This Thursday at 11am, the House Appropriations Committee will mark-up the legislative branch appropriations bill and an accompanying committee report. The report has unfortunate language that would undermine how legislative information is made available to the public based on misunderstandings of technology and policy.
Many people are calling the members of the committee to complain, with a particular focus on Rep. Andew Crenshaw, who chairs the subcommittee, and Reps. Hal Rogers and Norman Dicks, the Chairman and Ranking Member for the full committee. (Rep. Mike Honda , who is the ranking member of the subcommittee, has been supportive of bulk access to legislative data for years, and should be congratulated for his efforts.) Here are some helpful talking points.
The current draft of the legislative branch committee report needs to be changed. It imposes harmful new barriers on public access to legislation information that will undermine transparency. It does so by stopping bulk access to some legislative information, such as the Congressional Record, and undermining important efforts like the House's transparency portal docs.house.gov.
The report will also indefinitely delay any efforts to open up new legislative information to bulk access. It does so by creating a "task force" to study the issue, much like the one created four years ago. There's no date by which the task force must report and no member of the public has been invited to serve. This is not progress, it is death by bureaucracy.
What the committee should do is require bulk access to THOMAS data within 120 days of the appropriation bill's passage. It should also create an advisory committee to guide the evolution of THOMAS.
The concerns raised in the committee report about the authenticity of data from THOMAS are a red herring. Legislative information is already publicly available; we are only asking for it to be more accessible -- in bulk. This is an uncontroversial, inexpensive, and common practice across the government.
The THOMAS website was created in a matter of months when the Speaker of the House decided it was a priority. The House's leadership thinks it's a priority, members of the public think it's a priority, and so do many members of Congress. It's time for the Appropriations Committee to make bulk access to THOMAS a priority as well.