Making good on part of the House of Representative’s commitment to increase congressional transparency, today the House Clerk’s office launched http://docs.house.gov/, a one stop website where the public can access all House bills, amendments, resolutions for floor consideration, and conference reports in XML, as well as information on floor proceedings and more. Information will ultimately be published online in real time and archived for perpetuity.
The Clerk is hosting the site, and the information will primarily come from the leadership, the Committee on House Administration, the Rules Committee, and the Clerk’s office. The project has been driven by House Republican leaders as part of an push for transparency. Important milestones include the adoption of the new House Rules in January 2011 that gave the Committee on House Administration the power to establish standards for publishing documents online, an April 2011 letter from the Speaker and Majority Leader to the Clerk calling for better public access to House information, a Committee on House Administration hearing in June 2011 on modernizing information delivery in the House, a December 2011 public meeting on public access to congressional information, and finally the late December adoption of online publication standards.
Today’s effort focuses on House documents, but there is a similar series of requirements for committee and other documents that will be addressed as the Clerk’s site is further built out. Three things strike me as particularly important for what has happened today
First, the House made a commitment to do something concrete — publish documents online in machine-friendly formats by January 2012– and they did that. All too often, transparency promises fall by the wayside or are beaten back by bureaucracy. This is a commitment made, and one that is being kept. (We will keep a close eye on things, just in case.)
Second, the ongoing process of releasing documents online, in real-time, and in machine-readable manner is a tremendous sea change from the slow and ponderous paper publications that are often late, fairly difficult to use, and unfriendly to computers. PDFs, by themselves, are simply insufficient for transparency purposes, and have been for a very long time, and it’s important that we’re moving towards making information available in such as a way as to maximize its usefulness.
Third, the House is forging ahead the best it can. It would be ideal to have the Senate joining the House in this effort, or have legislative support agencies taking the initiative, but all too often these joint efforts result in nothing happening. It’s important for everyone to make the best progress they can, and that’s what’s happening here.
It will be fun to see when the next shoe drops.