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Next Steps in #FreeTHOMAS Campaign

June 7, 2012 - by David Moore

Hypothetical- you care about an issue: catastrophic climate degradation, net neutrality, extreme income inequality, single-payer health care, student loan forgiveness. Let's say the U.S. Congress has public information about this issue that is of core relevance, but refuses to open the primary source data to the public in full. For well over five years, technical & public-interest advocates outside government have worked in good-faith efforts to educate Congress that the data can straightforwardly be released & safeguarded - indeed, the data is already being screen-scraped several times a day & provided to free public Web resources (as best as possible). An Act of Congress calls explicitly for the information to be released. Several previous task forces failed to have real-world effects and clouded the issue unnecessarily, with no accountability or communication or recourse for open data advocates. 

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Update June 6th 7pm ET: hmm, some encouraging words from House GOP Leadership, summarized expertly by our ally Daniel Schuman: Major Transparency Milestone in Bulk Access Statement. We'll be watchdogging the process... a bit more inside. 

PreviouslyTHOMAS.loc.gov is the public-facing website for federal legislative information - bills, actions, votes, etc. The many closed databases that populate THOMAS are, for practical purposes, the primary source of laws from the U.S. Congress. These laws shape the experience of our contemporary lives & political landscape.

Attendees of the Legislative Data & Transparency Conference from Feb. 2012, I invite you to publicly stand behind the House Approps Subcommittee statements & those of Rep. Crenshaw (R, FL-04) as Chair. Edited June 6th 9am ET:  new names this morning: Dr. Billington, on behalf of LoC; Davita Vance-Cooks, on behalf of GPO; invite you to take a stand on behalf of your insitutions.

... click through for more links & justified impatience. Let's have a public discourse about #FreeTHOMAS. It's been over ten years for Josh at GovTrack; five years since OC launched; three years since the bulk data task force; etc. Come on.

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PPF is proud to stand with our allies the Sunlight FoundationGovTrack.us, and many others in the #opengov & legal informatics community in calling for #opengovdata - specifically, to oppose H.R. 5882 (sponsor: Rep. Ander Crenshaw [R , FL-04]) in its current form as it's planned to be brought to the House floor this week.

We called our long-planned wiki-whip-count effort on OC: #FreeTHOMAS. Now, we have the specific legislative item from the House Subcommittee on Legislative Appropriations: click here to email your reps in opposition to H.R. 5882. Click through for more info & outrage. Totally unacceptable that we still don't have bulk access to public bill data. 

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Congress Refuses to #FreeTHOMAS (updated)

May 17, 2012 - by David Moore

Update, May 30th, 2012, 5pm ET: Ohh hell no. They're blocking you, you reading this now, from accessing #opendata about bills in Congress. This afternoon, Daniel Schuman & Eric Mill with our partners Sunlight Foundation posted this seriously unfortunate, significantly discouraging, sadly expected update: "Appropriators May Undercut Legislative Transparency". 

Background on OC Blog: our campaign is to #FreeTHOMAS now. See our #FreeTHOMAS community wiki whip count page for more info & links. 

Primary point of contact here should be office of Rep. Ander Crenshaw [R, FL-04], on behalf of the intentionally, insistently closed-off Legislative Branch Subcommittee. Give them a ring and let them know that even if you're not a constituent, you demand bulk access to public legislative information - Rep. Crenshaw's office phone is 202-225-2501. Click through for more updates. 

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Liberate OpenGovData Now

February 1, 2012 - by David Moore

It's 2012 - we don't have hover skateboards, and we don't have #opengov. We could have the latter, at least, in the here and now, benefiting every American, if the systemically corrupt U.S. Congress was capable of reforming itself (which it is currently, unfortunately, not). (Right, '80's movie art, w/ connotations of liberation by force and yet a certain datedness... it's past time.) 

I'm writing this on the train from NYC to D.C., en route to the Conference on Legislative Data & Transparency to be held Thursday, Feb. 2nd, 9am - 5pm ET - agenda here, webcast live here, micro-publishing updates here.

This shouldn't be a negotiation - rather, I'm here to call for liberation of public legislative data via bulk access and moving towards an open API for THOMAS. Then proceeding aggressively to API enhancements for Congressional offices to continually engage with constituent communications - for a living, breathing deliberative democracy - aided by open technology.

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Important blog post just published by our colleague John Wonderlich over on our partners the Sunlight Foundation: House Speaker Boehner & Majority Leader Cantor have sent a letter instructing the House Clerk to work towards "publicly releasing the House's legislative data in machine-readable formats". This is just a very first baby step towards comprehensive #opengovdata in the legislative branch and federal government in general, and is just the start of a more transparent & deliberative democratic process, and will require much public watchdogging & accountability to the #opengov community, but amounts to a solidly encouraging step.

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