Website makes tracking US congressional legislation easier

Submitted by Sammy Smith (sammy@thesga.org)

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OpenCongress is an easy-to-use aid in tracking the US congressional legislative process, that is, how bills become laws. As OpenCongress notes:

OpenCongress seeks to [merge] official government data with news and blog coverage, social networking, and public participation tools to give you the real story behind what’s happening in the Congress. Our service is free, open-source, non-profit, and non-partisan, designed to encourage government transparency and civic engagement.

The OpenCongress website offers various displays, so the user can track track a bill, a Member of Congress, or an issue area. Issue areas currently include, for example, “archaeology and anthropology,” “historical and cultural resources,” and “historic sites and heritage areas.” The OpenCongress listing in an issue includes both Senate and House bills. The listings show where the bill is in the legislative process—for example, whether it’s in committee, or if it’s passed one house and not the other.

OpenCongress is a reaction in part to how difficult the Library of Congress’s online website, THOMAS, which is named after Thomas Jefferson, is for many people to use efficiently. According to the THOMAS website:

THOMAS was launched in January of 1995, at the inception of the 104th Congress. The leadership of the 104th Congress directed the Library of Congress to make federal legislative information freely available to the public. Since that time THOMAS has expanded the scope of its offerings….

OpenCongress goes beyond THOMAS to offer:

anyone the ability to subscribe to RSS feeds of the most-viewed bills, Members of Congress, as well as RSS feeds listing the bills most written-about in the news and on blogs, so that you can keep track on the weightiest bills in the Congressional fray. We encourage organizations, membership groups, bloggers, and others to syndicate this “most-viewed on OpenCongress” information on their websites and thereby increase the number of people following the truly important bills in Congress.

According to their website, OpenCongress was conceived of in 2004, launched in February 2007, and signficantly upgraded in 2009. Its developers are working on versions for each state. The creator of OpenCongress is the Participatory Politics Foundation, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization based in New York City, and the Sunlight Foundation is the Founding and Primary Supporter of OpenCongress. The Sunlight Foundation was founded in January 2006, the OpenCongress website says,

with the goal of using the revolutionary power of the Internet and new information technology to enable citizens to learn more about what Congress and their elected representatives are doing, and thus help reduce corruption, ensure greater transparency and accountability by government, and foster public trust in the vital institutions of democracy.

Perhaps you’d like to keep an eye on information OpenCongress posts, or set up a web feed (e.g., RSS), to monitor legislation of interest to you. We recently discussed setting up a RSS feed for thesga.org here, if you want more information on setting up an RSS feed….