Ending GovTrack’s bulk data and API

Open legislative data has been a core part of GovTrack’s mission since 2005, when there wasn’t very much of it. We were the first to provide comprehensive information about Congress’s legislative activities in an open, structured data format — a technical format that software developers (building websites and apps), journalists, and researchers used for new and unexpected purposes to create a more open and accountable government.

Eventually other organizations and Congress itself joined the effort. Official data from Congress reached new heights this year, after a long campaign by us and other advocates, and organizations like ProPublica have become data providers too.

Consequently, I’ve decided that it is time for us to end our work on open data so we can use our time more effectively on other parts of GovTrack.us.

Our open data and API will terminate next summer, once Congress begins its summer recess. That gives folks about six months to switch to ProPublica’s Congress API, the congress project scrapers, or a new bulk data system if someone builds it. I’ve posted helpful links on GovTrack’s developers page. If you’re not familiar with the term open data, this doesn’t impact you — the GovTrack website will continue as always.

I’ll still be helping out with the congress-legislators project, which is the best place to get legislator data now, and where GovTrack will continue to get its legislator data, and the congress project, which is the home of most of the data collection scripts we run to gather all of the data in the first place. I’ll also find a new way to publish GovTrack’s historical legislative data (votes from 1789, bills from 1973) which aren’t available in a structured data format elsewhere.

The end of our bulk data and API is a recognition that it worked. For instance, our data fed into Sunlight Foundation’s Drumbone API in 2010, which became Sunlight’s Real Time Congress API, which became Sunlight’s Congress API, which became the ProPublica Congress API this year. Our work in open legislative data is still living on.

Calling success and moving on from being a raw data provider will let us spend our resources on comparatively more impactful efforts going forward.

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