Mighty Tiny Thomas


This post is from Sunlight’s Policy Counsel, Daniel Schuman who normally blogs on the Sunlight Foundation Blog.

A few months ago, I posted a request on Sunlight Lab’s wiki for someone to build a web tool that would make the links on Congress’s legislative website, THOMAS, permanent. Although it seems odd, when users look up legislative information on THOMAS, such as bills and committee reports, they usually cannot bookmark or share the links because the URL goes dead after a couple of hours.

I had little faith that someone would answer my request to build permalinks, but Asa Hopkins has done so with a great new program called tinyThom.as.

When you paste a link into tinyThom.as, it generates a full-size permanent URL, and also generates short URLs that redirect to those long URLs. These links work for many of THOMAS’s pages — bill summary and status, bill text, nominations, congressional record, committee reports, etc. — with a few gaps that are being filled in. (There is a way on THOMAS itself to make a few of the links permanent, known as handles, but it’s confusing, limited, and not automated.)

In addition, tinyThom.as also shows:

  • the original URL
  • a permanent link generated by THOMAS itself, if one exists,
  • a link to a page containing equivalent content on OpenCongress and GovTrack

There’s also a public API so that users can generate tinyThom.as URLs in their own web applications.

Not only is this an incredibly handy tool for discussing legislative matters, it’s also a great example the community that Sunlight continues to build.

Let’s hope that the Congressional Research Service, which maintains THOMAS, adopts this tool or builds its functionality into their website.