Malamud: add bulk open government data access to Thomas.gov

An image of (insert name here), taken at about 2:30 this afternoon. (Photo by Abby Brack/Library of Congress)

An image of (insert name here), taken at about 2:30 this afternoon. (Photo by Abby Brack/Library of Congress)

Open government advocate Carl Malamud made a succinct recommendation for improving the United States House of Representatives on January 24th: “Open it up. Bulk access, developer day, an API, long-term open source model. People’s house.” Malamud linked to a letter at House.Resource.org to Representative Eric Cantor (R-VI), House Majority Leader in which he made the case for making bulk data access to bills and corollary data available to the public online through Thomas.gov:

Access to bulk data, both for the core Thomas system and for corollary databases, would have a huge and immediate effect. Hosting a developer day and making sure stakeholders are part of the long-term development will help keep the next- generation system in tune with the needs of the Congress and of the public.

As Malamud pointed out, long term plans to improve public access to the law are evolving, including the announcement that the Cornell Law Library would redesign Thomas.gov legislative/meta data models:

It’s finally official: The Library of Congress has selected us to work on a redesign of their legislative-metadata models. This sounds like really geeky stuff (and it is), but the effects for government and for citizens should be pretty big. What’s really being talked about here is (we hope) a great improvement not only in what can be retrieved from systems like THOMAS and LIS (the less-well-known internal system used by Congress itself), but also in what can be linked to and referenced. We’ll begin with a careful compilation of use cases, build functional requirements for what the data models should do, and go from there to think about prototype systems and datasets. The idea is to bring Semantic Web technology to bills, public laws, the US Code, Presidential documents, and a variety of other collections. Longtime LII friends and collaborators Diane Hillmann, John Joergensen and Rob Richards& will be working with our regular team to create the new models and systems.

Will the new GOP leadership take Malamud up on his proposal for an open developer day and bulk data? Stay tuned. As Nancy Scola wrote in techPresident that “Republicans in the House are making technology-enabled openness, transparency, and participation central to the public presentation of their core political values in a way that their Democratic counterparts never fully did.” Malamud has a track record that lends considerable credibility to his prospects: he helped to get the SEC online in 1993. More recently, “Washington’s IT guy” was able to work with the House leadership to start publishing hundreds of high-resolution videos from the House Oversight Committee hearings at House.Resource.org earlier this month.

If the new GOP leadership is serious about adopting the infrastructure to enable transparency and accountability in the House, perhaps adoption of open government data standards will be one of the enduring accomplishments of this 112th Congress.

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About Alex Howard

Alexander B. Howard is a DC-based a technology writer and editor. Previously, he was the Washington Correspondent at O'Reilly Media, where he covered the voices, technologies and issues that matter in the intersection of government, technology and society. If you're feeling social, you can follow him on Twitter, like him on Facebook or circle him on Google Plus In addition to corresponding for the O’Reilly Radar, he has contributed to the Huffington Post, Govfresh, Mashable, ReadWriteWeb, National Journal, The Atlantic, CBS News and Forbes. He graduated from Colby College with a bachelor's degree in biology and sociology. Currently, he is a resident of the District of Columbia, where he lives with his greyhound, wife, power tools, plants and growing collection of cast iron pans, many of which are frequently used to pursue his passion for good cooking.

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