Congressional Legislative Data Tools

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Congressional Legislative Data Tools

Committee Meeting Calendar

While you could pay $1000 annually to subscribe to a daily calendar of committee hearings, GovTrack publishes an automatically-updated calendar that lists all hearings and meetings in the House in Senate at no cost to you. Alternatively, subscribe to GovTrack’s alerts, which tracks particular committees and bills. (Make it better)

Follow House Floor Action

The app Capitol Bells tells you whenever there is a House floor vote and provides essential context (such as what the vote is on). Used by more than half the Members of the House, it’s an essential tool to keep an eye on the floor.

Google Alerts for Government (but not Google)

The Sunlight Foundation’s alert tool Scout is the most powerful way to be alerted to government actions. It sends email alerts based on your keywords for federal and state legislation, federal regulations, floor speeches, GAO Reports, IG reports, and some federal court opinions. It’s like having a staff of well-payed research assistants constantly hitting refresh on dozens of congressional websites.

Collaboratively Write the Bill

Public input on legislation is often useful but only with the recent launch of Madison is there a free tool that allows broad public engagement while retaining control of the document. Built by the OpenGov Foundation, it is open source and used by Congress and the White House.

Read the Bill

While Congress’ redesign of its legislative information system has brought many needed improvements, it still lacks a lot of important contextual information. GovTrack has provided legislative information for a decade and should be your first stop. If you’re interested in the cost of legislation, Jim Harper’s WashingtonWatch is the place to go.

Read the Law

Until this past year, there was no single free online source for all bills signed into law. But now you can look up and read public laws to your heart’s content by going to Legislink. Of course, if you want to read the US Code, there’s the Office of Law Revision Counsel’s official website as well as the longstanding champion of public access to legal information, Cornell’s LII. (Cornell has a ton of other stuff, having been in the business of free online access to law since the early 90s, before everyone else).

Congressional Staff Directory

You might guess Congress publishes a staff directory with the names of staffers and their areas of responsibility, but only private sector sources are available. Fortunately, thanks to the hard work of the Sunlight Foundation, the website FindTheBest has a searchable directory of House and Senate staffers. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty good (especially since it’s free). Sunlight has a downloadable version of the House information, too.

Vote Comparison Tool

Status: Finished, available here

First described: March 18, 2015, here

Description: Often, congressional staff, public-interest advocates, and journalists must compare several roll call votes to anticipate the likely outcome of an upcoming, related vote and target members of Congress who are likely to be swing votes. These comparisons can be laborious to do by hand, but are trivially easy for computers. 

Build a vote comparison tool that allows anyone to automatically compare how all members voted simply by identifying the two votes of interest.

Resources:

Congress HTTPS Dashboard

Status: completed, albeit as a report, not as a Dashboard 

First described: inspired by this, this, and this, November 2014

Description: Build a dashboard that reports on all House and Senate personal and committee websites that indicates whether they are SSL (HTTPS) compliant

Resources:

Senate Capitol Bells

Status: Competed

First described: here, May 2015

Description: Capitol Bells is an impressive mobile device alerting services that tells members of the House when a floor vote is taking place, what the vote is on, and how constituents have weighed in on the vote. It should be expanded to the Senate.

FindTheBest 

Transform Pre-Introduction Legislation from PDF to Plain text

Status: working draft from quorum

First described: here

Transformed pre-introduction legislation from PDF to text

Where you can find it: here