Thursday, February 16, 2012

US Code in Standardized XML

Grant Vergottini has done it again.  He has converted the XML of the U.S. Code, published by the Law Revision Counsel, and converted it to a format (obscurely) called Akoma Ntoso, which is growing to be the basis for an international standard for legislation. (See his post here.)

Standards for their own sake have little meaning.  What we'd like is a standard that would allow easy sharing and comparison legislative information from various jurisdictions, while flexible enough to integrate the kinds of metadata that Jim Harper of the Cato Institute has called for.  By focusing on core structural elements, Grant has shown that translation between the different data formats is not only possible, but can be relatively straightforward. The U.S. legislative process is unique, as some experts at the House conference on legislative data pointed out.

True enough: every legislative process is, in some ways, unique. But there is enough overlap that a robust standard is possible.  We're still far off from having a "computable" body of legislation, but this is a major step forward for making the code machine readable.