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Transparency Advocates Frustrated With House Appropriators' Plan To Make A Plan

BY Sarah Lai Stirland | Wednesday, May 30 2012

Open government advocates are up in arms over what appears to be another attempt by government bureaucrats to stall the move to enable bulk data downloads of legislative information online.

The full House Appropriations Committee is scheduled to approve the Legislative Branch Appropriations Bill for 2013 on Thursday. But in the bill's accompanying report, appropriators are proposing to create a committee to examine issues of authenticity surrounding bulk data downloads in XML. The committee would comprise staff from the Library of Congress, the Congressional Research Service, the Clerk of the House, the Government Printing Office, and relevant congressional offices.

The committee says that only the only format that enables reliable authenticity is PDF because it uses a trusted digital signature technology. The authors of the report ignore the current reality that much of the wider world online already relies on "unverified" and "unauthenticated" bulk data downloads in XML from the Library of Congress' THOMAS legislative information system. The only difference is that the information is scraped by Josh Tauberer's Govtrack.us system instead of being made available by the government itself, and is powering a whole new ecosystem of web sites and businesses.

Writing on The Sunlight Foundation's blog, Daniel Schuman and Eric Mill note:

Simply put, the draft committee report's establishment of a task force is another recipe for delay. We saw this four years ago, the last time the Library was pressed to make improvements on this issue. The time is long past for action, and the Appropriations Committee will be judged on whether it makes another plan to make a plan, or whether it establishes real deadlines for progress. THOMAS itself was created in a matter of months when the Speaker of the House decided it was a priority. Bulk access to legislative data will also come about when legislators decide that being transparent is more important than establishing a task force to talk about it.

I've sent a note to the Appropriations Committee's press office to get a response and will update the post if and when I get one.

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