OpenCongress: Tracking Legislation Made Easier

Here’s my favorite online effort so far for Sunshine Week and beyond: Open Congress — a joint project of the Participatory Politics Foundation and the Sunlight Foundation.

Often, the workings of the federal legislature appear to be “hiding in plain sight,” obscured by arcane, cumbersome language and information systems. OpenCongress is a free resource that makes official legislative info easier to find and follow. It also incorporates blog coverage and other information resources to track Hill-related buzz and action.

One especially nice feature: You can subscribe to an RSS feed for updates on any bill. For instance, three bills that I’m keeping an eye on right now are:

Water infrastructure funding tends to be a highly contentious and politicized issue. The White House Office of Management and Budget recently issued a flurry of policy statements on these bills. I expect all three bills eventually will be festooned with riders, pork, and loopholes that will have significant local-level impacts. As anyone who’s covered federal environmental law can attest, such wranglings can be hard to follow through the main federal legislative info system, Thomas.

I’ve subscribed to all three of those OpenCongress feeds in my feed reader. This means I’ll find out virtually immediately about any new actions.

One suggestion for OpenCongress: It would be nice if they started compiling (or allowed users to compile) a plain-language glossary of legislative/procedural terms. Often what comes through on those feeds are cryptic references like “moved to recommit with instructions.” Most people (including myself, in this case), don’t immediately know what that means, or whether it’s important. I had to research it. With a glossary or wiki to cross-reference such terms via hyperlinks, OpenCongress could do a lot more to enhance transparency in the federal government.

More info: The Mar. 9 episode of WNYC’s On the Media featured an interview with Open Congress technology lead Micah Sifry.

Have you tried OpenCongress? What do you think of it? How are you using it? Please comment below.

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