House, Government Printing Office Increase Access to Legislative Data

By Emily

The Office of the Clerk of the House of Representatives has expanded its docs.house.gov site to include committee information such as committee rules, bills and resolutions to be considered, recorded votes, meeting notices, witness lists and testimony. Visitors can subscribe to Committee RSS feeds and download the XML for reuse. In addition, the Government Printing Office (GPO) is now making bills in XML format available for bulk download through FDsys, from the 113th Congress forward. These efforts advance the transparency goals put forward in the 112th Congress by the House leadership and House Report 112-511, which established the Bulk Data Task Force.

AALL submitted feedback to the Bulk Data Task Force late last year, recommending that a disclaimer and link to FDsys be included along with any legislative information that is posted for bulk download. We urged the Clerk to follow the example set by the White House, GPO and the National Archives and Records Administration’s Office of the Federal Register in adding a disclaimer to the XML of the Federal Register on Data.gov, which clearly states that the XML is not official. We are pleased that the new Help section of docs.house.gov includes the following questions along with a “Legal Status and Authenticity” section as part of the FAQ:

Q. What is available on docs.house.gov?

A. Text of legislation that may be considered on the House Floor is posted on docs.house.gov. Committee documents in accordance with the standards adopted by the Committee on House Administration are posted on docs.house.gov.

If available, both the PDF version and XML version of a document are posted. Documents follow the House’s document naming convention. If the documents have been processed by U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO), there may be direct links to GPO’s Federal Digital System (FDSys).

 Q. What is the authenticity of data files from docs.house.gov after they have been downloaded to another site?

A. We cannot vouch for the authenticity of data that is not under the control of the U.S. House. The U.S. House does not endorse third party applications, and does not evaluate how our original content is displayed on other sites. Consumers should form their own conclusions as to whether the downloaded data can be relied upon within an application or its enriched results that were not necessarily the original reason for producing the raw source data.

AALL supports access in many formats. We commend the Office of the Clerk for clarifying the authenticity of the XML files and for recommending that committees link to FDsys where possible. We also applaud GPO for making XML files available on FDsys through the Bulk Data Repository, along with the authenticated PDFs. This affirms GPO’s status as a trusted repository of official, authentic, digital and secure information and allows other entities to add value to government information.

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