Congress can’t count its own laws

Congress’s official count of new laws, in the Resume of Congressional Activity, got it wrong for the 2013 legislative session. If Congress can’t count its own laws, they have some nerve to withhold the data from the public, preventing us from counting them ourselves.

The Resume for the 2013 session says there were 65 new laws enacted between January 3, 2013 and January 3, 2014 (House link, Senate Link; accessed Feb. 7, 2014). That’s wrong. There were 72 according to the Office of the Federal Register (OFR), which assigns slip law numbers (e.g. “Public Law 113-###”) to enacted laws.

What’s the deal? While the 72nd law was signed on Dec. 26, 2013, OFR didn’t publish the slip law numbers for the last seven until January 9. The Resume was published on January 6, and on that date OFR reported 65 laws even though 72 had been signed. Had Congress looked at Congress.gov on that date (we did), they would have seen that seven more bills had already been signed by the President. (Those laws had not yet been assigned a slip law number, but as far as we know that has no bearing on whether something is a law.)

We noticed this because we flubbed our initial blog post on the number of new laws in 2013, and we corrected our count on January 9. It’s February 7 and Congress’s count is still wrong.

Congress has tons of data on its legislation, but they don’t let anyone see it. (See my post Where’s the data, Boehner?) The Library of Congress has warned Congress about the costs and risks of allowing websites like GovTrack to have more information, but I think we should be concerned about the risks of only Congress having this information if they can’t even count 72 laws correctly.

The Resume of Congressional Activity is published at the end of each yearly legislative session in the Congressional Record. We’re not sure which legislative branch agency is responsible for doing the count.

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3 Comments

  1. WHAT risk? To keep the public INFORMED..I think there should be an ‘opinion’ remark from EVERY congressmen voting or not voting and WHY. This is how it is done in the court system and what could be more important than creating LAWS?
    This site has been a very valuable tool in assessing what is going on..extremely important. I am always surprised when I find a friend who doesn’t know about it..

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  2. “Law” is a term which does not have a universally accepted definition, but one definition is that law is a system of rules and guidelines which are enforced through social institutions to govern behaviour.

    “Common law” and equity are legal systems where decisions by courts are explicitly acknowledged as legal sources.

    “Civil and criminal procedure” concern the rules that courts must follow as a trial and appeals proceed. Both concern a citizen’s right to a fair trial or hearing.

    “Constitutional and administrative law” govern the affairs of the state. Constitutional law concerns both the relationships between the executive, legislature and judiciary and the human rights or civil liberties of individuals against the state.

    …so following your chain of analytics here is that only those ‘law’ that actually were passed through normal channels are accounted for. The last 3 presidencies including this present regime has effectively bypassed said channels to pass laws which are not unconstitutional but questionable at best. I mean finding fault in the general public at large when it was an administrative foul-up in 9/11. If even our administration divisions distrust one another how can we possibly put trust in any one of them to protect the public interests. $$$ is what sems to make such laws nowadays. I’m not a lawyer however I’d like to believe that our forefathers were ‘right’ to leave us to question our government. Josh, if were you I would do a recount, you’d see I’m correct e.g. ‘new laws’ don’t equal amendments to the prior rulings and laws. Nor are laws passed outside of recognized (Congress) channel which has been stipulated as a law. Just a thought 🙂

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