FGI just signed the letter below written by the Sunlight Foundation asking Congress to improve public access to legislative information by directing the Library of Congress to make their Thomas database accessible in bulk format. If you and/or your organization believe that free access to Congressional information is of critical importance, please please consider adding your name to the list of signatories on the letter. Daniel Schuman, Sunlight Foundation’s policy counsel and director of the Advisory Committee on Transparency, requests that people sign on by COB on Monday April 2nd. Interested people may also email Daniel at [email protected]) with how they would like to be identified on the letter. Daniel thanks you and so do we!
We are writing to ask you to improve public access to legislative information by directing the Library of Congress to publish the THOMAS database online. Congress created THOMAS with the mission of making federal legislation freely available to the public. While times have changed, and technologies have changed, THOMAS has not kept up.
As a result, millions of Americans access basic information about legislation and congressional actions through online information providers like GovTrack, OpenCongress, and Washington Watch. These free non-governmental websites are forced to rely on brittle programs to harvest information from THOMAS’s complex website. This harvesting is imperfect, expensive, and time consuming. The better approach — which has been adopted by industry and many in government — is to publish legislative information “in bulk” in addition to other means.
Bulk access would in essence make the entire legislative database available for download, instead of requiring users to gather information by visiting hundreds or thousands of web pages. It would make it easier for third parties to build innovative new tools, and ensure that Americans have the most accurate information at their fingertips. Congress already expressed its support for bulk access downloads in 2009, but the Library of Congress, which oversees THOMAS, has not acted. In the meantime, GPO, the executive branch, and the House of Representatives are already publishing information online in bulk.
The time has come for action. In this year’s legislative branch appropriations bill, we urge you to direct the Library of Congress to implement bulk access to THOMAS within 120 days. The Library should also immediately create an advisory committee on improving public access to legislative information composed of people inside and outside of government. Congress should ensure that THOMAS lives up to its potential of making the legislative branch more open and transparent.
For more information, please contact Daniel Schuman, policy counsel, the Sunlight Foundation, at 202-742-1520 x 273 or [email protected]