Where’s the data, Boehner?

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.

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7 Comments

  1. As a taxpaying, voting American i would like to see structured data as recommend by Josh Tauberer. I can understand why you wouldn’t want to make this information more readily available; you representatives my have to account for some of your actions. Is that the reason?

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  2. I support your request to congress on having structured data made to the public and for the public. Accessibility of data should also follow accessibility guidelines by the W3C.

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  3. To NOT have access to Bills submitted to Congress isn’t even an option. Full text of Bills is the minimum requirement.
    The minute this information is denied, our government will have real trouble on their hands. Why should we follow ANY legislation, if we are denied access to ANY of it? This is especially true for Spending Bills. WE don’t pay for unidentified anything…not even if it’s, ‘for our own good.’

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  4. I speak as an independent and how much of what I am saying is dependent upon the actual people who will speak up. To address this Bad Science strategy the Speaker of the House and those who are with him on this idea to keep people from having health care is madd! I agree that the minority or those who may be oppose to this Government Health care program they are the one’s who are making and creating this sabotage and in essence attempting or threatening to shut down the U.S. Government. Which in my opinion is a threat no less than what terrorist would do in order to get there way. Now’ mark you this is in a time when Corporate Business is bursting at the seams with profit for stakeholders as well as stockholders.

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  5. You want us to abide by the laws you create before telling us what they are? (Sort of like, You have to sign the bill before we find out what’s in it). You want us to pay for things and not tell us what they are? Sounds like a good thing if you’re a dictator. I understand that a lot of that has already been done, and we who live by and pay for the laws you create, are and will be the only ones who pay, especially when you opt yourselves out of those laws you do not like.

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  6. Obama ran on a promise of transparency in government and eliminating lobbyists. But the moment Pelosi stood and said that congress would have to pass the obamacare Act in order for us to know what was in it was a sign that Congress and the president had become arrogant and that the Democratic party was no longer a party of the people, but the party of special interest groups that worked to divide the nation for their own benefit.

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