Here is an excellent example of why we need government information distributed in truly-open, re-usable formats.
The very important and much discussed $700 billion economic “bail-out” bill, the “Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008” (H.R. 3997), has gone through at least four versions between September 25th and today.
Josh Tauberer, the tireless open-government advocate and programmer who developed GovTrack.us, has adapted a bill comparison tool that he developed for GovTrack and posted the resulting analysis of changes between the different versions here:
- Special Feature: Economic Stimulus Bill Text Tracker, GovTrack. Sept 29, 2008.
Josh says that he had to use the PDF versions of these documents because that it all that is publicly available. He goes on to identify the problem of relying on PDF documents for re-use:
It’s not very pretty because while House bill writers have been posting the PDFs, PDFs don’t make it easy to make comparisons. They *are* composing the bills in XML, and if they made those available we the public would have an easier time. Maybe we wouldn’t complain to our reps so much either because we could actually understand what is going on better! [source]
…Why is this so ugly? This is based on converting the PDF drafts into text, which doesn’t always work right. If you think the public should be able to do this better, tell your representative to support The Open House Project report recommendations. [source]
What we need is not just easy-to-read human-consumable documents (e.g., PDF, HTML, word-processing documents), but also machine-processable documents that can be analyzed, parsed, re-formatted, and re-used (e.g., XML).
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