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Free Government Information (FGI) is a place for initiating dialogue and building consensus among the various players (libraries, government agencies, non-profit organizations, researchers, journalists, etc.) who have a stake in the preservation of and perpetual free access to government information. FGI promotes free government information through collaboration, education, advocacy and research.

Data is plural newsletter posts 2 amazing govinfo datasets: House Comm witnesses and 1900 census immigrant populations

I love my Data Is Plural newsletter, Jeremy Singer-Vine’s weekly newsletter of useful/curious datasets! You can check out his archive from 2015(!) to present and also explore the archive as a google spreadsheet or as Markdown files (a dataset of interesting datasets :-)).

Today’s edition was especially good on the govinfo front: 2 really awesome datasets on House Committee witnesses (1971 – 2016) and a high-resolution transcription and CSV file of the Census Bureau’s 1900 report on immigrant populations. Check them out, and don’t forget to subscribe to the Data is plural newsletter!

House committee witnesses. Political scientists Lauren C. Bell and J.D. Rackey have compiled a spreadsheet of 435,000+ people testifying before the US House of Representatives from 1971 to 2016. They began with a text file scraped from a ProQuest database, provided by the authors of a dataset that focused on social scientists’ testimony (DIP 2020.12.23). Then, they determined each witness’s first and last name; type of organization; the committee, date, title, and summary of the relevant hearing; and more.

Immigrant populations in 1900. The 1900 US Census’s public report includes a table counting the foreign-born residents of each state and territory — overall and disaggregated into a few dozen origins, which range from subdivisions of countries (Poland is split into “Austrian,” “German,” “Russian,” and “unknown” columns) to entire continents (“Africa”). It’s officially available as a low-resolution PDF. Reporters at Stacker, however, recently transcribed it into a CSV file for easier use.

Article from Legislative Studies Quarterly analyzes CRS reports to delve into expert consultation in Congress

Thanks FirstBranchForecast for posting about this recent research and analysis about how often legislators in Congress consult expert witnesses and information. Fagan and McGee analyzed every Congressional Research Service (CRS) report at EveryCRSReport.com from 1997-2017 in order to come up with their findings.

The researchers note “Consultation between elected policymakers and experts is important to functional policymaking in a democracy…In order for elected officials to solve salient problems, they must search for subject-matter experts to define
problems and develop effective solutions.” The article of course validates what government information librarians have known for many years, that CRS reports are critical documents for legislators, students, researchers, and the public. But also that expert guidance for legislation is vital to the creation of legislation that looks to solve the country’s various problems.

*Apologies that this article is behind a paywall. If your library doesn’t have a subscription to Legislative Studies Quarterly, please do an interlibrary loan request.

Fagan, E. J., and Zachary A. McGee.
“Problem Solving and the Demand for Expert Information in Congress.”
Legislative Studies Quarterly (2020)
http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/lsq.12323

Data and replication materials available on Harvard’s Dataverse at https://dataverse.harvard.edu/dataset.xhtml?persistentId=doi:10.7910/DVN/PAWMSP.

The demand for expert information in Congress is the topic of a new academic article written by political scientists E.J. Fagan and Zachary McGee. They analyzed all the CRS reports at EveryCRSReport.com from 1997-2017 (thank you!) to evaluate “the extent to which legislators consult expertise in order to address salient problems.” (They used our database and not Congress’s because it is a “better database, with a comprehensive list of all reports, revision history, and metadata.”) Their findings: there’s a consistent short-term relationship between demand for expert information and issues that the public lists as the most important problem facing the country.

FirstBranchForecast

DCinbox: amazing collection of Congressional e-newsletters

As many of our readers know, government information includes critical but often “grey” or ephemeral information including communications between our elected officials and their constituents. Here’s a very cool project called DCinbox, a database of Congressional e-newsletters. Lindsey Cormack, professor of politic at Stevens Institute of Technology, has been collecting Congressional e-newsletters since 2009. There are nearly 90,000 unique e-newsletters in the database — which is both searchable and available as a full dataset! This is a rich dataset that can help analyze partisan differences and ideology in all kinds of policy matters.

Congressional e-newsletters. For more than a decade, political scientist Lindsey Cormack’s DCinbox project has collected “every official e-newsletter sent by sitting members of the U.S. House and Senate.” You can search the corpus online and also download all the emails as a series of CSV files, grouped by month. For each of the 130,000+ mailings, the files provide the date, subject, body, and sender’s Bioguide ID. (April 2020 was the highest-volume month, with more than 2,300 messages, nearly all of them mentioning the coronavirus.)

HT to Data is Plural 2021.03.03 edition. Please subscribe to their weekly newsletter and see all of the datasets that they have highlighted in previous newsletters!

Congressional Budget Justifications (CBJs) are hard to find and here’s why

I’ve been very impressed with the research and thought that goes into the First Branch Forecast, the weekly newsletter focusing on transparency and governance issues being considered by Congress. There’s always something of interest in the newsletter, so I highly recommend that everyone subscribe.

One item of interest in a recent Forecast was about Congressional Budget Justifications (CBJs). In my work as a research librarian, Federal budget analysis, information and data are frequent requests as the Congressional appropriations process is about as clear as mud to most people – and I also *highly* recommend bookmarking the regularly updated CRS report “The Congressional Appropriations Process: An Introduction” to better understand the kabuki-like procedural elements that go into this process. So the FBF research into CBJs offers both insight into and problems with the budget process and access to the information and data that go into this annual rite. I’ll let them explain in detail, but please read the entire post and don’t forget to subscribe to the newsletter.

Congressional Budget Justifications (CBJs) are plain-language explanations of how an agency proposes to spend money it requests that Congress appropriate, but how easy is it for congressional staff and citizens to find these documents? Demand Progress surveyed 456 federal agencies and entities for fiscal years 2018 and 2019 and found:

7.5 percent of the 173 agencies with congressional liaisons, i.e., 13 agencies, published their CBJs online for only FY 2018 or FY 2019, but not both. (Agencies with congressional liaison offices routinely interact with Congress). If you exclude subordinate agencies whose reports traditionally are included in a superior agency’s reports, that figure becomes 3.3 percent, or 5 agencies, out of 152 agencies published a CBJ for FY 2018 or 2019. The failure of one agency to publish their report impacts a number of sub-agencies. Among the agencies/entities inconsistent in their reporting is the Executive Office of the President, which houses the Office of Management and Budget, the National Security Council, and the Office of the Vice President.

via Feds Lag in Publishing Funding Requests – First Branch Forecast.

How a complex network of bills becomes a law: GovTrack introduces new data analysis of text incorporation

Here’s a fascinating new way to look at US Congressional legislation from our friends at GovTrack.us. As Josh Tauberer explains, GovTrack’s new service “Enacted Via Other Measures,” their new data analysis of text incorporation, will now provide connections between bills — when a bill has at least about 33% of its provisions incorporated into one or more enacted bills — in order to show “how a complex network of bills becomes a law.”

No longer will legislative trackers be limited to the 6 stages in becoming a law described on Congress.gov, or even the 13 steps described by this handy infographic by Mike Wirth and Suzanne Cooper-Guasco (“How Our Laws Are Made”, First place award in the Design for America contest, 2010). Now we’ll be able to see the various pieces of bills that make it into other bills.

This is an amazing new looking glass into the legislative process. Thanks GovTrack.us!

This new analysis literally doubles our insight.

Only about 3% of bills will be enacted through the signature of the President or a veto override. Another 1% are identical to those bills, so-called “companion bills,” which are easily identified (see CRS, below). Our new analysis reveals almost another 3% of bills which had substantial parts incorporated into an enacted bill in 2015–2016. To miss that last 3% is to be practically 100% wrong about how many bills are being enacted by Congress.

And there may be even more than that, which we’ll find out as we tweak our methodology in the future.

There are so many new questions to answer:

  • Who are the sources of these enacted provisions?
  • How often is this cut-and-paste process cross-partisan?
  • What provisions were removed from a bill to be enacted?
  • Is cut-and-paste more frequent today than in the past?

via How a complex network of bills becomes a law: Introducing a new data analysis of text incorporation… – Medium.

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