At a Friday hearing, the House of Representatives significantly raised the bar on open data by passing a resolution requiring that a wide variety of crucial House legislative information be published online, in open formats, and at permanent predictable URLs. Daniel Schuman covered this on the Sunlight Foundation blog on Friday.
The new standards create a new central website, run by the Clerk of the House, that will host all House bills, resolutions, amendments, and conference reports. These documents will be online on January 1, 2012, and will be in XML.
Beyond that, the standards require committees to post their amendments, votes, hearing notices, which bills and resolutions they’re considering, and lots of other documents. The Clerk is charged with building tools for committees to post this information to the new website; in the meantime, committees must post them to their own website, in PDF. Committees are also encouraged to post this information in XML, and “should expect XML formats to become mandatory in the future”.
This is hugely valuable information that, to date, has been extremely difficult to discover in a reliable way. To get House legislation, one either needs to scrape THOMAS.gov (a Sisyphean ordeal), or to rely on the good work of people who’ve already done it. Committee information is terribly fragmented, and in some cases there is often no way to get it at all (such as committee votes and amendments), short of hiring people to go sit in committee rooms and record what goes on (a practice that forms the basis for a number of business models here in DC). This is the beginning of bringing much needed order to chaos, and sunlight to the legislative process.
These standards demonstrate excellent leadership on the part of the House, and offers a modern vision for how a legislative body should view its responsibilities to the public. The Senate should hear the sound of a gauntlet being thrown. The Committee’s action is in keeping with Speaker Boehner’s and Majority Leader Cantor’s April call for the House Clerk to release legislative data in machine readable formats. It is very gratifying to see this call taken so seriously.