In this post, Mr. Schuman reports that on 6 June 2012 the leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives issued a statement expressing its support for providing public bulk access to U.S. federal legislative data, the goal of the movement commonly known as “freeTHOMAS” (Twitter hashtag #freeTHOMAS.)
In the statement the House leadership identified as one of its goals the “provi[sion of] bulk access to legislative information to the American people without further delay,” characterized provision of bulk access to legislative data as “among our top priorities in the 112th Congress,” described a new task force whose charge is “to expedite the process of making public information available to the public,” and “direct[ed] the task force to begin its [...] work immediately.”
The full text of the House leadership’s statement appears at the bottom of this post, and is also available here.
Mr. Schuman characterizes the House leadership’s statement as momentous, and expresses substantial optimism about the statement. He writes:
[T]oday is a milestone for legislative transparency. [...] 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.
Certain aspects of the House leadership’s statement raise questions, however. Mr. Schuman notes that the task force will include no individuals from outside of government, and that the task force does not appear to be required to consider input from the public. In addition, the House leadership’s statement does not set a deadline for the completion of the task force’s work, does not require the task force to issue a report or to make any of its deliverables public, and does not require the task force to make use of the 2008 Library of Congress memorandum that addresses many of the issues that appear to be on the task force’s agenda. Further, the language of the House leadership’s statement, to the extent that it is contained in a press release, appears to lack the authority of language in legislation or a congressional report or print.
Mr. Schuman expresses optimism that the task force will invite input from the public, and states that “Sunlight [Foundation] and our friends in the transparency community stand ready to be of assistance as the technical, policy, and scope issues are addressed.”
Mr. Schuman also suggests that the public should continue to monitor this issue, to make sure that the promise of the House leadership’s statement is fulfilled. He writes:
While this is clearly progress, there’s still much more to do. We will be monitoring this issue closely.
For more information, please see Mr. Schuman’s complete post.
Here is the full text of the House leadership’s statement:
House Leaders Back Bulk Access to Legislative Information
Posted by Speaker Boehner Press Office
June 6, 2012
WASHINGTON, DC – House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), Legislative Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Ander Crenshaw (R-FL), and Oversight & Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) released the following statement today regarding House efforts to provide bulk access to legislative information:
“The coming vote on the Legislative Branch appropriations bill marks an important milestone for the House of Representatives: the moment lawmakers agree to free legislative information from the technical limits of years past and embrace a more open, more transparent, and more effective way of doing the people’s business. Our goal is to provide bulk access to legislative information to the American people without further delay.
“The bill directs a task force to expedite the process of making public information available to the public. In addition to legislative branch agencies such as the Library of Congress and the Government Printing Office, the task force will include representatives of House leadership and key committees, as well as the Clerk of the House and the House Chief Administrative Officer.
“This is a big project. That’s why accomplishing it rapidly and responsibly requires all those with a role in the collection and dissemination of legislative information to be at the table together. Because this effort ranks among our top priorities in the 112th Congress, we will not wait for enactment of a Legislative Branch appropriations bill but will instead direct the task force to begin its important work immediately.
“The offices involved in this project have been instrumental in using new technology to make the House more open. We pledged to make Congress more transparent and accessible, and from our efforts to provide legislation and updates in XML, to the video streaming and archiving of committee hearings, to our search for new ways to engage and serve the American people through events like last year’s ‘Hackathon’ – and more – we’re working to keep that pledge. Bulk data is the next and a very important step. We look forward to the task force’s report and to beginning implementation of this project as soon as possible.”
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