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The U.S. Code: freed from THOMAS

Three open government access advocates (Sunlight Foundation developer Eric Mill, GovTrack.us founder Josh Tauberer and New York Times developer Derek Willis) have put the United States Code on Github.

  • github.com/unitedstates
  • The United States (Code) is on Github, by Alex Howard, O’Reilly Radar (December 6, 2012).

    This fall, a trio of open government developers took it upon themselves to do what custodians of the U.S. Code and laws in the Library of Congress could have done years ago: published data and scrapers for legislation in Congress from THOMAS.gov in the public domain. The data at github.com/unitedstates is published using an “unlicense” and updated nightly.

    …”It would be fantastic if the relevant bodies published this data themselves and made these datasets and scrapers unnecessary,” said Mill, in an email interview. “It would increase the information’s accuracy and timeliness, and probably its breadth. It would certainly save us a lot of work!”

Perhaps even more importantly, the project has released its computer code so that others will be able to scrape Thomas to build their own datasets of legislative data. The computer code also includes a U.S Code parser, which is significant because none of various formats in which the government produces the U.S. Code are suitable for easy reuse.

I also think it is fantastic that these developers understand the difference between putting information on the web in various hard-to-use, hard-to-preserve, and often hard-to-parse formats and actually publishing the data so that it can be easily obtained, used, and re-used. As Mill notes, publishing information makes scraping the web unnecessary, and publishing in open formats makes it much simpler to preserve information.

New version of the US Code online

Here is an announcement from the Office of Law Revision Counsel of the United States House of Representatives of a new version of the United States Code.

From: Seep, Ralph, Office of Law Revision Counsel
Subject: OLRC website Beta 2 announcement

A little over a year ago, the Office of the Law Revision Counsel of the United States House of Representatives released beta version 1 of a new website for the Office and the United States Code. Beta version 2 is now being released for testing and feedback. It is available at http://uscodebeta.house.gov. You are invited to test version 2 and give us your comments about its features, content, and ease of use.

Version 2 includes the following new features:

  • Default searching and browsing in the most current version of the Code (formerly USCprelim)
  • Ability to search and browse previous versions of the Code back to the 1994 main edition (either separately or concurrently)
  • Internal links to referenced Code sections

    External links to referenced Public Laws and Statutes at Large citations (back to 1951) will be included in the near future. Since the new release is a beta, there will be a period of testing for both new and existing features. Following this period, which is anticipated to last several months, beta version 2 will replace the existing US Code website at http://uscode.house.gov.

    Your comments and questions about version 2 are welcome and can be sent to uscode@mail.house.gov. Thank you for your assistance.

    Ralph V. Seep
    Law Revision Counsel

  • Making America’s operating system open source

    As a documents librarian, it’s always been a particular frustration to me that I could give access to the CA Codes to all who asked *except* for Title 24, the CA Building Standards Codes which are under copyright by and must be purchased from various organizations — for @ $890!

    Well, no more. Carl Malamud and his public domain avengers have just liberated Title 24 (download the whole kit and caboodle here!). This is truly a great birthday present on Independence Day!!