We’ve updated our House disbursement data to include a “bioguide ID” for each row pertaining to a legislator’s office. For more information on why we did that, and how you can use it, read on.
Some of you may know that the House began posting its statements of disbursements online in November of last year. You can find them at disbursements.house.gov in PDF form. We at Sunlight parsed these PDFs and published the data ourselves in a structured format, for easy searchability.
It still hasn’t been easy to link this dataset up to others, in large part because of the issue of name standardization. There is no unique identifier in the data, and no standard way of formatting names of House members. Some use their nickname, some their formal name, some last names are hyphenated that shouldn’t be, other last names should be hyphenated but aren’t, etc. There are even two representatives named “Mike Rogers” serving(!), and there is absolutely no way of telling the difference between the two. We appended little state abbreviations to their names (e.g. “MIKE ROGERS (AL)”) in our data, but this is solution is not good enough, especially for any developers looking to combine this with other data that exists out there.
Now, the first column of this spreadsheet of disbursements is “bioguide_id”. This is a unique identifier, issued by Congress’ Bioguide for every elected legislator. There are a lot of identifiers out there for legislators, but the Bioguide ID is what Sunlight recommends as a standard, and you can use it to get more information about legislators through Sunlight Labs’ Congress API and Drumbone API. The Congress API also includes other identifiers for legislators, including their identifiers at OpenSecrets, GovTrack, and Project Vote Smart, so you can also think of the bioguide ID as a”gateway ID” to all sorts of information.
If you’re interested in the code that does this standardization, you can find it at this Gist.
I hope this addition proves useful to the developer community, and anybody who wants to bring greater transparency and citizen engagement to how House offices spend their money.