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

Senate Preview of the Next Day’s Floor Schedule and Activity Wrap-up

While leadership for Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives send email floor alerts for the upcoming day’s legislative activities (and House Dems have a neat new mobile app), the Senate does not. Senate Democrats and Republicans publish on the web a daily summary of the prior day’s activities and what they expect will be on the schedule for the upcoming day. If you’re like me, this is useful information to have pushed to your inbox. Now you can.

Using the free web service IFTTT.com, which allows anyone to build simple connections between online products and apps, it is possible to take the RSS news feeds published by Democrats and Republicans and have it sent to you whenever it is updated. These connections are called recipes. I’ve build recipes for both parties and published them online.

The Democrats publish more information in their RSS feed, which is more useful for our purposes because it includes details. Here are the recipes you can add to your own account:

The Republicans do not publish much information in their feed, but they do let you know when their website has been updated (which contains more info).

  • The bare-bones Republican floor wrap can subscribed to here.
  • I have not been able to figure out how to pull the Republican preview of the next days’ activities from their feed without getting everything else. If you figure it out, let me know.

Meet “Whip Watch”

Yesterday congressional Democrats releasedWhip Watch,” an app that provides the public (and congressional staffers) a real-time mobile view into the Democrats’ whip operation. Most notably, it includes a live floor feed showing upcoming votes, with links to bills and amendments, and an extensive list of job announcements for House Democratic offices. Also included are the daily and weekly whip notices and a session calendar. While much of this information has been available previously, it has not been published in a mobile format.Continue Reading

Legislink Goes Back in Time (and Bicameral)

The free roll call vote comparison tool Legislink has gone bicameral and back in time. It now is possible to compare roll call votes in the House and Senate going back to 1990. Previously, the site only worked for the House and only went back to 2003.

Developer Joe Carmel extended the vote data by drawing on prior work by GovTrack’s Josh Tauberer. At the click of a mouse, researchers and advocates can easily compare votes, a process that usually takes about an hour when done by hand. This is a tremendous boon for policy advocates who must mine the data for likely allies and adversaries. More on how Legislink works here.

Legisletters: A Hub for Congressional Correspondence

This week GovLab beta launched a new tool, Legisletters, which automatically gathers congressional correspondence with agencies and publishes it in a searchable, user-friendly interface. The project is the brainchild of Travis Moore and Andrew Miller, with some advice from me, and was magnificently developed by John Krauss at GovLab.Continue Reading

Events announcement: Learn Akoma Ntoso

Here is information about three upcoming events concerning Akoma Ntoso and Legal XML for Semantic Web techniques.
Continue Reading

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

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.