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Tell Congress to open up

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Making sure that people can get information about what our government is doing is the heart of what we do at Sunlight. And right now, there’s a chance to make some big changes.

A committee in Congress is working on an appropriations bill that could make it easier to find out what Congress is doing by changing how information is released by the Library of Congress through a website through THOMAS. They’re writing the bill as we speak (er, type...), so this is a perfect moment to speak up for greater transparency.

Why we need quality information from the Library of Congress

Currently, the only way we can get to know about legislation and see any action taken on a bill is through a website operated by the Library of Congress -- known as THOMAS. Because THOMAS is not easy to use for ordinary folks, a few tech groups including Open Congress, GovTrack and PopVox have built tools to make the process of reading government legislation online much easier. However, extracting information from THOMAS is no walk in the park. This is because the information has to be collected from thousands of pages and can be glitchy and delayed.

We need Congress to change that. They can do this by requiring the Library of Congress to put online legislative data in THOMAS using a “geek” favorite process known as “bulk access.” This process makes accessing online information simpler, faster and easier. And really, all the cool kids in government are doing it these days. Literally hundreds of thousands of data sets are available on Data.gov, the House of Representatives has a spiffy new transparency portal and even the good ‘ol Government Printing Office has gotten into the act. Bulk access means that the public gets reliable information right when they need it -- immediately. And legislative information, what Congress is doing and actions on bills, pretty obviously falls into the category of information the public needs to be especially accurate and available immediately.

Topics like the release of quality government information online isn’t something members of Congress are used to hearing about from their constituents, but that’s why it’s so important that we take action. Every call that we make will be that much more impactful, and knowing that constituents are paying attention will go a long way toward making sure that Congress does the right thing by increasing transparency.

Four people in Congress that have the ability to make this change right now. They are the chairmen and ranking members of this committee: Rep. Ander Crenshaw (FL-4), Rep. Mike Honda (CA-15), Sen. Ben Nelson (NE) and Sen. John Hoeven (ND). And they need to hear from us.

If any of these four are your representatives, call them! Call 1-888-793-9786 and enter your zipcode to be connected to their offices.

If you’re not, that’s okay -- this is an issue that affects of all of us, and we need to spread the word. So go ahead and contact them, but do it in a way that lets other people in their districts hear about it -- online.

Click on any of the below links to tweet at them or post on their facebook pages that Americans deserve to know what our government is doing. Make sure to tell them this bill -- the legislative branch appropriations bill -- needs to do two things:

  • Require the Library of Congress to implement bulk access to THOMAS
  • Create an advisory committee of people both inside and outside government to make sure we have the best public access to legislative information possible

Write on Sen. Ben Nelson's Facebook wall: http://www.facebook.com/senatorbennelson Or tweet at him:

Write on Sen. John Hoeven's Facebook wall: http://www.facebook.com/SenatorJohnHoeven (Sen. Hoeven doesn't appear to have a twitter account)

Write on Rep. Ander Crenshaw's Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Congressman-Ander-Crenshaw/ Or tweet at him:

Write on Rep. Mike Honda's Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/RepMikeHonda Or tweet at him: