Bulk Data Task Force Reports Major Strides at October 2019 Meeting

The Bulk Data Task Force (BDTF) is essentially the justice league of legislative data. 

The task force convenes each quarter, bringing together the people in charge of managing Legislative Branch data—like the House Clerk, Secretary of the Senate, GPO, and Library of Congress—as well as outside stakeholders. Together the group works to make legislative data freely accessible to all.

The task force convened last week at the Legislative Data and Transparency Conference.

Here are the highlights:

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7th Annual House Legislative Data and Transparency Conference Announced

The seventh annual Legislative Data and Transparency Conference has been announced!

On Thursday October 17th, agencies, data users, and transparency advocates will come together to discuss Congress’s efforts to make legislative information available to the public as data.

The conference covers what’s working well, what’s not, and provides an opportunity to hear from and meet with the people working to make things better.

You can RSVP for the Thursday, October 17, 2019 event here.

You can find recaps of prior conferences and links to video from the conferences here:

Recap of the July 2019 Bulk Data Task Force Meeting

Last week the Bulk Data Task Force (BDTF) convened internal and external stakeholders to discuss, you guessed it, congressional data. 

Established in 2012, the BDTF brings together parties from across the legislative branch—including the House Clerk, the Secretary of the Senate, Government Publishing Office (GPO), Library of Congress (LOC), and more—as well as external expert groups to make congressional information easier to access and use.

Scroll down for a list of tools, both currently available and in the works, as well as announcements from the meeting. 

New Tools

In development phase

“Track changes” for legislation: The Clerk is working on a platform that will allow for comparing versions of legislation; staff will be able to see how an amendment changes a bill and a bill changes a law. A version of the tool is already available to the House Office of Legal Counsel and a minimum viable product will be available to legislative counsels in August or September. The full version of the tool could be available at the end of next year, but TBD if it is for internal use only.

In research phase

Automated bill sponsorship tool. There are about 135,000 co-sponsorships on bills every Congress; the Clerk’s office currently spends five hours of each day in session collecting handwritten sponsor sheets and inputting names. The Clerk is examining the viability of creating an automated tool that provides a list of bills available for co-sponsorship online and, through secure means, allow Members to request their names be added to a bill. 

Unique identifiers for lobbyists. Currently, lobbyists are assigned unique identifiers (IDs) but those are not disclosed to the public; this makes tracking lobbyist activity very difficult. For example, if someone fills out their lobbying forms and there’s a typo, or they write their full name one year and a nickname the following year, there’s no way to tell that all these forms are covering one individual’s activity.

In discussion phase

A live feed of House floor votes. No plans have been made yet. 

Available now: 

An API for bill status in the Bulk Data Repository. You can find the GovInfo API here; to access it you will need a key from APIkey.data.gov.

Standardized committee witness forms in PDF format. Documents’ naming convention is “TTF” so if you’d like to look up witness truth in testimony forms you can go to Docs.House.Gov and search for “TTF.” 

Sites

The public can give feedback and submit requests for documents, data, and fixes at github.com/usgpo/bill-status.

Durable links to government information, can be found at GPO’s link service.

RSS feeds for content and metadata can be found at govinfo.gov/feeds.

When in doubt, check out the Legislative Branch Innovation Hub, home base for legislative data

The United States Web Design System is an open source site that brings together government engineers, content specialists and designers to make building government sites easier.

The Tech Timeline covers congressional tech history from the first House telephone in 1880 to the first House website in 1994, plus everything before and after.

New Sites

The Clerk’s Consensus Calendar tracks bills with 290 or more sponsors. According to a new House rule for this Congress, each week the Speaker must pick one of the bills with 290 or more sponsors for 25 legislative days for consideration on the floor. 

HouseLive.gov is being moved to a beta version of Live.House.gov.

The in-house video clipping tool has been replaced by FloorClips.House.Gov.

In August, ClerkPreview.House.gov will move out of beta and become Clerk.House.gov. Scrapers using the site may be disrupted or broken. 

Announcements

The 2019 Data Transparency Conference will be happening this fall, specific date TBD. Suggestions for topics and dates can be submitted on the github innovation site.

FDSys is officially fully retired. The old federal digital system was replaced by GovInfo.gov which has been online in beta since 2016 and out of beta since January 2018. 

Thomas was retired in 2016 and its replacement Congress.gov has had several upgrades. For example, you can now sort search results by subcommittee and historic committee names will auto-populate. Looking ahead, the Library hopes to offer email notifications for committee hearings and meeting information. 

You can trust the  Government Publishing Office: GPO was certified as an ISO 16363 trustworthy digital repository. It is the first U.S. organization to earn the certification, and the second in the world. 

What You Need to Know About the November 2018 Bulk Data Task Force Meeting

This past Thursday’s Bulk Data Task Force meeting had a ton of info about technology in Congress. Here are some highlights:

Info about newly elected members of the House will be online in a structured data format from the House Clerk’s office by Nov. 13, and updated weekly thereafter, an amazing turnaround for data that historically has been hard to come by until January.

The Library is behind on publishing CRS reports. All “R series” reports should be up by the end of April, with the remaining reports expected by Sept. 30th. The statutory deadline was this past Sept. 18th. As of Sunday, CRSReports.Congress.gov had 1,251 reports. In the meantime, you can read all the current reports at EveryCRSReport.com.

A consolidated calendar for House and Senate meetings won’t be launched by the Library for the December 21st deadline, but a first phase will be completed in the first quarter (i.e. by Friday, March 29); it is expected to include information about all congressional proceedings. Integration of links to videos of proceedings may take longer. In the meantime, use GovTrack’s congressional committee calendar.

The refresh of Bioguide.Congress.gov — the website containing the names, photos, and biographies of every member of Congress — is on track. By the end of the March 2019, the information will be published as structured data and put on a secure (HTTPS) website. The long term goal is to create a publicly available API.

The House’s Truth in Testimony forms will become webforms. For now, they’ll generate PDFs that the committees will post individually to their webpages, but the long term goal is for the data to go into a central repository for publication, making it possible to track people as they testify before multiple committees.

GPO released an initial set of 40 Statute Compilations as a pilot on govinfo last week. More is coming. The compilation includes public laws that either do not appear in the U.S. Code or that have been classified to a title of the U.S. Code that has not been enacted into positive law.

Want to see how a draft bill would change the law in real time? The House is still working on it. The target date for making that tool available to Congressional staff is the end of 2019. And to the public? No date is set.

A few quick resources :

— GPO’s Developer Hub is a great resource for data stored on govinfo.gov.

— The Leg Branch Innovation Hub highlights tech-friendly leg branch activities. It includes info on bulk data task force meetings.

— Interested as Congress.gov rolls out new features? They’ve got a listserv for that.

We should note that five of the projects described above were required either in the FY 2017 or FY 2018 legislative branch appropriations bills. When the video from the proceedings are available, we will include it below.