The Open House Project from The Sunlight Foundation

OHP Update

November 15th, 2007 by John Wonderlich · No Comments

(pasted in from the google group, which has been especially active…)

After returning earlier this week from a trip to London to meet with mysociety.org, I’m starting to catch up on everything we’ve been up to.

Whips and Structured Data: For one, I’ve reached out to leadership on both sides to hopefully start a discussion about using whip publications as a resource for indexing votes to party positions for research purposes.  The parties have a clear interest in having their position be easily determined (even long after the fact), and structured data seems to be the best solution.

There are probably two levels of data coordination here: the first is to publish whip packs as RSS (which neither side is doing at the moment)–this makes the content accesible without needing to screenscrape.  Second, the party positions for each bill should be indexed to each bill.  I’m not sure whether there is a single format for this purpose (I suspect one of Josh Tauberer’s conventions may be the de facto standard?), but indexing would make the task of linking legislation back to the party line much easier.  (I should add that we’re lucky to have public whip notices at all, this information is unavailable in the UK.)  Here’s an illustration of someone trying to derive the party line by poster Democratic Luntz at daily kos (part of a labor-intensive series), which also ties into the usefullness of structured data in posting votes information.

Preservation: Next, I’ve been on a mission to research the Advisory Committee on the Records of Congress.  This group meets occasionally, and features membership like the Secretary of the Senate, the Clerk of the House, the House Archivist, and others.  This seems to me to be the best example of cross-departmental cooperation, which is reassuring given how important it is to access such fundamentally important information.

They frequently reference a document from 1992, written in participation with a community of archivists, on documenting Congress.  The document is S.Pub 102-20, which I’ve spent a great deal of time trying to access for the last few weeks.  Research librarians at the LOC first suggested that S.Pub wasn’t actually a class of document, and were later able to send me a detailed citation.  A visit to the LOC then led me on a search through the main reading room, the microform room, and then to a delayed visit to the law library.  Everyone was really helpful and knowledgable, I must say, but I do have to remark that I’m amused that a document about making congressional information public can be so difficult to find, even for the LOC.  Is cross departmental cooperation so unusual?

In any case, I’ve finally gotten to read S.Pub 102-20, and it’s really the holy grail of congressional information surveys, delivering 120 pages of detailed analysis and recommendations, remarking on the nascent internet and the state of documents availability for every aspect of Congress, a survey I wish I had had a year ago.  I’ll be scanning the document from microfilm over the next few weeks, and will post it whenever I’m able to.  (If anyone has access to it in a more accessible format, I’d be very grateful.)

This work fits in closely with the idea that information availability is more than an abstract idea about good government, but really a necessary condition for meaningful deliberation; the societal equivalent of an operational memory, whose function is impaired by a technology that develops before archiving practices can keep up.

I’ve got several more things to write about, but that’s probably more than enough for one email.  More soon.

Tags: Congress · Member Web Sites · OpenHouse · archivist · committees · government websites · govtrack

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