The Sunlight Foundation has just released Open States for all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. The site helps the public find their state legislators, review their votes, search upcoming legislation, and track bill progress. Open States gets their Bill, legislator, committee and event data from official sources, linked at the bottom of each legislator, bill, vote, committee or event page. Check out their methodology for more. They rely primarily on scraping data from sites. Wouldn't it be awesome of all state legislatures had bulk data feeds so that 1000 sites like Open States could bloom? Join the Webinar on February 22nd to learn more about Open States.
After more than four years of work from volunteers and a full-time team here at Sunlight we're immensely proud to launch the full Open States site with searchable legislative data for all 50 states, D.C. and Puerto Rico. Open States is the only comprehensive database of activities from all state capitols that makes it easy to find your state lawmaker, review their votes, search for legislation, track bills and much more.
If you're interested in your state lawmaker, you'll be able to get notifications for their actions, a map of their district, voting records, committee assignments, campaign finance records from Influence Explorer, local news articles and contact information. If you're curious about a particular piece of legislation, Open States allows you to check on its status, find the sponsors, break down votes, view bill text and all supporting documents. Our powerful search capabilities allow you to find similar topics across states and view overview pages for each state, chamber and committee.
[Editor's note: Adeeb Sahar, Stanford undergraduate student and Sunlight Foundation intern, asked me to post the following PSA about Sunlight's many projects of interest to students, researchers, and the public. FGI has no official connection to Sunlight Foundation. We just love what they're doing!]
The Sunlight Foundation has launched a campaign to partner with university libraries to provide easy access for students and researchers by cataloging as electronic resources its vast online databases of information on politics and government data.
Sunlight Foundation is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization working to enhance government transparency through free online resources that track political contributions, follow federal regulations and bills and monitor Congressional activity.
Many universities have already let in the sunlight; Sunlight's projects are cataloged in university library databases including those at Stanford University, New York University and the University of Pennsylvania. In its ongoing effort to supply government information to students, the Sunlight Foundation is looking to partner with even more university libraries.
The following are the most commonly cataloged databases by university libraries and are geared toward university-level researchers and students interested in political science, public policy, and politics and government:
- Scout is the first free searchable database of regulations and bills from all fifty states and the federal government. This service searches through a variety of sources including the Congressional Record, THOMAS, and the Federal Register to produce curated legislative news alerts.
- Influence Explorer contains the most recent information on political contributions, lobbying information, contracts and other government data, allowing users to track and analyze influence by lawmaker, company or prominent individual.
- Clearspending is a scorecard that analyzes how well U.S. government agencies are reporting their spending data on USAspending.gov and provides insights to any descrepancies.
- Open Congress brings together official legislative data with news and blog coverage, social networking, public participation tools, and more to give users a comprehensive assessment of Congressional activity.
- Capitol Words makes searchable all Congressional records from 1996 to today by state, date or politician to uncover the most popular words and phrases used by legislators in the U.S. Congress.
If you are a subject specialist interested in including Sunlight Foundation's electronic databases on your university library website, contact Adeeb Sahar at firstname.lastname@example.org or Amy Ngai at email@example.com. See the Sunlight Foundation site for more information about our projects.
Gary Price points out a great new tool for getting alerts on Federal and State Government Info:
- Scout: A New Alerting Tool (Beta) for Fed/State Government Info From Sunlight Labs, by Gary Price, Infodocket (April 25, 2012).
Scout is a free service that provides daily insight to how our laws and regulations are shaped in Washington, DC and our state capitols....
Scout allows anyone to subscribe to customized email or text alerts on what Congress is doing around an issue or a specific bill, as well as bills in the state legislature and federal regulations.
Josh Tauberer has announced changes to his wonderful GovTrack website and service.
- We’ve made a few "tweaks" to GovTrack, by Josh Tauberer, GovTrack blog, (March 19, 2012).
...there are some things missing from GovTrack 2.0 that were in the old site, and if you need them you can still find them for now at http://legacy.govtrack.us, which continues to run the old site. I apologize for discontinuing some features, such as information on amendments, but with the site’s tiny budget I’m just not able to keep everything running at once...
GovTrack helps you find the status of U.S. federal legislation, voting records for the Senate and House of Representatives, information on Members of Congress, and congressional district maps.
Much of the information shown on GovTrack is assembled in an automated way from official government websites. primarily the website THOMAS which is the official website for the status of legislation run by the Library of Congress.
Hat Tip to InfoDocket!
Bill text widgets are available on www.popvox.com, which aggregate information about pending bills and let individuals weigh in with a message that is delivered to Congress. Every pending bill is available on POPVOX -- from health and energy, to defense, jobs, and the environment.
The bill text embed includes a keyword search and section-by-section table of contents created by POPVOX. To embed the bill text widget, just visit the POPVOX page for any bill, click the tab to "view bill text" and select "embed" from the menu bar at the bottom.
Here is an example: S. 1549: American Jobs Act of 2011:
The AFL-CIO has a mashup that makes use of data from Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Notices, Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) Certifications, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Case Activity Tracking System (CATS) maintained by the National Labor Relations Board, the U.S. Department of Labor Enforcement Data website, the Department of Labor Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, CNN's Exporting America List, information from Local and National Newspapers, a database of news articles that report on companies exporting jobs maintained by The Washington Alliance of Technology Workers, and others.
- Job Tracker. Find out which companies in your area are exporting jobs, laying off workers, endangering workers' health or involved in cases of violations of workers' rights. The database contains information on more than 400,000 companies nationwide. Enter your ZIP code to see the detailed information.
Data.gov's next big thing: Mashing up federal stats with maps, By Aliya Sternstein, NextGov (06/18/2010).
Within the next month, data.gov will offer the public a chance to preview a so-called viewer that will let them combine many of the 270,000 data sets posted on Data.gov with maps.
Here's a nice little mashup from Forbes. They created an interactive map visualizing migration data into and out of US counties based on 2008 IRS data*. The black lines represent people moving to a certain place, the red lines are people moving out. TONS of people moving to SF (where I live). No wonder I have to stand in line so long for my strawberry balsamic ice cream fix from BiRite Creamery!
*I went looking for said IRS migration data and found that:
The County-to-County Migration Data are updated annually and available for purchase as follows:
* $200 per year for the entire United States
* $10 per year per State
* $500 for the entire United States for all years
It's unfortunate to say the least that IRS feels the need to charge for access to public domain data that the public has already paid for once already. Has anyone come across other data sets like this? please leave us a comment.
The Sunlight Foundation announced the winners of their "Apps for America 2: The Data.gov Challenge" at the O'Reilly/techweb Gov 2.0 Expo Showcase in DC yesterday. The web applications were to be built with data available from the U.S. Data.gov site. And the prizes go to...
First prize: DataMasher.org. Combine and compare government data at the state level.
Second prize: GovPulse. Making Federal Register access easier.
Third prize: ThisWeKnow.org. Find government info by zip code.
Prize for best data visualization: QuakeSpotter.org. Global view of earthquakes with links to quake-related tweets.
Get complete information from Sunlight's press release.
The one-day Gov 2.0 Expo is over, and the two-day Gov 2.0 Summit (with bold face names) is in progress. They are tweeting up a storm over at the Hyatt, using the hashtag #gov2s.
[Update: They are using the #g2s tag, too.]
I will blog more later on how the Gov 2.0 Expo went.
As noted here earlier, Sunlight Labs has announced the three finalists in its "Apps for America 2" competition. One of those is DataMasher which enables users to "have a little fun" with government data "by creating mashups to visualize them in different ways and see how states compare on important issues. Users can combine different data sets in interesting ways and create their own custom rankings of the states."
A post about this on slashdot prompted a reply, Lies, Damned Lies, and DataMasher that worries that "in practice DataMasher would end up mostly generating a lot of bad information." The reply continues:
The site as it exists now seems to encourage you to think about issues in a really simplistic way (with a simple arithmetic combination of two numbers on a state by state basis) that's going to mislead more often than inform. The devil is always in the spurious correlations, and DataMasher just doesn't give you ability to get at that sort of thing (nor do most people have the understanding of statistics anyway).
...Statistics are extremely useful in determining public policy, but only if used carefully. There's already so much bad use of statistics in our public policy debates, and DataMasher seems perfectly designed (unintentionally, I'm sure) to exacerbate the problem.
I am very sympathetic to this argument but would add an additional caveat to it. Any tool can be misused or used badly. Decades ago, some statisticians were upset when commercial software like SAS and SPSS were being introduced because it allowed anyone to run a regression without knowing what it was or how to do the math or whether they were regressing variables that made sense. While it is certainly true that the design of tools can encourage misuse or bad use, it is also true, I think, that even well-designed tools can be used badly and even bad tools may be better than no tools because they can encourage imagination and exploration and curiosity. Those can lead to better, more informed questions and analysis.
For libraries and service providers there is another side to this story. As tools like DataMasher become more available and easier to use, it actually creates new challenges for information service providers. Rather than making our jobs easier, the availability of these kinds of tools actually makes our jobs more complex. Rather than pointing at a reliable book of statistics, created by government statisticians and published by the government, we now have 'raw' sources and sources that require more understanding and skill to use and interpret accurately and responsibly. Where once we tried to make sure that the people we helped looked at footnotes and table headers so they understood statistics, now we are faced with helping people use raw data and helping them produce their own statistics. Every library will have to decide on what level of service to provide in situations like this. No library should avoid addressing the service implications of the availability of new sources of information -- no matter how good or bad they are.