Upgrading Senate technology and other recent press

Recently the Senate decided to update its website so that it shares roll call vote data with other websites, like GovTrack, in a more technologically friendly way. I’ve been pushing this for the past couple of years, along with others, and it’s great news to finally see this change. Read on for more and other recent press coverage.

The basic idea is that to create a site like GovTrack, you need a good computer-oriented database of legislative information. Congress only makes a sliver of this type of information available in a way that makes it easy for others like me to remix it and transform it into new things (like this website). For the last decade, the Senate actually had a policy against using the latest technology because Senators did not

want roll call vote results to be easily displayed on non-Senate websites. (If you think that’s ridiculous, you are quite right.) I don’t mean to take that much credit, but I’ve worked with some staffers over the last few years on pushing the Senate to get rid of this policy, and in the last few weeks the policy was finally undone. You can read about it in these press accounts:

  • 5/11/2009. Columbia Journalism Review :

    , by Clint Hendler

  • 5/6/2009.


    : , by Victoria McGrane. (Again, no mention of GovTrack, but I could this as a bit of a personal victory.)

  • 5/1/2009. Politico:

    , by Victoria McGrane. (It doesn’t mention GovTrack, but I was involved behind the scenes.)

  • 4/27/2009.

    Politico: , by Victoria McGrane

Earlier in the year there were also a bunch of articles about how data can be used to improve government transparency and civic engagement. The first article below, especially, talks about how we (that is, me and some other folks) got the House of Representatives to instruct the Library of Congress to make legislative data better available to the public to build independent sites like GovTrack.

  • 3/5/2009. Mother Jones: , by Jonathan Stein
  • 2/28/2009. Newsweek: , by Christopher Werth.
  • 1/10/2009.


    : , by John Mecklin.

  • January 2009. The Atlantic


    , by Douglas McGray.

There was also a recent article about our experiment with MixedInk in writing group letters to Congress:

  • 5/9/2009. Examiner.com

    : , by Alexandra de Scheel

And another article mentioning GovTrack:

  • 3/3/2009.



    , by Erika Morphy.


  1. Very informative. I am happy to have access to this information. Is there a similar site that would allow citizens to follow bills before they come up for vote?


  2. You can track bills before they go to vote right here on GovTrack. If you want to track things before they even become bills, that’s not something you can do anywhere.


  3. To J.C.: For a long time now, anyone anywhere has been able to track bills through the Library of Congress. Check out thomas.loc.gov. It’s no secret.

    The machinations of Congress are largely open to any interested observer. But it does take time and effort, time and effort that’s reduced thanks to web sites like govtrack.us. For instance, anyone who wants to can sit in the House or Senate gallery and watch floor proceedings, including votes. You can also watch them live on C-SPAN from anywhere. But to get that up-to-the-minute information, you do need to sit there and watch, a luxury only a few news outlets can afford.

    PS. THOMAS will be undergoing an upgrade in the next couple of months. Keep your eyes peeled.


  4. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention two other things:

    It can sometimes take a while before votes are posted on THOMAS. The House clerk, on the other hand, usually posts votes within an hour or two; they’re on clerk.house.gov under “Floor Proceedings” (right in the center of the page). The Senate, on the other hand, isn’t as timely; generally you have to wait till the next day.

    Floor proceedings are available live on C-SPAN. If you don’t have access to cable TV, but do have an internet connection, you can watch a webcast. Head to c-span.org and click “LIVE TV/RADIO” in the top right corner. House and Senate committees also webcast their proceedings; check out individual committee homepages for particular hearings and mark-ups.

    Keep up the good fight!


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