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Report May Hinder Goal of Open Congress

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Rep. Ander Crenshaw, chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch, said he didn’t think there would be significant delays in bulk downloading plans.

“What would be the impact of bulk downloads of legislative data in XML on the timeliness and authoritativeness of congressional information?” the report asks. “What would be the estimated timeline for the development of a system of authentication for bulk data downloads of legislation information in XML? What are the projected budgetary impacts ... [and] potential requirements for Congress to confirm or invalidate third party analyses? Are there other data models ... that can enhance congressional openness or transparency?”

Daniel Schuman, the Sunlight Foundation’s policy counsel and director of the Advisory Committee on Transparency, said the report language is “overly broad.” Because it does not specify which websites would have to wait for the task force’s findings to offer bulk downloads, it could have the adverse effect of blocking the service by legislative branch websites that have already begun to format their data for bulk access.

Schuman also said the task force was given no time frame for reaching its conclusions, creating a situation where transparency initiatives involving bulk data downloads could be delayed indefinitely.

Crenshaw emphasized that the committee report language holds considerable weight and that he was not concerned that this would cause significant delays.

Some lawmakers already have gone on the record to say they want to move the process along.

“I look forward to working with the chairman and leadership of the House ... to advance these efforts to increase public access to legislative data. I believe the time to implement this is now,” Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.), ranking member of the Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch, said in his opening remarks at last week’s markup.

Others, such as Congressional Transparency Caucus Co-Chairman Mike Quigley, had stronger words.

“I oppose the committee report language and support making all XML legislative information available online in bulk as soon as possible,” the Illinois Democrat said in a statement to Roll Call. “This would improve transparency and accountability by providing citizens and watchdog groups the ability to analyze data in ways not currently possible.”

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