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Congress Mulls API For Congressional Data 121

Amerika sends in a Wired blog post on the desire in Congress to make data on lawmaking more easily available to the public. The senator who introduced the language into an omnibus appropriations bill wants feedback on the best way to make (e.g.) the Library of Congress's Thomas data more available — an API or bulk downloads, or both. Some comments on the blog posting call for an authenticated versioning system so we can know unequivocally how any particular language made its way into a bill. "Congress has apparently listened to the public's complaints about lack of convenient access to government data. The new Omnibus Appropriations Bill includes a section, introduced by Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.), that would mark the first tangible move toward making federal legislative data available to the public in bulk, so third parties can mash it up and redistribute it in innovative and accessible ways. This would include all the data currently distributed through the Library of Congress's Thomas web site — bill status and summary information, lists of sponsors, tracking timelines, voting records, etc."
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Congress Mulls API For Congressional Data

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  • by Shakrai ( 717556 ) on Friday March 06, 2009 @11:55AM (#27092035) Journal

    What good is accountability when most Congressional Districts are drawn [wikipedia.org] in such a way that the real election winds up being during the primary where only the most rapid party supporters (typically 10-15% of those eligible) turn out to vote?

  • Re:Law for geeks (Score:5, Informative)

    by gEvil (beta) ( 945888 ) on Friday March 06, 2009 @11:56AM (#27092051)
    I think you have that backwards. It is not entirely coincidental that the rules that a computer program follows are called "code".
  • by peter303 ( 12292 ) on Friday March 06, 2009 @12:07PM (#27092201)
    I routinely look at large bills on thomas.loc.gov to see whats in them. 485 last minute earmarks in the stimulus bill and 9000 in the 2009 budget bills. Enough to make you gag.

    These are sort of like an ebay auction: 24 hours before the vote these start to stream in. Often they are placeholders "text to be supplied" or very obscure references to the organization designated for the earmark. Not even the toiling interns who are supposed to vet these for their bosses can keep up last minute submissions.

    Ironically the TARP bill last year was very streamlined and only had one earmark. But that was a controversial federal judge raise.

    Another nausea in the bills are that 90% are resolutions commending people or organizations in their districts. this reads like the gossip pages in the newspapers. You see this if look at the full list of recent bills.
  • You will never see line-item veto again since SCOTUS ruled it was unconstitutional.

    If only there were a way to change the Constitution. What's a good word for that? Oh! Amending! Wouldn't it be cool if someone had thought of that when they wrote the thing?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 06, 2009 @12:29PM (#27092455)

    That would be the biggest improvement to THOMAS that they could make. Yes finding bills can be hard, but once you've found it, many time's it's incomprehensible because it reads exactly, no seriously exactly , like a raw diff.

    "Modify 1(A)(a) Subsection 2(b) by removing the word 'and' and replacing it with 'or'," with no indication of what 1(A)(a) Subsection 2(b) is.

  • Re:Hmmph. (Score:5, Informative)

    by OctaviusIII ( 969957 ) on Friday March 06, 2009 @12:37PM (#27092547) Homepage
    That 1,000 pages thing is misleading: bills are printed on half-sized pages, double-spaced, in rather large font (Times New Roman 16 or 18) with wide margins (at least 0.75"). Were it a normal ol' book, it would probably be in the 200-300 range.
  • Re:Hmmph. (Score:3, Informative)

    by skarphace ( 812333 ) on Friday March 06, 2009 @06:06PM (#27098429) Homepage

    Too true. If you write in normal speech, you quickly have problems. Many words are just plain ambiguous. Even in technical specifications, it's something that has to be dealt with: if you're comparing two things for equality, what happens if one string has a precomposed Unicode character and the other one has the combining characteristics? Should the "K" (Kelvin sign glyph) and the "K" (Latin upper-case K) be considered equal?

    Plain language is almost always hopelessly ambiguous. Most legalese is actually very readable if you have a bit of practice.

    Not totally true. They are doing something about it [plainlanguage.gov].

"What the scientists have in their briefcases is terrifying." -- Nikita Khrushchev