Summer 2013 Updates

You asked for widgets, better accessibility, and improvements to email updates, and you got it. Here’s how we’ve improved GovTrack since the last update:

Major Updates

Our blog post and video Lawmakers Who Aren’t Making Law got national media coverage on The McLaughlin Group (at 22:20). Thanks to GovTrack’s director of communications Avi Eilam for spearheading that project.

Want to display the status of a bill on your website? Our bill widgets are back (example). You can find the link to the widget embed code on the right side of bill pages. GovTrack developer Gordon Hemsley knocked out this new feature just in the last few days.

Track bills by the section of the United States Code they amend. You can now get alerts whenever a new bill is introduced that would amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), or any other part of the US Code. Click the “Track Citations” button at the top of that page to get started.

GovTrack had not been very accessible to individuals with color blindness because we omitted underlines on links. If you noticed new underlining in many places, that’s to make sure more people can use the site.

When searching for bills, you can now put phrases “in quotes” to exclude bills that have both words in their title or text but not adjacent. And when searching for Members of Congress words like “senator” and “New York” won’t confuse our search anymore.

Bill pages now have a Comments tab, so you can leave comments for other users about what you think of legislation.

Other Improvements

“Your Lists” is now called “What I’m Tracking.” We simplified the track buttons on bill pages and elsewhere to make it much less confusing. And we added explanatory text about what tracking something will do in various places. Such as, when tracking particular bills: “You will get updates when this bill is scheduled for debate, has a major action such as a vote, or gets a new cosponsor, when a committee meeting is scheduled, when bill text becomes available or when we write a bill summary, plus similar events for related bills.”

When you get an alert for a newly introduced bill, we’ll now include what committees it has been referred to and whether any Members of Congress you are tracking are on any of those committees.

The overall layout of GovTrack pages has been tweaked a bit. We’re allocating a bit more space to advertisements. And the breadcrumb links are smaller.

When you paste a link to GovTrack into Twitter, Twitter should now give you a small preview of the page.

Our bill prognosis analysis is revised a bit. Instead of 16 separate models we now use 8, and in training the dependent variable is now continuous to measure how much of a bill’s text was enacted in any bill, rather than only checking for whether each bill individually was enacted per se.

The bills overview page has been rearranged a bit.

Some Mistakes

Early in the summer we went through a long process of trying to understand the 5+ ways that the House numbers amendments. There was some confusion. We think we finally understand it and are linking votes to the correct amendment descriptions now.

From July 12 to July 18 committee meetings feeds were broken because of invalid data coming from the House.

Some bills have multiple titles for portions of the bill but no short title for the whole bill. Previously we would use one of the short titles for a portion, but now instead we show a long title.

Our bill search got confused if in a bill’s printed text a word appeared hyphenated (split across two lines). That would make our system not see the word at all. We’re now indexing bills a different way so all words that appear in the bill’s text can be searched for.

Logging into GovTrack using your Twitter account wasn’t working from June 11 to June 28.

When updating your password, there was no confirmation that it worked. That’s been fixed.

For Developers

We’re now mirroring the ‘congress’ and ‘congress-legislators’ github projects in our data directory.

In our API, we’ve normalized the date format for the different API endpoints. You can now pass any ISO-style date to any of the endpoints.

Also in the API we’ve limited the number of returned rows per request to 600 rows at a time to ensure API queries don’t affect overall system performance. If you need more than that, you should probably use the bulk data.

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1 Comment

  1. I think you guys are doing a great job. I have just finished an instruction handout for my rather large contact list on how to sign up for PopVox… Will be glad to send you a copy if you want it. Just let me know.

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