Is legislative transparency stuck in 1995?

“Thomas was and continues to be at the cutting edge for government transparency for 1995,” that’s the accusation from Daniel Schuman a policy council at the Sunlight Foundation.

Thomas provides the public access to basic legislative information like bills, resolutions and committee hearings.

Basically, Thomas was opening up government before transparency was cool. But while the world has changed alot since 1995, Thomas hasn’t changed as much.

“Thomas used to be the primary source for information but because it has an old and clunky interface it can’t do a lot of things the government wants,” said Schuman.

The Big Problems

  • Congress does not make the data available in API formats
  • Instead they take useful information and dumb it down and put it online as individual web pages.
  • Congress has literally hundreds of thousands of web pages that are difficult to keep authentic, accurate and authoritative.

“It’s almost impossible for the public to take the Humpty Dumpty webpages and put it back together again,” said Schuman.

Three months ago the House pledged to make bulk access a priority for the Congress. But so far there hasn’t been much movement. The beta version of the new Thomas is expected to be released sometime this month. This will be te first update to the site in more than 10 years.

But Schuman is skeptical, “the real benchmark will be has there been real progress,”

Why is Thomas important:

  1. “We’ve already seen the information on Thomas help citizens write more informed and compelling letters to their Congressmen,” said Schuman
  2. 1 in 5 citizens have logged onto Thomas in the past 13 years.

The Sunlight Foundation has released a report on how to save Thomas.

Recommendations on Bulk Access to Congress’s Legislative Information

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