Congress Online Inching Toward 21st Century

Part of the reason many websites of Congressional information (on members, on legislation, on staffers, etc.) exist is that there has been no strong official website to serve as a central point for information.  The Library of Congress has had THOMAS for almost twenty years, and while it is a good source for information on legislation in this and past sessions of Congress, it still reflects many cutting edge website features of the previous century.

Part of that improvement process just entered the beta testing phase.  If you go to Congress.gov, you’ll see the beta site for a revamped Congressional information website.  This website is intended to replace both the public-facing THOMAS system and the Legislative Information System.  The beta website also includes much more information than was previously available on THOMAS, meaning Congress.gov is more of a one-stop information shop on Congress than was previously (freely) available.

You should already notice that the website is now mobile display friendly, and search is more intuitive.  It will also be much easier to search across multiple years, and member information is much more detailed.

The Library of Congress sees the beta testing unfolding in the following manner:

“The Library is releasing Congress.gov as a beta site to enable a period of time for collecting user feedback and refining functionality while other content is incorporated. Other data, such as the Congressional Record, committee reports, nominations, treaties and communications, will be incorporated over time in a planned, prioritized order. The Library anticipates Congress.gov will operate as a beta site for approximately one year as this work is completed. During that time, both THOMAS and LIS will continue to operate as usual.”

As of now, there are no plans to release an application programming interface (API) – which would provide the raw data to the public for slicing and dicing as they see fit.  That’s not to say websites aren’t already doing this with Congressional information, it’s just much more labor-intensive.  There has also been little to no opportunity for public comment on this process (if there’s a feedback page on the website, I can’t find it), which seems short-sighted for an effort intended to put more information on the Internet in an easier-to-access fashion.

While I may quibble with the process, I’m looking forward to having a lot more information that much closer to my browser.

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