The Library of Congress and the U.S. Government Publishing Office have begun making data about the status of congressional bills available as a bulk XML download — meaning Web developers and software writers can produce Internet sites or apps to provide accurate, up-to-the-minute data about the progress of legislation.
A blog post from the GPO said the move was undertaken at “the direction of the House Appropriations Committee.”
The landmark change in policy comes after more than a decade of asking by “open government advocates, activists and civic hackers,” according to the website E Pluribus Unum. The Congressional Data Coalition called it a “full revolution” and complimented the efforts of the Legislative Branch Bulk Data Task Force, which was established largely to facilitate the goal of disseminating bill information.
Other open data advocates, who have long regarded the availability of active bill status as a critical step in breaking down the barrier between citizens and the legislative process, also applauded last week’s move, as did lawmakers.
“Today’s release of bill status information via bulk download is a watershed moment for Congressional transparency,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said in a statement. “By modernizing our approach to government and increasing public access to information, we can begin to repair the relationship between the people and their democratic institutions.”
The bulk download bill data lays the groundwork for the wide proliferation of legislative news via social media and other mass communication platforms — a freedom long sought by transparency activists. Prior to the release, the principle source for XML data on legislation was GovTrack.us, a private website that scraped it from LOC.
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., called the release of data “a major accomplishment that has been many years in the making,” and declared that “it goes a long way toward making Congress more … accessible to innovation through third party apps and systems.”