Versioning on Paper

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If, like many, you’re trying to follow any of the various provisions in the bailout bill as they morph through various stages of the legislative process, how do you do it? (Short version: paper BAD, version control GOOD.)

The bill has gone through many iterations: Treasury, Dodd, Frank, Thursday 9/25, Sunday AM 9/28, HR 3997, and now HR 1424. How can one possibly keep track of the differences, as the bill balloons from 3 to 110 to 451 pages?

I decided to see what it would look like to attempt this with paper, to keep track of the differences, and get a visual for how difficult it is to track the evolution of this legislation without online tools. We printed the first six versions of the legislation, and layed them out side by side, to get a sense of the scale of the problem. Here’s a youtube of the process:

And this happened before the bill got to 451 pages. (The longest in the video is 120 pages.)

My point is this: to get a comprehensive, intelligent view of the changes that legislation goes through, is VERY impractical without technology.

That’s why I’m so excited about PublicMarkup.org, and especially excited about what Josh Tauberer put together on GovTrack.us: a version tracking system for the bailout legislation.

John Wonderlich Placing Pages

John Wonderlich Placing Pages

Josh’s page does what I failed to effectively do with paper: get a comprehensive view of what has changed between each copy of the bill. I tried to just highlight the provisions concerning oversight, which go from one sentence in the three page Treasury version (saying basically NO OVERSIGHT!), to a complex set of provisions on reporting, an oversight council, IGs, transparency, etc.

Legislative awareness has a lot to learn from purveyors of computer code, themselves masters of the implications of minute details. (Ask a python coder about the dangers of a misplaced indentation.)

Visualizing version control is just one example of this, and one that should be considered much more often when we think about how to understand provisions that change, laws that go through iterations over time, and probably plenty of other similar applications.

John Wonderlich Placing Pages

John Wonderlich Placing Pages

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  • James

    this was only one bill!!! how could they ever “process” let alone read (through all it’s iterations), all the legislation they vote on!
    how often do the loopholes become the next problem!!!

  • Super Job Thank You..

    Cheers & Beers

  • This is a superb visualization of the problem. Thanks for taking the time to put this together. It looks very painful.

    In my opinion there is simply no way our legislators are reading this stuff in the time allotted to them. How can they vote if they don’t know what they are voting for?

    Thanks again for all the hard work!
    Paul