OpenGov Voices: Honoring transparency improvements from inside Congress

U.S. Capitol. (Photo credit: Bill Rand/Flickr)

Structural improvements are never flashy. But modernizing legislative information is vital to the future viability of our Congress, and critical to creating a federal government that functions like we need it to.

For the third year in a row, the OpenGov Foundation recently joined with the Congressional Data Coalition to share ideas with the House Appropriations Committee on how to continue transforming congressional legislative information from paper-based formats into the best possible open data. Funding these necessary information and underlying process upgrades is a major reason why the legislative branch appropriations process is important.

While I believe our testimony provides important input for those members of Congress and staff steering ongoing innovation efforts inside Congress, I would like to call your attention to something else contained therein: The many largely unheralded advances in upgrading America’s most valuable data that have taken place over the past few years.

We commend the House of Representatives for its ongoing efforts to open up congressional information. We applaud the House of Representatives for publishing online and in a structured data format bill text, status, and summary information — and are pleased the Senate has joined the effort. We commend the ongoing work on the Amendment Impact Program and efforts to modernize how committee hearings are published. We look forward to the release of House Rules and House Statement of Disbursements in structured data formats.

Those are huge wins for better government, and they build on consistent and strong bipartisan progress bringing legislative information into the Internet age. These victories, however, won’t get you on the cover of Time or The Wall Street Journal, let alone Fast Company or Wired. They won’t win you an election. And they certainly won’t make you rich.

But they are absolutely worth celebrating. That is why, on April 12, we are co-hosting the first annual Door Stop Awards for Transparency. The Door Stop Awards will recognize some of the members and staffers who have toiled in the trenches to deliver more efficient, effective and open congressional information. Anyone can blast out a press release with a snappy quote on technology, data and disruption; it’s different to hold the doors of Congress open to innovation and structural change over time, when no one is watching and when it won’t get you votes, cash or on TV

But as our House Appropriations Committee written testimony points out, the small and scrappy community of congressional innovators is growing:

We would also like to recognize the growing Member and congressional staff public engagement around innovation, civic technology and public data issues. From the 18 Members and dozens of staff participating in last year’s nationwide series of #Hack4Congress civic hacking events to the Second Congressional Hackathon co-sponsored by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, there is a growing level of enthusiastic support inside the institution for building a better Congress with better technology and data. Moreover, the House Ethics Committee’s recent approval of open source software and the launch of the Congressional Open Source Caucus means good things are in store for 2016.

This groundswell of support cuts across all ages, geographic areas and demographics, both inside and outside Congress. We are excited for the House’s 2016 legislative data and transparency conference and appreciate the quarterly public meetings of the Bulk Data Task Force.

Good things are, indeed, in store for 2016. So if you care about openness, civic technology or better government, please RSVP to join us on Capitol Hill for the April 12 Door Stop Awards. We are proud to help acknowledge and thank some of the dedicated public servants, government innovators and agents of positive change who have been succeeding — against long odds and with few resources — in and around the legislative branch.

And we are grateful for the support from these sponsors and supporters who have joined with us to make the 2016 Door Stop Awards a fun, bipartisan and meaningful celebration: Google, Data Foundation, Yelp, R Street Institute, Sunlight Foundation, Congressional Management Foundation, TechCongress, Demand Progress, Consumer Technology Association, Congressional Data Coalition, Matt Lira, and Capitol Bells.

Hope to see you on April 12.

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