The U.S. Code: freed from THOMAS
Three open government access advocates (Sunlight Foundation developer Eric Mill, GovTrack.us founder Josh Tauberer and New York Times developer Derek Willis) have put the United States Code on Github.
- The United States (Code) is on Github, by Alex Howard, O’Reilly Radar (December 6, 2012).
This fall, a trio of open government developers took it upon themselves to do what custodians of the U.S. Code and laws in the Library of Congress could have done years ago: published data and scrapers for legislation in Congress from THOMAS.gov in the public domain. The data at github.com/unitedstates is published using an “unlicense” and updated nightly.
…”It would be fantastic if the relevant bodies published this data themselves and made these datasets and scrapers unnecessary,” said Mill, in an email interview. “It would increase the information’s accuracy and timeliness, and probably its breadth. It would certainly save us a lot of work!”
Perhaps even more importantly, the project has released its computer code so that others will be able to scrape Thomas to build their own datasets of legislative data. The computer code also includes a U.S Code parser, which is significant because none of various formats in which the government produces the U.S. Code are suitable for easy reuse.
I also think it is fantastic that these developers understand the difference between putting information on the web in various hard-to-use, hard-to-preserve, and often hard-to-parse formats and actually publishing the data so that it can be easily obtained, used, and re-used. As Mill notes, publishing information makes scraping the web unnecessary, and publishing in open formats makes it much simpler to preserve information.