The Open House Project from The Sunlight Foundation

Input request: Legislative Data

October 16th, 2007 by John Wonderlich · 1 Comment

Building on our earlier conversation, I’m wondering if anyone has further input about THOMAS or LIS in terms of either raw data access or prioritizing feature upgrades.

Here’s a roundup of where our conversations have stood on the issue:

The chapter of the Open House Project report on Legislative Data.

Congress should make available to the public a well-supported database of all bill status and summary information currently accessible through the Library of Congress. This database, as well as its supporting files, should be in a structured, non-proprietary format such as XML. Records in the database should be updated in a timely manner. Such a database would enable independent Web sites to use information in new and creative ways, including educating the public about Congress and providing citizens with customized views of its proceedings.

Josh Tauberer’s follow up post on the same topic.

This additional information — what is called bill summary and status at the Library of Congress — is made available to the public through the THOMAS website (administered by the LOC). THOMAS has this information going back to 1989, for every bill. However, that information is not made available in a structured data format, limiting the ability of the public to reuse, transform, and mix it to create new views into the Congress. And that is what we’re asking for.

That information includes (besides what is in the existing bill XML files) CRS summaries of bills, a list of every action taken on each bill (votes, motions, referrals, etc.), a list of all titles a bill goes by, committee assignments, a list of related bills, a list of amendments on the bills (incl. title, sponsor, and legislative activity on them), a list of (LIV) subject terms assigned to the bill by CRS (which is very helpful for the public), and related committee documents.

Here’s our more recent discussion . (full of brilliant detail and discussion, worth reading in full)

Rob writes:

Rather than waiting for LoC to produce a proposal of how that legislative
data should be made available, I think it makes sense for this group to
preemptively offer ideas about the way that raw legislative data should be
provided for repurposing on other websites.

and

I’ve been told that folks at LoC are following our conversations here and
have been finding them quite useful.

I’m wondering how our collective input can help push the corresponding conversations among those responsible for these upgrades (both LIS and THOMAS). What else would you like to bring up?

I think there are two kinds of issues here. First is raw data access, granting public access to the structured data that enables others to meaningfully and reliably repurpose and web2.0ify the data (cf. govtrack and opencongress). The issues here seem to be about database structure, the format of a public interface with this structure (is this SPARQL?), and how the public might be notified of changes to this database.

The second issue is user functionality, which would include topics like bill tracking in RSS and by email, the existence of stable links for individual legislative objects, and the usability of searches (do S1, S.1 , S 1, and s. 1 etc all return the same results?), or other value added built in features like links to relevant materials (floor debate, which canada links to in legislation) etc. I’m inclined to suggest that government should focus on those things that only they can do, and do those really well (structured data, robust detailed schemas/dtds, interconnecting codes referring to various legislative events), especially given the amount of interest others have in re-presenting the data.

I’m interested to hear what others think, though, and I know others on the Hill are too.

Tags: OpenHouse

1 response so far ↓

  • Dana Hunter // Oct 19, 2007 at 9:20 am

    You might want to check out The Legislative Database – http://www.LgDb.com . It’s a free resource where you can find the full text, sponsors, co-sponsors etc. on bills in all 50 states. Soon there will be voting data as well as who is lobbying certain bills. Federal is right around the corner as well. LgDb is public facing and blog friendly, so check it out!

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