Developments from the Congressional Data Task Force Meeting on March 14, 2023

The Congressional Data Task Force convened on March 14, 2023, to discuss a range of topics related to the use and management of data within the legislative branch. The meeting, which included representatives from various government offices and civil society organizations, highlighted several new and interesting developments. Go here for video and slides from the presentations.

Among the highlights:

  • Implementation of the Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports Act is due by the end of the year
  • The Library of Congress is planning to update/release an API for committee meetings, hearings, and committee prints by the end of 2022
  • The House Statements of Disbursements will soon be published as CSV with a number of new identifiers
  • The House Digital Service is planning for the upcoming Congressional Hackathon
  • The Senate is continuing to make progress on the availability of its video
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A Biased Yet Reliable Guide to Sources of Information and Data About Congress

Big Picture

1/ There’s big gaps in the data story

2/ Even when there’s data, it may not tell the whole story

  • Info about Congress isn’t entire reliable, even when it is official, e.g., the Congressional Record (“revise and extend”)
  • Congress historically is a paper-based institution, driven by people with agendas, and it has inconsistent archival practices, e.g. GPO established in 1860, National Archives created in 1934
  • Its institutions are built to solve a particular problem, not work for all time. Plus there’s a lot of turf wars, e.g., the former
  • Analyses, even by experts, can be unreliable because of the source data or unexpected actions. See, e.g. CRS report on the number of staff in an office (done by counting phone numbers) or the various supplementals

3/ The people who dogfood the data, such as Josh Tauberer at GovTrack, Derek Willis formerly of ProPublica, and OpenSecrets, are often forced to build additional reliability and usability into the data than that available from official sources.

4/ This presentation is idiosyncratic and focuses on particular use cases. Major topics include:

  • Federal spending information
  • Oversight and accountability
  • Legislation
  • Congressional committees
  • Information about Congress
  • Money in politics and ethics
  • Other interesting and important stuff
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House Publishes More Earmarks Request Data, Which We Enhance

At the end of last week, the House Appropriations Committee published all earmark requests for FY 2024 on the committee’s website, including publishing them as a spreadsheet. This is great and welcome news. For the first time, the appropriations spreadsheet separated member names into different columns and included state, district, party, and recipient address. This makes the information significantly more usable. Thank you.

In fact, it’s so usable, we spent a little time over the weekend making it even more robust. We enhanced their spreadsheet by adding bioguide IDs for each member, appropriations subcommittee codes, a standardized recipient address (with help from ChatGPT), and extracted the recipient state and zip code. We have been playing around with using the AI to categorize whether the recipient entity is a non-profit or a governmental entity. We can imagine a lot of use cases for this cleaned-up data.

The spreadsheet is available online here. We are continuing to tinker with it.

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Congressional Data Task Force Meeting Set For June 22, 2023

The next Congressional Data Task Force Meeting is set for June 22, 2023 from 2:00 – 4:00 pm EST.

The meeting will take place in hybrid format. You must register online here, at which point you’ll be prompted to indicate whether you want to attend virtually or in person. If you attend in-person, the meeting will take place in the House Longworth Building, room B-248/B-249.

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Notes from the Congressional Hackathon on April 6, 2022

(Everyone is welcome to add edits/ comments. Document created by Daniel Schuman at Demand Progress

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Recap: Congressional Data Task Force December 2022 Meeting

The newly renamed Congressional Data Task Force met virtually on December 13, 2022. Resources on the event, including a video of the proceedings, slides from the clerk and slides from GPO, are available on the Innovation Hub here.

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Congressional Data Task Force Meeting Announced for March 14, 2023

The next Congressional Data Task Force Meeting is scheduled for 2-4PM EST on Tuesday, March 14, 2023.

To register, use the following link:

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House of Reps Publishes Unofficial Member Data for 118th Congress

In advance of the start of the 118th Congress, the House of Representatives published resources on members of the House on the Clerk’s webpage on December 30, 2022. The resources include:

To download the information, go to the Clerk’s page > Member Information > look to the column on the far right entitled “Additional Resources.” I’ve included a screenshot below.

Screenshot of Member Information Screen from the House Clerk's website.
Screenshot of Member Information Screen from the House Clerk’s website

Advisory Committee on the Records of Congress Meeting Set for December 5, 2022

The Advisory Committee on the Records of Congress announced its semi-annual meeting will be held on December 5, 2012, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. ET at the Government Publishing Office. Back in June, we had request that these meetings include a virtual component, but the notice apparently requires in-person attendance only and the meetings are not otherwise recorded. We have reached out again to request a virtual aspect for those who cannot attend in person.

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Improving the House Statement of Disbursements: Feedback Requested

The House of Representatives wants to improve how the Statements of Disbursements are published as data and they are asking for your help and input. A summary of how we got to this point is immediately below. Skip to the bottom if you want to share your views on how the Statements of Disbursements should be published, including reviewing a sample data set that contains the House’s proposal as well as a link to where you can provide feedback.

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