Lawmakers favor outside access to legislative data

The legislative process could become a lot more exciting if lawmakers get their way in freeing the data inside the Library of Congress' legislative Internet database so that independent Web sites can repackage the information.

In November, the House Administration Committee asked the library to explore solutions for supplying the public with raw legislative information from the database, dubbed THOMAS, committee spokesman Kyle Anderson said on Wednesday.

"The library is looking into the resources that would be required to make this data available," spokesman Guy Lamolinara confirmed. A report to the committee is expected during the first part of the calendar year.

"By providing an open legislative database to the public," sites could "better tap into the knowledge of the American people," said Democratic Rep. Mike Honda of California, who along with Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., has made the same request of the library.

Web sites like the online encyclopedia Wikipedia that anyone can modify, as well as the Linux computer-operating system, whose underlying code can be read and altered, demonstrate the benefits of open systems, Honda added.

At a recent hearing, Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., also recommended that the library present Senate votes in a structured format so citizens can have a better look at the records of their elected officials.

Rob Pierson, Honda's online communications director and president of the House System Administrators Association, said that currently, Honda's site must rely on links to show visitors his most recent votes and sponsored bills.

THOMAS' data would let his office display the information on Honda's own site and allow bloggers to embed automatic notifications of updates, known as "trackbacks," to bills sponsored by Honda, Pierson said. Access to the raw data "would encourage an explosion of innovative Web sites."

One beneficiary of the proposal may be linguistics graduate student Joshua Tauberer, who has already launched, a noncommercial Web site that compiles the status of legislation and voting records from THOMAS.

If the data were made available as a bulk download or delivered in slices, it would fill some of the gaps on GovTrack, Tauberer said. Currently, the site cannot reliably obtain a daily list of the bills that have been updated, and some bills show up on GovTrack with outdated information.

The data is important because no single view into the workings of Congress is best for everyone, he added. "Reporters, kids and citizens at large want to see Congress from different angles and want to see different connections exposed between votes, legislation, money, earmarks, etc."

But the change likely would affect paid-subscription sites that charge for legislative updates. Their "business model will need to evolve to compete with citizen technologists," Sunlight Foundation Program Director John Wonderlich said. Companies may need to add more substantial analysis in order to compete with free services, he added.

There also may be resistance from congressional administrators, who "are often wary of taking on new departmental responsibilities if they are not accompanied by statutory justification or appropriations," Wonderlich said.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Federal IT Applications: Assessing Government's Core Drivers

    In order to better understand the current state of external and internal-facing agency workplace applications, Government Business Council (GBC) and Riverbed undertook an in-depth research study of federal employees. Overall, survey findings indicate that federal IT applications still face a gamut of challenges with regard to quality, reliability, and performance management.

  • PIV- I And Multifactor Authentication: The Best Defense for Federal Government Contractors

    This white paper explores NIST SP 800-171 and why compliance is critical to federal government contractors, especially those that work with the Department of Defense, as well as how leveraging PIV-I credentialing with multifactor authentication can be used as a defense against cyberattacks

  • Toward A More Innovative Government

    This research study aims to understand how state and local leaders regard their agency’s innovation efforts and what they are doing to overcome the challenges they face in successfully implementing these efforts.

  • From Volume to Value: UK’s NHS Digital Provides U.S. Healthcare Agencies A Roadmap For Value-Based Payment Models

    The U.S. healthcare industry is rapidly moving away from traditional fee-for-service models and towards value-based purchasing that reimburses physicians for quality of care in place of frequency of care.

  • GBC Flash Poll: Is Your Agency Safe?

    Federal leaders weigh in on the state of information security


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.