Earlier today, Speaker Boehner and Majority Leader Cantor and the Government Printing Office announced an improvement in how legislation is made publicly available. Starting in the 113th Congress, GPO will make all bills available for bulk download in XML format. While this doesn't change much from a technological perspective, it does mark a significant change from a policy perspective.
Speaker Boehner and Majority Leader Cantor today sent a letter to the Clerk of the House calling for better access to the House's electronic data:
...At the start of the 112th Congress, the House adopted a Rules Package that identified electronic documents as a priority for the institution. Towards that end, we are asking all House stakeholders to work together on publicly releasing the House’s legislative data in machine-readable formats. The Rules of the House, adopted on the opening day of this Congress, directed the Committee on House Administration to establish and maintain electronic data standards for the House and its committees. We have asked that this standard be developed in conjunction with your office for the purpose of transitioning the House to more open data formats, such as XML. We believe that this legislative data, using standardized machine-readable formats, should be publicly available on House websites. The Clerk’s office should work to ensure the consistent public availability and utility of the House’s legislative data.
This an extremely important move. A joint letter from the Speaker and Majority Leader is a real commitment to data release, and means that the House is going to be adjusting how it shares legislative information online.
This has been a priority for the Sunlight Foundation since we were founded, from the 2007 Open House Project chapter on data access from Josh Tauberer, to the 2008 legislative appropriations language that was crafted to this end, and to OpenCongress.org's persistent advocacy on this topic.
Access to legislative data brings citizens closer to their representatives. When developers and programmers have better access to the data of Congress, they can better build the databases and tools that let the rest of us connect with the legislature.
This is a fantastic move from Speaker Boehner, and recognizes the transparency innovation happening outside Congress.
We're excited to see what this commitment will yield, and to work with the House and the community of legislative data users to help create the most effective access possible to House legislative data.