Personal Democracy Plus Our premium content network. LEARN MORE You are not logged in. LOG IN NOW >

U.S. House of Reps Moves to Bake In Stuctured Data

BY Nancy Scola | Friday, April 29 2011

Photo credit: Architect of the Capitol

In a letter released this morning, the House Republican leadership took another step towards institutionalizing openness right into the U.S. House of Representatives, asking the Clerk of the House to help develop a standardized legislative data format to be used by the full House. (The full letter is down below.)

"The Rules of the House, adopted on the opening day of this Congress, directed the Committee on House Administration to establish and maintain electronic data standards for the House and its committees," reads the letter that Speaker John Boehner and Majority Eric Cantor sent to Clerk of the House Karen Haas. "We have asked that this standard be developed in conjunction with your office for the purpose of transitioning the House to more open data formats, such as XML."

This upgrade to the inner workings of the House has actually been in the works for years. The 2007 founding report of the Open House Project, part of the Sunlight Foundation, called for the House to move to "a structured, non-proprietary format" for legislation. (Full disclosure: I believe somewhere on the Internet I might be listed as an advisor on that original OHP report, but I didn't contribute much at all to it.) Getting the House to do its day-to-day work in a consistent way from committee to committee and office to office helps to make it easier for the public to plug into that work. That's why places like OpenCongress have long been calling for the Hill to embrace structured data.

Sunlight's John Wonderlich wrote this morning that "a joint letter from the Speaker and Majority Leader is a real commitment to data release, and means that the House is going to be adjusting how it shares legislative information online."*

If the House leadership settles on one format, goes the thinking, individual House offices are empowered to contribute to the openness of the body. "We believe that this legislative data, using standardized machine-readable formats, should be publicly available on House websites," reads the letter from the GOP leadership to the clerk. "The Clerk’s office should work to ensure the consistent public availability and utility of the House’s legislative data." In that Open House Project report, the group pointed an example of a legislative body doing good work in serving up structured legislative data: the Illinois General Assembly legislative FTP site.

We don't yet have too many details on how House intends to build out their structured data system, but a Cantor office rep says this morning that the policy will be fleshed out in the Committee on House Administration in the next few weeks. Again, the full letter is after the jump.

*Note: Our Andrew Rasiej and Micah Sifry are senior advisors to the Sunlight Foundation.

News Briefs

RSS Feed tuesday >

Ruck.us Reboots As a Candidate Digital Toolkit That's a Bit Too Like Democracy.com

Ruck.us launched with big ambitions and star appeal, hoping to crack the code on how to get millions of people to pool their political passions through their platform. When that ambition stalled, its founder Nathan Daschle--son of the former Senator--decided to pivot to offering political candidates an easy-to-use free web platform for organizing and fundraising. Now the new Ruck.us is out from stealth mode, entering a field already being served by competitors like NationBuilder, Salsa Labs and Democracy.com. And strangely enough, Ruck.us seems to want its early users to ask Democracy.com for help. GO

Armenian Legislators: You Can Be As Anonymous on the 'Net As You Like—Until You Can't

A proposed bill in Armenia would make it illegal for media outlets to include defamatory remarks by anonymous or fake sources, and require sites to remove libelous comments within 12 hours unless they identify the author.

GO

monday >

The Good Wife Looks for the Next Snowden and Outwits the NSA

Even as the real Edward Snowden faces questions over his motives in Russia, another side of his legacy played out for the over nine million viewers of last night's The Good Wife, which concluded its season long storyline exploring NSA surveillance. In the episode titled All Tapped Out, one young NSA worker's legal concerns lead him to becoming a whistle-blower, setting off a chain of events that allows the main character, lawyer Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies), and her husband, Illinois Governor Peter Florrick (Chris Noth), to turn the tables on the NSA using its own methods. GO

The Expanding Reach of China's Crowdsourced Environmental Monitoring Site, Danger Maps

Last week billionaire businessman Jack Ma, founder of the e-commerce company Alibaba, appealed to his “500 million-strong army” of consumers to help monitor water quality in China. Inexpensive testing kits sold through his company can be used to measure pH, phosphates, ammonia, and heavy metal levels, and then the data can be uploaded via smartphone to the environmental monitoring site Danger Maps. Although the initiative will push the Chinese authorities' tolerance for civic engagement and activism, Ethan Zuckerman has high hopes for “monitorial citizenship” in China.

GO

The 13 Worst Bits of Russia's Current and Maybe Future Internet Legislation

It appears that Russia is on the brink of passing still more repressive Internet regulations. A new telecommunications bill that would require popular blogs—those with 3,000 or more visits a day—to join a government registry and conform to government-mandated standards is expected to pass this week. What follows is a list of the worst bits of both proposed and existing Russian Internet law. Let us know in the comments or on Twitter if we missed anything.

GO

Transparency and Public Shaming: Pakistan Tackles Tax Evasion

In Pakistan, where only one in 200 citizens files their income tax return, authorities published a directory of taxpayers' details for the first time. Officials explained the decision as an attempt to shame defaulters into paying up.

GO

wednesday >

Facebook Seeks Approval as Financial Service in Ireland. Is the Developing World Next?

On April 13 the Financial Times reported that Facebook is only weeks away from being approved as a financial service in Ireland. Is this foray into e-money motivated by Facebook's desire to conquer the developing world before other corporate Internet giants do? Maybe.

GO

The Rise and Fall of Iran's “Blogestan”

The robust community of Iranian bloggers—sometimes nicknamed “Blogestan”—has shrunk since its heyday between 2002 – 2010. “Whither Blogestan,” a recent report from the University of Pennsylvania's Iran Media Program sought to find out how and why. The researchers performed a web crawling analysis of Blogestan, survey 165 Persian blog users, and conducted 20 interviews with influential bloggers in the Persian community. They found multiple causes of the decline in blogging, including increased social media use and interference from authorities.

GO

More