Research Administrators Can Easily Access Congressional Bills and Other Information
The Library of Congress launched the Congress.gov website on September 19, 2012. Congress.gov is designed to provide free public access to legislative information. Technically, the Congress.gov website is in beta release currently, and contains House and Senate bills from 2001 to the present, profiles of all members of congress from 1973 to the present and selected member profiles from 1947 to through 1972. As Congress.gov matures, it will eventually replace Thomas.gov, created in 1995 to make federal legislative information available to the public.
Congress.gov is built using modern web technology that, among other advantages, fully supports accessing the site from desktop or laptop computers, tablets or smartphones with the results being displayed in device-friendly formats.
Research administrators often need information on pending or passed legislation to fully carry our duties. Presently, for example, the DATA Act is a hot topic and Congress.gov makes finding and reading that legislation easy by simply searching on that term “DATA Act” and then perusing the results or narrowing the list down until only the Senate and House bills are displayed.
The Thomas website was launched rapidly in response to the 104th Congress request to provide public access. Due to the limitations of Thomas, alternatives such as GovTrack.us have appeared to improve access to congressional information, track bills, hearings, committee meetings, and provide access to voting and other information on representatives and senators.
As pointed out by the Sunlight Foundation in its recognition of the Congress.gov website going live, there remains at least one significant gap between oft requested features and those provided by the new site: bulk access to the underlying data in a computer-readable format. This need has been noted for many years and was articulated recently in a report co-authored by staff at the Sunlight Foundation, GovTrack.us and Cornell University’s Legal Information Institute. This report was developed in response to a statement made by House leadership that endorsed bulk public access.
While blogs such as this one strive to alert research administrators to developing issues that merit their attention and provide basic information, ask questions and offer opinions, they are not always sufficient substitutes for reviewing the actual legislation, and that’s where Congress.gov will come in handy for all of us.