No legislative branch agency makes available a spreadsheet that lists every bill introduced in Congress. How can there be meaningful transparency if the public cannot get a simple list of bills?
Yesterday I called on Speaker Boehner and Majority Leader Cantor to fix this problem (read the letter). They promised bulk access to legislative information in 2011, they formed a task force in 2012, and yet we still don’t have something as simple as a list of bills.
From the letter:
I urge you to direct the Library of Congress to publish structured data for the House’s legislative data as soon as possible. Specifically, this means publishing the House half of the Library’s “bill summary and status” database as structured data, such as in XML. This database lists bills introduced in Congress, titles, sponsors, actions, and similar information.
Structured data is the fiscally responsible way to achieve legislative transparency. It is cheaper than website development (like Congress.gov) and reaches a wider audience by leveraging the private sector — including journalists and businesses — to keep the public informed.
Even Congress can’t get its own data. In 2012, our widgets were used on the official websites of 70 Members of Congress, and the House Democratic Caucus gets legislative information from us because they can’t get it from Congress.
In the letter I list 20 high-priority data fields about bills in Congress that should have been made available in a structured data format long ago.
Sites like GovTrack use Congress’s official website THOMAS.gov to reverse-engineer information about what is happening in Congress. THOMAS is being replaced by the new Congress.gov, and when THOMAS is finally taken off-line we will lose our source of legislative information. We hope dearly that comprehensive legislative data is made available before then.