Daniel Schuman of Sunlight Foundation has posted Two Steps Forward on Improving Public Access to Legislative Information, on the Sunlight Foundation Blog.
In this post, Mr. Schuman discusses two pieces of evidence suggesting that Congress may eventually provide free public access in bulk to congressional legislative data in XML — specifically, the data underlying the THOMAS legislative information system.
The first piece of evidence is a comment from a member of Congress that such bulk access will be discussed at length in a forthcoming report from the House Appropriations Committee Legislative Branch Subcommittee.
The second is a newly released, 2008 memorandum from the Library of Congress Congressional Relations Office, describing a plan “to make the underlying raw THOMAS data available to the public in XML.”
Mr. Schuman comments:
What’s notable is how the Library of Congress was technologically positioned to deliver on legislative data transparency four years ago, but apparently did not move forward. At a minimum, it should alleviate concerns about the difficulty of technological implementation.
Mr. Schuman further notes that the memo discusses the question of “who owns the data” in THOMAS. He writes:
The memo raises one major policy implication concerning who owns the data, contemplating that it belongs to the House, Senate, Congressional Research Service, and Government Printing Office. In the literal sense, that’s backwards: the information is owned by the American people and held in trust by Congress and its legislative agencies. These entities do serve as repositories of the information, however, and deserve consideration as to the technological means by which it is made available. However, that’s with the understanding that these entities should strive to meet the public’s need for the information and expansively follow the policies set by Congress in favor of transparency.
For more information, please see the complete post.