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Media Spotlight on Congress Stalling Open Access to Legislation

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The media's magnifying glass is concentrating attention on actions by the House Appropriations Committee that could stall progress on the public's access to legislative information. The Sunlight Foundation and our allies continue to push Congress to stop dragging their feet and join the 21st century by allowing developers access to open legislative data to build the tools to keep citizens informed about what their government is doing.

Please find and call your Representative at 202-224-3121 or write to reinforce the American public's hunger to read and follow legislation. Here are some excerpts from recent media coverage on this important transparency issue:

Roll Call reports on Republican House leadership's strong support for bulk access and quotes Rep. Crenshaw misunderstanding the issue of authentication:

“The Speaker pledged to make the 112th Congress the most open and transparent Congress in history and to make legislative data available online and in bulk,” said Michael Steel, spokesman for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). “He continues to look for the best way to do that.”

“Facilitating public access to bulk legislative data ... has been and will continue to be a priority for this committee,” echoed Salley Wood, spokeswoman for the House Administration Committee. But lawmakers’ hands would be tied until a task force could be convened and report back on its findings, according to the House report language.

“We wanted to create a system where we could have this available but also make sure we protect the authenticity and integrity of all this information,” said Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-Fla.), chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch.

The Washington Examiner addresses the committee's confusion over how citizens use and should access government information:

Folks with computers -- notably, professional and citizen journalists -- would be able to take information about massive numbers of bills and analyze them in myriad ways -- if Congress would allow such information to be downloaded from THOMAS in bulk.

It won't. And, according to a new draft report from the House Appropriations Committee, it won't be allowing bulk data downloads from THOMAS anytime soon.

Instead of taking a step towards greater transparency, the committee got hung up on whether people would know if the data they're seeing on the Internet were accurate and really from Congress -- "authentication," they call it.

FierceGovernment notes the lack of a deadline for decision making:

The report retains language decried by transparency opponents that would indefinitely postpone public bulk downloads of legislative information in XML. Good government groups, including the Sunlight Foundation, have pressed for the Library of Congress to release the bulk data used to track legislative developments in the library's THOMAS website, arguing that they could do a better job of presenting information.

TechPresident reports on the frustration among transparency advocates:

Open government advocates are up in arms over what appears to be another attempt by government bureaucrats to stall the move to enable bulk data downloads of legislative information online.

Slashdot opens the issue for conversation to their community:

The House Appropriations Committee is considering a draft report that would forbid the Library of Congress to allow bulk downloads of bills pending before Congress. The Library of Congress currently has an online database called THOMAS (for Thomas Jefferson) that allows people to look up bills pending before Congress. The problem is that THOMAS is somewhat clunky and it is difficult to extract data from it. This draft report would forbid the Library of Congress from modernizing THOMAS until a task force reports back. I am pretty sure that the majority of people on Slashdot agree that being able to better understand how the various bills being considered by Congress interact would be good for this country.

Legal Informatics also has a nice collection of blog posts on this issue.

Follow the latest developments here.