Record, the U.S. Code, Reports of Disbursements, and the Daily Calendar, in favor of online access.Continue Reading

Meet Civicist

Recently, our friends who run the Personal Democracy Forum, Civic Hall, and the recently retired group blog TechPresident, announced a new project, Civicist. Run by Micah Sifry and Andrew Rasiej, Civicist is a “hub for news and analysis of the civic tech world.” Since members of the Congressional Data Coalition are all about using legislative data to make Congress more open, accountable, and effective, we are excited to see Andrew and Micah bringing their prodigious energies to telling the very important civic technology stories (including the significant changes at the federal level).Continue Reading