Friday, April 29, 2011

Congress Commits to E-Data Formats


    One of the core technological improvements needed in our legal system is better organization of legislation (see #6).  Legislation forms the foundation of most of our legal rights and remedies, and yet Congress (not to mention the states) continues to publish our laws in inconsistent formats, with at least four different transformations between legislative proposal and final, published statute in the U.S. Code.
    A small but dedicated band of open government geeks has pushed for Congress to publish statutes in an open, structured (XML) format, in a form that can be downloaded in bulk.  And now the leadership of the House has taken up the call. This, from the Sunlight Foundation's blog--
    Speaker Boehner and Majority Leader Cantor today sent a letter to the Clerk of the House calling for better access to the House's electronic data:
    ...At the start of the 112th Congress, the House adopted a Rules Package that identified electronic documents as a priority for the institution. Towards that end, we are asking all House stakeholders to work together on publicly releasing the House’s legislative data in machine-readable formats. The Rules of the House, adopted on the opening day of this Congress, directed the Committee on House Administration to establish and maintain electronic data standards for the House and its committees. We have asked that this standard be developed in conjunction with your office for the purpose of transitioning the House to more open data formats, such as XML. We believe that this legislative data, using standardized machine-readable formats, should be publicly available on House websites. The Clerk’s office should work to ensure the consistent public availability and utility of the House’s legislative data.