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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.

OPEN Government Data Act (S. 2852) passes Senate

Here’s some good news from our friends at the Sunlight Foundation. After much work by Sunlight, the Congressional Data Coalition, and many others, the “Open, Public, Electronic, and Necessary Government Data Act” or the “OPEN Government Data Act” (S.2852) just passed the US Senate with an amendment by unanimous consent. The OPEN Government Data Act has been a core priority of the Sunlight Foundation in Washington in 2016. The OPEN Government Data Act would put into law a set of enduring open data principles upon which we can all agree! Hopefully, in early 2017, the US House will introduce a similar bill and send the bill to the President — and then they can get to work on making CRS reports publicly available too!

From Sunlight’s daily newsletter:

…the Senate has provided a unanimous endorsement of a set of enduring open data principles that the Sunlight Foundation has advanced and defended for a decade: that data created using the funds of the people should be available to the people in open formats online, without cost or restriction. We hope that the U.S. House will quickly move to re-introduce the bill in the 115th Congress and work across the aisle to enact it within the first week of public business. We expect the members of Congress who stood up for open government data this fall to continue do so in 2017.

2016 Legislative Data and Transparency Conference (#LDTC16), Tue, Jun 21, 2016

Sign up now for this year’s Legislative Data and Transparency Conference (#LDTC16) held in Washington DC. In years past, they’ve streamed the proceedings, so definitely sign up for free if you’re interested in open legislative data, even if you’re not in the DC area!

The 2016 Legislative Data and Transparency Conference (#LDTC16), hosted by the Committee on House Administration, will take place on Tuesday, June 21, 2016, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Capitol Visitor Center Congressional Auditorium.

The #LDTC16 brings individuals from Legislative Branch agencies together with data users and transparency advocates to foster a conversation about the use of legislative data – addressing how agencies use technology well and how they can use it better in the future.

WHEN
Tuesday, June 21, 2016 from 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM (EDT) – Add to Calendar
WHERE
Capitol Visitor Center Congressional Auditorium

via 2016 Legislative Data and Transparency Conference Tickets, Tue, Jun 21, 2016 at 9:00 AM | Eventbrite.

Congressional Data Coalition: open Congressional information and make Congress work better

Yesterday, FGI, along with a group of citizens, public interest groups, libraries and trade associations comprising the Congressional Data Coalition, submitted testimony to the House Appropriations Committee regarding legislative branch funding priorities for fiscal year 2017.

The group made recommendations on where the House should focus next or what kinds of data should be released:

  • Extend and Broaden the Bulk Data Task Force
  • Release the Digitized Historical Congressional Record and Publish Future Editions in XML
  • Publish all Congress.gov Information in Bulk and in a Structured Data Format
  • Include All Public Laws in Congress.gov
  • Publish Calendar of Committee Activities in Congress.gov
  • Complete and Auditable Bill Text
  • CRS Annual Reports and Indices of CRS Reports
  • House and Committee Rules
  • Publish Bioguide in XML with a Change Log
  • Constitution Annotated
  • House Office and Support Agency Reports

Recognizing that accomplishing these ends will take funding, the group also urged continued financial support for GPO and LC to maintain and develop congress.gov, fdsys.gov, and their successors.

For the fifth year in a row, today members of the Congressional Data Coalition submitted testimony to House Appropriators on ways to open up legislative information. The bipartisan coalition focused on tweaking congressional procedures and releasing datasets that, in the hands of third parties, will strengthen Congress’ capacity to govern.

via A Guide for Appropriators on Opening Up Congressional Information and Making Congress Work Better — Demand Progress.

Legislative Data now available in bulk. Thanks GPO and Library of Congress!

Here’s some big news. According to Daniel Schuman at the Congressional Data Coalition, today the Government Publishing Office (GPO) and the Library of Congress opened up the bulk data tap for bills, bill summaries, and bill statuses! See below for Daniel’s description of the new service and its implications.

Today the Government Publishing Office and Library of Congress completed a full revolution in public access to legislative information. Information about legislative actions in congress -– the bills, summaries of the bills, and their status –- is now available online, in bulk, in a structured data format. As I wrote in December, this has great significance:

  • It marks the publication of essential legislative information in a format that supports unlimited public reuse, analysis, and republication. It is now possible to see much of a bill’s life cycle.
  • It illustrates the positive relationship that has grown between Congress and the public on access to legislative information, where there is growing open dialog and conversation about how to best meet our collective needs.
  • It is an example of how different components within the legislative branch are engaging with one another on a range of data-related issues, sometimes for the first time ever, under the aegis of the Bulk Data Task Force.
  • It means the Library of Congress and GPO will no longer be tied to the antiquated THOMAS website and can focus on more rapid technological advancement. (At least for data from the 113th and 114th Congresses).
  • It shows how a diverse community of outside organizations and interests came together and built a community to work with Congress for the common good.

Happy Sunshine Week! Congressional Data Coalition, open data, and public records

Happy Sunshine Week 2014! This is the week every year when open government activists and organizations, journalists, libraries, teachers and others interested in the public’s right to know promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information and [[FOIA]]. Check out the Sunshine Week events happening all this week!

As a precursor to Sunshine Week, the Congressional Data Coalition — public disclosure: FGI is a proud member of the coalition along with a bunch of fine organizations! — wrote a letter to the House of Representatives (PDF) calling for access to legislative data on bill status. As Josh Tauberer noted on his govtrack.us blog:

Congress publishes bill status on its website Congress.gov, but we are asking for it as raw data in bulk. Like on a spreadsheet. As we wrote in the letter:

To illustrate the difference between a website and data, we note that no legislative branch office or agency makes available a spreadsheet that lists every bill introduced in the 113th Congress. As you may have experienced in your own lives, a spreadsheet is an important tool when working with large amounts of information. Bulk data is like that.

Better data from Congress would help us provide more and better information on GovTrack about what is happening in Congress. The same is true of the other organizations who signed onto the letter. We can do a lot of good with that data And while the House did make many improvements to legislative transparency in the past several years, bill status data is extremely important and has not yet been addressed — even though it has been promised many times and we (and others) have been asking for it almost each year since 2007 (here’s our previous letter).

Also worth noting during Sunshine Week, the Sunlight Foundation, in a post today by Alisha Green entitled “Open data is the next iteration of public records”, makes the case for expanding the meaning of Sunshine laws which traditionally revolved around public records laws like [[FOIA]] at the federal level as well as open records and open meeting laws at the state and local levels to include open data in order to empower journalism and watchdog activities.

Open data is about the proactive, online release of government information. It takes traditional government approaches to public records forward by realizing the opportunities provided by technological advances. Open data demands the proactive release of information, the opposite of the reactive system of asking for public records. Technology makes the proactive approach possible: it is increasingly easy to post information online, where people are already looking for it.

Accessing information about government no longer has to mean going to a building and requesting permission to sift through paper documents. It doesn’t even have to mean writing a letter, filling out a complex form, or trying to figure out who to contact about public records or how to access records in the first place.

Much food for thought. Please join in the Sunshine Week festivities and help us spread the word.

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