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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”. Read their whole rundown of the state of play, but in short: bullshit paranoid excuses, no accountability, no serious response to the considered testimony from the #opengov & public-interest communities on behalf of #opengovdata – and just to let us know they’re serious about not treating this seriously, another hyper-bullshit task force with no deadlines. Clearly, they’re indefinitely delaying public bulk access. A crystal-clear affront to the #opengov community and OpenCongress users. 

Primary point of contact here should be office of Rep. Ander Crenshaw [R, FL-04] – 202-225-2501 - on behalf of the intentionally, insistently closed-off Legislative Branch Subcommittee of House Cmte. on Appropriations. Give them a ring and let them know that even if you’re not a constituent, you demand bulk access to public legislative information – literally the data that shapes the laws of the land & our shared, lived public policies – and that they’re unforgivably standing in the way of progress on basic government transparency. If anyone from Rep. Crenshaw’s staff or office is reading this, give me a ping on Skype at davidmooreppf to chat voice or video chat, and I’ll politely reiterate the extensive testimony submitted by OC & GovTrack & Sunlight & others on behalf of the millions of people who want access to public data in real-time. Rep. Crenshaw profile on OC; office phone: 202-225-2501.

Follow me on the micropublishing service for more legitimately angry responses to this affront & to see informed, expert commentary from allies like Josh Tauberer, Waldo Jacquith, Eric Mill, Derek Willis & others – maybe consider subscribing to my #opengov list. Unbelievable. There is no legitimate excuse for THOMAS & the Library of Congress – and now House Approps. – to be dragging its heels on #opengovdata. (That means you too, CRS & GPO & LIMS & LIS et al. But especially you, THOMAS.) So brazenly, unaccountably retrograde. To participants of the Legislative Data & Transparency Conference this past Feb., to technologists with the LoC & LLoC – come on, step up and level some pointed criticism at the subcommittee members who deserve it. Public data should be open to the public in full, full stop.

We tried playing the inside game, carrots-and-sticks with the lengthy (and impotent) bulk data task force process, and bureaucratic foot-dragging has now been compounded by institutional refusal to open up the workings of Congress to the public online. Get radical, the process is clearly broken: liberate open-gov-data now. Let’s see if the #opengov movement has any edge or ooomph in responding to this fundamental failure of #opengov transparency – input welcome, email me: david at

(By the way, this marks the first time I’ve sworn in print on OC or on my @ppolitics account, viz. “bullshit”, which this is. The polite term is cohort replacment - if this generation of lawmakers & their staffs in our systemically corrupt U.S. Congress doesn’t understand the open Web & open data, assuredly subsequent ones will. But we can do better now, today, and there are no excuses left.)

Quick call-to-action – today, Friday May 18th at 9:30 am 11am ET (changed, per Daniel Schuman’s photo – ed.), the Legislative Branch Subcommittee is holding a markup of a major appropriations bill. This is a crucial window of opportunity to compel the out-of-touch gatekeeepers at the Library of Congress and the members of Congress who oversee them to make public data open to the public in full. Background on OC Blog: our campaign is to #FreeTHOMAS now. 

Click here to email your senators and representative in favor of open government data today. We’ve seeded the Message Builder with some suggested talking points; feel free to add your personal testimony about why you think our nation’s massively important legislative data ought to be, you know, open to the public it affects (and which paid for it). 

In coalition with our #opengov allies at the Sunlight Foundation, GovTrack and others, we’ll keep pushing on a number of fronts to liberate public data:

  • Everyone reading this – please write your members of Congress above to raise the issue of legislative transparency. Spread the word w/ our #FreeTHOMAS hashtag. 
  • Employees & directors at the Library of Congress – there has been pitifully little progress or communication since our good-faith meeting this past February in the Capitol. We demand access to public legislative data in timely, machine-readable formats – and most of all, in bulk. It’s preposterously past-time. We need it for OpenCongress; the entire #opengov, #opendata ecosystem needs it; media & journalists & bloggers could use it; it’s a sound fundamental principle of accountability & access to information. 

There are zero compelling arguments against OpenGovData for THOMAS. It’s technically straightforward (and as you know, you have our help & collaboration). The only thing blocking it, as far as what the LoC can control, is institutional inertia & bureacratic foot-dragging. Totally weird & preposterous that the LoC is so intransigent on this common-sense #opengov #opendata issue (with virtually no arguments against it other than organizational unresponsiveness & lack of will). Conference attendees, we call you to pressure the LoC to start moving in this direction: bulk access first, legislative XML second, open API third, libre data by default fourth (or first).

Hundreds of thousands of OC visitors want real-time bill & vote & issue data every month, as do our 300,000 MyOC registered users (who could use it for deeper research & social sharing), and the millions more people searching for basic information about Congress around the open Web. We’ve provided more than enough compelling testimony, academic research, and peer-reviewed evidence of public demand & use case propositions & value generated (incl. economic benefits), and over three months later, you’ve refused to take action. See, for example, testimony from GovTrack (GovTrack users want better transparency from Congress, we co-sign Josh’s points) and Daniel Schuman, Sunlight Policy Counsel. This lack of access & lack of momentum towards access is unacceptable to the OC community. It’s mid-2012, we still don’t have #opengovdata, so we don’t have #opengov in America. 

Questions, feedback? Email me: david at opencongress, or davidmooreppf on AIM or Skype, and see our #FreeTHOMAS community wiki whip count page for more background. 

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