Steven Aftergood calls the current state of access to Congressional Research Service reports "Congressional Secrecy." And so it is.
- Wanted: Better Access to CRS Reports, by Steven Aftergood, Secrecy News (May 5, 2011).
[T]he New York Times cited a Congressional Research Service report that was performed "in February" concerning the impact of the debt limit.
But that report has been updated and superseded, though one might not know it due to congressional secrecy policy, which precludes direct public access to CRS publications.
I'm sure all you policy wonks are itching to hear President Obama's second State of the Union address (SOTU) tonight (9PM EST / 6PM PST). There has been plenty of news coverage prognosticating about what Obama will talk about. WI Representative Paul Ryan is scheduled to give the Republican response to Obama's SOTU.
If you're REALLY wonky, you'll definitely want to tune in to Sunlight Live where you'll get the CSPAN live video, live real time blogging with Sunlight Foundation, Huffington Post, Center for Public Integrity, National Journal and CQ Roll Call, government transparency data and twitter coverage all wrapped into one page!
Sunlight's coverage will begin 30 minutes before SOTU starts. Thanks Sunlight!
A nice article about Garrison Nelson's work piecing together information from "committee records [that] were scattered and incomplete."
When he suggested that he might try to find and organize the documents back to 1789, the librarians said that would be impossible.
- A Political Scientist's Trivial Pursuit, By Kevin Kiley, The Chronicle of Higher Education (October 24, 2010). [subscription required]
[Garrison Nelson, University of Vermont political scientist and a co-author Charles Stewart III, Massachusetts Institute of Technology] just completed Committees in the U.S. Congress 1993-2010 (CQ Press, 2010), a comprehensive account of who served where during the past 17 years. It is the latest book -- and maybe the last -- in a seven-volume history of U.S. Congressional committees. Thirty-five years in the making, Mr. Nelson's collection lists every committee assignment ever made—about 140,000 of them.
This was just tweeted by the folks at the Sunlight Foundation and I thought the infographic was really sweet:
The graphic above (see full size here) was one of the winners in the Sunlight Foundation's recent Design for America contest. There's also an excellent guide to the Senate rules, and a brilliant, user-friendly redesign of the IRS website. You can see all the winners here.
Thanks Mike Wirth for the killer infographic and thanks Sunlight Foundation for a well done Design for America contest!
The New York Times announced today the release of version 3 of its "Congress API."
- Introducing Version 3 of the Congress API, By DEREK WILLIS, New York Times Open Blog (February 23, 2010).
The Times gets raw data directly from the U.S. House and Senate Web sites and Thomas, the Library of Congress public web site with legislative information. It parses and stores the data on its own servers and provides an API (Applications Programming Interface) to the data so that programmers can query the data, get results, and easily provide the data to users in interesting and unique ways.
This is an excellent example of treating government information as "data" rather than as "documents." Rather than having a PDF file that lists all members of Congress (a document-centric way to deal with information), a database of all members of Congress with an API front-end to the database (which treats information as data) allows developers to build software that allows users to get a list for a state or district. When combined with other information such as voting records, bill-sponsorship, party affiliation, and so forth, users can get the information they need assembled in response to a specific information request. To the user the end result looks like a "document" but the document is built dynamically from the data.
Developers at the NY Times and elsewhere are using this to create interesting web sites and applications. See, for example, Your Government - The Oregonian, and Congress Speaks, and the Times' own Represent, which combines Federal and State information to allow users to find elected representatives in New York City.
THOMAS, the legislative information service hosted by the Library of Congress, has announced new long-needed features and enhancements.
- Bookmarking. Yes, it is now easy to save a permanent link to a page in THOMAS.
- Easy sharing. The same toolbar that gives you a permanent URL, has links for sharing a page using popular sites such as Delicious, Facebook, and Twitter.
- New RSS feed: Bills Presented to the President.
- Top Five Bills. "The five most-searched-for bills from the past week will be listed in the center box on the right side of the homepage." They are listed by bill number, but hovering over them gives you a name.
See the link above for the complete list of features.
(Wow. Bookmarking. What a concept for 2010!)
Congressional Printing: Background and Issues for Congress, by R. Eric Petersen,
Congressional Research Service, R40897 (November 5, 2009).
This report, which will be updated as events warrant, provides an overview and analysis of issues related to the processing and distribution of congressional information by the Government Printing Office. Subsequent sections address several issues, including funding congressional printing, printing authorizations, current printing practices, and options for Congress. Finally, the report provides congressional printing appropriations, production, and distribution data in a number of tables.
As promised, here is my report on the first-ever U.S. Congress Camp. The event was an unconference held in Washington, DC on September 12-13, 2009. Participants were from the civic hacking community, advocacy software companies, advocacy groups, gov 2.0 crowd, academia (public policy), and social media start-ups, with a sprinkling from congressional offices, and one or more from big tech and and other walks of life.
The announced focus of Congress Camp was citizen-Congress communications, although topics related to congressional content in general came up. (See more on the communications topic from the recent CRS report on use of Twitter by Congress.)
You can read and hear about Congress Camp on the web. See:
- CongressCamp site and blog
- Congress Camp Provides Dynamic Dialogue... posting on NextGenWeb, September 17
- Congress Camp: Where the Hill Meets Web 2.0 September 16 posting on INfluence, the blog of Forum One Communications
- Government 2.0 Radio September 20 episode, featuring interviews with Congress Camp participants (one hour; starts with general Gov 2.0 news)
Congressional staffers participating in Congress Camp were interested in moving forward but provided much-needed reality checks for the tech crowd: congressional offices have outdated hardware and software; they are already swamped with email that is not from their district or can't be authenticated; they get email that their constituents didn't even know they sent (automatically generated when they clicked on something unrelated but tempting); in some districts most or many constituents do not even have ready access to the Internet; etc. In spite of these obstacles, some congressional offices are already applying a 2.0 approach. For examples, see the case studies section of this Embracing Gov 2.0 post on the Cangress Camp blog.
Some camp participants seemed to be much more familiar with tech than Congress, or with the political side rather than the governing side. No doubt they learned much in two days of dialogue. Gov 2.0er Noel Dickover summed it up in a tweet: "My overall thought on #CongCamp is that we are still at the awareness and sensemaking stage at #opengov".
Social Networking and Constituent Communication: Member Use of Twitter During a Two-Week Period in the 111th Congress, by Matthew Eric Glassman, Jacob R. Straus, and Colleen J. Shogan, Congressional Research Service 7-5700, R40823 (September 21, 2009). [posted on politico.com]
The New York Times has a nifty interface that programmers can use to access information about Congress, the Congress API. Recently, they have added improvements including bill cosponsorships, a new members response, and member voting record comparisons. Read about it here:
- Congress Returns, As Does an Improved Congress API, By Derek Willis, New York Times Open Blog, (September 2, 2009).
Also see: NY Times Announces the Congress API.