Digital Gov

Is Congress ready for its own internal Data Act?

Congress Icon/Shutterstock

A draft bill introduced in the House would require all congressional bills, resolutions and documents to be published in machine-readable format.

The 2014 Digital Accountability and Transparency Act standardizes a governmentwide data structure to track federal spending, and the Searchable Legislation Act, introduced July 13 by Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), would similarly standardize an electronically searchable format for federal legislation and congressional records.

If passed, the bill would effectively convert legislation in the House and Senate from the current document-driven structure to a data-driven one, allowing the public to automatically search and download congressional documents in bulk.

"This bill is huge for transparency and better management," said Hudson Hollister, executive director of the Data Coalition. "If Congress chooses to adopt an open-data structure for its legislation, it means the whole [legislative] process works so much better."

He added that a transition to machine-readable documents "means there has to be some kind of data structure." The bill would designate the Clerk of the House and the Secretary of the Senate as leaders of a joint task force to determine what that data format should be.

Hollister expressed optimism that the bill would pass the House, citing recent comments by Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) in support of a more open legislative process.

Hollister said there is "broad consensus in the House…that Congress needs to modernize," but getting the Senate to pass the bill could be tougher, mainly due to the Senate's unfamiliarity with what the bill seeks to accomplish rather than opposition to those goals.

When the time does come for lawmakers to vote on it, the bill might be joined by companion legislation.

Two bills that would further increase legislative transparency were also recently introduced in the House. The Statutes at Large Modernization Act, introduced by Reps. Dave Brat (R-Va.) and Seth Moulton (D-Mass.), would make all federal laws available online and publicly searchable.

The Establishing Digital Interactive Transparency Act, introduced by Reps. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) and Luke Messer (R-Ind.), seeks to track changes made throughout the legislative process.

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a staff writer covering civilian agencies, workforce issues, health IT, open data and innovation.

Prior to joining FCW, Gunter reported for the C-Ville Weekly in Charlottesville, Va., and served as a college sports beat writer for the South Boston (Va.) News and Record. He started at FCW as an editorial fellow before joining the team full-time as a reporter.

Gunter is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where his emphases were English, history and media studies.

Click here for previous articles by Gunter, or connect with him on Twitter: @WChaseGunter

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