Update 5/2/2014: We sent a similar letter to Senate appropriators today. See Daniel’s post about it.
The Committee request that the Clerk of the House, the Librarian of Congress and the Public Printer work together to make available to the public through Congress.gov or FDsys bulk data downloads of bill status by the beginning of the next Congress.
While we’ve heard promises many times, similar language was found in the corresponding report five years ago, and this may still only lead to data about House bills and not Senate bills, we are cautiously optimistic that this may signal real change. For more, see Daniel Schuman’s post about this at CREW.
In a new letter to the House this month, we joined 18 other organizations and individuals in calling for access to the legislative data on bill status that Congress has but won’t share.
The letter was sent by the new Congressional Data Coalition, formed this month of citizens, public interest groups, trade associations, and businesses who champion greater governmental transparency through improved public access to and long-term preservation of congressional information.
Congress publishes bill status on its website Congress.gov, but we are asking for it as raw data in bulk. Like on a spreadsheet. As we wrote in the letter:
To illustrate the difference between a website and data, we note that no legislative branch office or agency makes available a spreadsheet that lists every bill introduced in the 113th Congress. As you may have experienced in your own lives, a spreadsheet is an important tool when working with large amounts of information. Bulk data is like that.
Better data from Congress would help us provide more and better information on GovTrack about what is happening in Congress. The same is true of the other organizations who signed onto the letter. We can do a lot of good with that data And while the House did make many improvements to legislative transparency in the past several years, bill status data is extremely important and has not yet been addressed — even though it has been promised many times and we (and others) have been asking for it almost each year since 2007 (here’s our previous letter).
Our request is relatively simple, inexpensive, and uncontroversial. Bulk, structured data is a cornerstone of many legislative information products such as House and Senate roll call votes and House and Senate bill text, which all use XML, as well as nearly all of the recent projects completed by the House’s own Legislative Branch Bulk Data Task Force.
This letter was to House appropriators who decide on how the legislative branch spends its budget. We’ll also need to convince Senate appropriators of the importance of public access to legislative data.
The complete list of signers on the letter was the Congressional Data Coalition, Capitol Bells, the Center for Responsive Politics, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Civic Impulse, LLC (GovTrack.us), the Data Transparency Coalition, eCitizens.org / GovAlert.me, Ed Walters (CEO, Fastcase, Inc.), Free Government Information, the Government Accountability Project, Gregory Slater, National Priorities Project, OpenTheGovernment.org, Project On Government Oversight (POGO), Public Citizen, R Street Institute, Sunlight Foundation, TechFreedom, and WashingtonWatch.com.