What we’re doing with the stimulus bill


Short answer: we’re trying to do some interesting things with it and we may need your help. Originally, we thought “hey, let’s put this into Public Markup” but unfortunately the bill’s complexity actually was incompatible with Public Markup’s data model. At the end of the day, the relevant parts of the bill wouldn’t have fit into the commenting/displaying architecture we’ve used for bills in the past.

So we started on a different route, of getting the bill into a different data model so that people could comment on that. We then experimented with services like disqus for commenting so that we could get it out the door quickly. But during the design phase, we really struggled to find a good, usable way to comment. Then the question came up: why are we doing this? How does this change things? Allowing people to comment on this bill, section by section didn’t seem up our alley or particularly revolutionary in terms of resource expenditures. So we got thinking: what if we just came up with a way to easily visualize the spending in the bill. That would be useful.

So Jeremy and I started parsing through the bill both with digital parsers and manually and managed to build a spreadsheet of all of the expenditures we could find. But the thing is– we only were able to come up with $356,421,500,000 worth of stimulus. This is a far reach from 60% of “875 billion dollars” (the other 40% are tax cuts). We started getting worried that maybe our non-lawyery minds weren’t able to find all the expenditures. This led to a chain of events where we said “hey, you know what, if we can’t be accurate, we’d better not go any further,” at least officially as the Sunlight Foundation.

It seems Congress should not only embrace XML to show bills to the public but it should also create new ways for Congress to express that information so that machines (and people) can provide context to them.

So we’re sort of at a loss for what to do next. We got the data into a spreadsheet and verified it against the bill text three times. With two sets of eyes. We’re not saying we are perfect, but that’s been checked over a few times. But where’s the rest of the money? Can you help us find it? What have our non-lawyerly minds missed? Here’s the bill