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The Library of Congress Really Really Does Not Want To Give You Your Data

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Library of Congress It's 2013, and the Library of Congress seems to think releasing public data about Congress is a risk to the public. The Library of Congress is in charge of [THOMAS.gov](http://thomas.loc.gov/), and its successor [Congress.gov](http://congress.gov). These sites publish some of the most fundamental information about Congress — the history and status of bills. Whether it's immigration law or SOPA, patent reform or Obamacare, the Library of Congress will tell you: *What is Congress working on? Who's working on it? When did that happen?* Except they won't let you download that information.

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A Modern Approach to Open Data

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Last year, a group of us who work daily with open government data -- Josh Tauberer of GovTrack.us, Derek Willis at The New York Times, and myself -- decided to stop each building the same basic tools over and over, and start building a foundation we could share. noun_project_15212 We set up a small home at github.com/unitedstates, and kicked it off with a couple of projects to gather data on the people and work of Congress. Using a mix of automation and curation, they gather basic information from all over the government -- THOMAS.gov, the House and Senate, the Congressional Bioguide, GPO's FDSys, and others -- that everyone needs to report, analyze, or build nearly anything to do with Congress. Once we centralized this work and started maintaining it publicly, we began getting contributions nearly immediately. People educated us on identifiers, fixed typos, and gathered new data. Chris Wilson built an impressive interactive visualization of the Senate's budget amendments by extending our collector to find and link the text of amendments. This is an unusual, and occasionally chaotic, model for an open data project. github.com/unitedstates is a neutral space; GitHub's permissions system allows many of us to share the keys, so no one person or institution controls it. What this means is that while we all benefit from each other's work, no one is dependent or "downstream" from anyone else. It's a shared commons in the public domain. There are a few principles that have helped make the unitedstates project something that's worth our time, which we've listed below.

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The Sunlight Foundation’s Comments on the FAA’s Proposed Open Data Policy

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On May 1, The Federal Aviation Administration published a [Proposed Open Data Policy](https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2013/05/01/2013-10295/notice-for-data-and-information-distribution-policy) in the Federal Register, and requested public comment by [July 28](https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2013/06/03/2013-13086/notice-of-proposal-policy-for-distribution-of-faa-data-and-information-extension-of-comment-period). The FAA proposed 10 broad guidelines for its open data policies, among them points about non-exclusivity of access to data, the appropriateness of employing cost recovery from external entities, and the transparency with which they execute on the policy itself. The Sunlight Foundation had something to say about each of these issues, and so we submitted the public comment below, which we hand-delivered today to the FAA's Docket Office inside the Department of Transportation. Our comment should show up on [Docket Wrench](http://docketwrench.sunlightfoundation.com/docket/FAA-2013-0392) and [Regulations.gov](http://www.regulations.gov/#!docketBrowser;rpp=100;so=DESC;sb=docId;po=0;dct=PS;D=FAA-2013-0392) before long. In the mean time, read what we submitted:

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What’s New in the Sunlight Congress API

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In January, Sunlight [released a new Congress API](https://groups.google.com/forum/#!topic/sunlightlabs/r-evxgtFXRw). It's been a huge help to [our own products](http://congress.sunlightfoundation.com/), and seen a great deal of use by the community (such as today's [DefundTheNSA campaign](http://defundthensa.com/)). In the time since, we've released some new data, some new developer-friendly features, and seen lots of community contribution. Here's what's been added over the last few months:

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National Day of Civic Hacking 2013

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This past weekend, over 11,000 individuals connected under the helm of the National Day of Civic Hacking (NDoCH) -- a series of local #HackForChange hackathons, unconferences, and meeting of the minds that engaged local communities with open data, code, and tech.

From what we can tell, the NDoCH events were magnetic, drawing together participation from local (and traveling) developers, government officials (including a few mayors!), community leaders, and even 21 federal agencies. The vibe of this national organization not only encouraged a sort of: "If you can't hack with the city you reside in, hack with the one you're physically located in," but also further encouraged cross-pollination of civic applications from community to community (For more highlights from the national scene, check out this Storify feed.) Although Sunlight wasn’t able to attend every one of the 95 events held this past weekend, the events we did attend taught us quite a bit. Below, we’ve rounded up our reflections, recaps, and geeky highlights from the festivities in Baltimore, DC, Montgomery County, North Carolina, and Western Massachusetts.

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Integrating the US’ Documents

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A few weeks ago, we integrated the full text of federal bills and regulations into our alert system, [Scout](https://scout.sunlightfoundation.com). Now, if you visit [CISPA](https://scout.sunlightfoundation.com/item/bill/hr624-113) or a fascinating [cotton rule](https://scout.sunlightfoundation.com/item/regulation/2013-10114), you'll see the original document - nicely formatted, but also well-integrated into Scout's layout. There are a lot of good reasons to integrate the text this way: we want you to see why we alerted you to a document without having to jump off-site, and without clunky iframes. As importantly, we wanted to do this in a way that would be easily reusable by other projects and people. So we **built a tool called [us-documents](https://github.com/unitedstates/documents)** that makes it possible for anyone to do this with federal bills and regulations. It's [available as a Ruby gem](https://rubygems.org/gems/us-documents), and comes with a [command line tool](https://github.com/unitedstates/documents#usage) so that you can use it with Python, Node, or any other language. It lives inside the [unitedstates project](https://github.com/unitedstates) at [unitedstates/documents](https://github.com/unitedstates/documents), and is entirely public domain.

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