It may feel like an ordinary Wednesday, but today is a milestone for legislative transparency. The House’s leadership has issued a statement adopting the goal of “provid[ing] bulk access to legislative information to the American people without further delay.” They have stated that bulk access “ranks among our top priorities in the 112th Congress” and directed a task force “to begin its important work immediately.”
The statement was made by many of the key players on this issue in the House: Speaker Boehner, Majority Leader Cantor, Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Crenshaw, and Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Issa. It was prompted in part by a measure in the legislative branch appropriations report that, as initially formulated, may have frozen efforts to move in this direction, followed by a partial fix to the report and ultimately a proposed amendment to the bill. (The amendment was apparently rejected by the House Rules Committee.) Of course, all of the letters to Congress and news coverage helped reinforce this as a higher priority.
The debate over whether there should be bulk access to legislative data is over. Because bulk access is a top priority of the 112th Congress, we expect to see tangible progress in the upcoming months. The remaining questions largely concern how bulk access should be implemented to meet the needs of the public while respecting the legitimate concerns of Congress and its support agencies.
While we are disappointed that the task force will not include members of the public, we hope that the public will be consulted. After all, the American people are the intended end-users. Sunlight and our friends in the transparency community stand ready to be of assistance as the technical, policy, and scope issues are addressed.
We have reached this turning point for a number of reasons. Rep. Honda has pushed to make bulk access happen over the last half-decade. Rep. Boehner made legislative transparency a priority when he was elected speaker. Reps. Cantor and Hoyer co-hosted the Congressional Facebook Hackathon, which declared bulk access to be an important goal. Rep. Lungren and the Committee on House Administration held hearings and issued directives establishing the important transparency portal docs.house.gov as well as hosted the Legislative Data and Transparency Conference. And there’s many staff and members of Congress who have labored for years to bring this to fruition.
While this is clearly progress, there’s still much more to do. We will be monitoring this issue closely.