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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.

Farewell OpenCongress, hello GovTrack

The news just hit the street that Sunlight Foundation’s OpenCongress will be retired on March 1. OpenCongress has been a valuable tool for Congressional information seekers since 2007. But this news is actually a good thing. OpenCongress will now point users to GovTrack.us which also has a long history of valuable information service. And what’s more, some of the best pieces of OpenCongress will be absorbed into GovTrack to make it better going forward. As Sunlight says, this is a win, win for everyone. Thanks Sunlight for 10 years of great civic tech and more going forward!

Some key differences exist between GovTrack and OpenCongress, though, and we wanted to make sure civil society didn’t lose functionality when we retired this site. In particular, OpenCongress includes the ability to contact congressional members through Sunlight’s completely redesigned and revamped Email Congress, a service that relies on the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s javascript driver, because collaboration = awesome. As well as being available at the brand new EmailCongress.us, GovTrack is now incorporating the Email Congress service into its own site. And users can now access GovTrack’s excellent data and strong analytics as well as Email Congress in one spot. Win, win.

Sunlight releases Scout to help track legislative/regulatory process

Today, our pals at the Sunlight Foundation released Scout, a new tool that allows you to create customized keyword alerts to notify you whenever issues you care about are included in legislative or regulatory actions — at both the state and federal level! They’ll also soon release their Open States tool to target the legislative process of all 50 states.

Thanks Sunlight!

Start by entering a keyword or phrase you would like to get updates about, such as the vaguely defined “cyber threat” included in CISPA or any references to the “Digital Millennium Copyright Act.” Scout then saves your subscriptions and sends notifications via email or text message whenever the subscribed issue or bill is talked about on the floor of Congress, mentioned in new regulations, appears in state and federal legislation or when Congress is moving forward for a vote. Through your profile you can create as many alerts as you’d like and group them by tags with the additional option to make them public for others to follow your issues. You can also complement a Scout subscription by adding optional external RSS feeds, such as press releases from a member of Congress or an issue-based blog.



[HT to BoingBoing!]

Govtrack’s new crystall ball … er … Docket page

Our pal Josh Tauberer at Govtrack.us wrote recently that he’s started a new Docket page on which readers can now know up to a week ahead when a bill is scheduled to come to the floor of the House or Senate. He was able to cobble together the data needed to do this because of the freely available — and new — House website called docs.house.gov and Senate.gov where the Senate’s floor for the next day is published. And don’t forget to follow govtrack for tweets on the upcoming bills. Way to use structured, open government data, Josh!!

Head-to-Head Vote Comparison

OpenCongress.org has released a new tool that allows you to compare the voting records of any two senators or representatives during the current 110th session of Congress!

OpenCongress Web 2.0 Tools for Your Library

Here is a great example of “Government Documents 2.0” in action: OpenCongress.org offers several Web 2.0 tools such as the OpenCongress Facebook application, where you can put bills that interest you on your Facebook profile. You can show your support or opposition to each bill, or simply remain neutral by selecting the “just following” option. Each bill links back to OpenCongress, so your patrons or friends can get all the information they need in order to understand and become involved with the issues themselves.

One of their Web 2.0 tools that I use for my GovGuides Wiki (a work in progress, mind you!), is the “Bill by Issue Widget“. I created one for the Environmental Law GovGuides Wiki page I’m working on. It displays the latest bills introduced in Congress on anything to do with environmental law enforcement.

If you are not familiar with OpenCongress, it’s a free, open-source, non-profit, and non-partisan web resource “with a mission to help make Congress more transparent and to encourage civic engagement”. OpenCongress is a joint project of the Sunlight Foundation and the Participatory Politics Foundation. It uses data provided by GovTrack.us, which collects data from official government websites, such as Thomas. For more info, see previous FGI posts about OpenCongress: My OpenCongress, Congress Remix, and FGI’s “Remixes page”.

OpenCongress makes it easy to understand each bill by giving a brief summary, who sponsored it, its status, and related bills. And yes, there are links to the full text of the bill and its voting history from Thomas. However, I do encourage students in my instruction classes to cite the original sources that OpenCongress leads them to, such as the full text of the bill from Thomas, congressional record references, or the homepages that OpenCongress links to for various committees and congressmen, etc. And of course I remind them that not everything is online, especially older government information, so they must turn to the print sources that I show them how to locate and use. By that time, the students are much more apt to pay attention and understand the importance of the exotic experience of handling/using the 1945 volume of the Monthly Catalog of U.S. Government Publications or a Congressional Record volume from 1918. 😉

I find OpenCongress to be a very user friendly and a convenient “one stop shop” for learning about legislation. Students in my library instruction classes seem to love using it, so if it gets them excited about government information, then I love it too!

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