Beta

Slashdot: News for Nerds

×

Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

Congress Mulls API For Congressional Data

kdawson posted more than 5 years ago | from the it's-a-start dept.

Programming 121

Amerika sends in a Wired blog post on the desire in Congress to make data on lawmaking more easily available to the public. The senator who introduced the language into an omnibus appropriations bill wants feedback on the best way to make (e.g.) the Library of Congress's Thomas data more available — an API or bulk downloads, or both. Some comments on the blog posting call for an authenticated versioning system so we can know unequivocally how any particular language made its way into a bill. "Congress has apparently listened to the public's complaints about lack of convenient access to government data. The new Omnibus Appropriations Bill includes a section, introduced by Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.), that would mark the first tangible move toward making federal legislative data available to the public in bulk, so third parties can mash it up and redistribute it in innovative and accessible ways. This would include all the data currently distributed through the Library of Congress's Thomas web site — bill status and summary information, lists of sponsors, tracking timelines, voting records, etc."

cancel ×

121 comments

If this brings about more accountability (2, Insightful)

Em Emalb (452530) | more than 5 years ago | (#27091969)

...then I'm all for it.

Clarity is a good thing in government.

Re:If this brings about more accountability (2, Informative)

Shakrai (717556) | more than 5 years ago | (#27092035)

What good is accountability when most Congressional Districts are drawn [wikipedia.org] in such a way that the real election winds up being during the primary where only the most rapid party supporters (typically 10-15% of those eligible) turn out to vote?

Re:If this brings about more accountability (4, Funny)

Em Emalb (452530) | more than 5 years ago | (#27092141)

You're right, we shouldn't have increased accountability.

Re:If this brings about more accountability (2, Insightful)

Shakrai (717556) | more than 5 years ago | (#27092185)

That's not what I said. I just question how "accountable" they are when they have a 95% chance of being re-elected as long as they pander to the party base. In the final analysis the only way you can hold a politician accountable is to vote them out of office. Via gerrymandering and pork they've rigged the game to make this virtually impossible. Do you see the problem?

Re:If this brings about more accountability (1)

Em Emalb (452530) | more than 5 years ago | (#27092237)

Then I misinterpreted what you meant to say. My bad.

Anyway, you're right. The system is broken. Those who manage to claw their way into political power seemingly do everything they can to remain there. The process itself is flawed and our current two party system needs repair something fierce.

Slowdown cowboy! it's been a good 90 seconds since you last posted. That's not nearly long enough of a wait!

Re:If this brings about more accountability (1)

homer_ca (144738) | more than 5 years ago | (#27092987)

and not only that, *rabid* supporters too! But seriously primaries are no contest either. I believe more members of Congress are replaced by death in office than by primary challenges (I can't remember the exact stat and can't google it. It was either "by death in office" or "by death in office and retirement").

Re:If this brings about more accountability (1)

kenj0418 (230916) | more than 5 years ago | (#27094565)

I assumed there was some sort of API anyway, I assumed thats what sites like opencongress.org were using:

http://www.opencongress.org/ [opencongress.org]

Law for geeks (3, Insightful)

Baldrson (78598) | more than 5 years ago | (#27092009)

Law is code*.

Legislation is a change to the code.

The legislative process is change control.

*It is perhaps not entirely coincidental that the "code base" of law in the US is designated by the prefix "United States Code".

Re:Law for geeks (4, Informative)

gEvil (beta) (945888) | more than 5 years ago | (#27092051)

I think you have that backwards. It is not entirely coincidental that the rules that a computer program follows are called "code".

Re:Law for geeks (1)

DrLang21 (900992) | more than 5 years ago | (#27092061)

The only problem with the legislative process as change control is that it's hard to tell which coder is responsible for any given bug (or Easter egg!) in the system.

Re:Law for geeks (4, Interesting)

orclevegam (940336) | more than 5 years ago | (#27092221)

They should use something like GIT and assign each congress critter a login (and make the revision history available to the public). Not only could we follow the larger modifications of a bill at the central level as it moves through congress, but we could look at the branches each congress critter checks in and see what kinds of modifications occur in their own office. What would be really neat is if someone then took that data and did a bit of correlation between changes made at particular times and recent visits of lobbyists. Imagine the questions that might be raised if a congress critter has a recent visit by say a Microsoft lobbyist, and then a few days later amends a seemingly unrelated bill in a way that turns out to be beneficial to MS.

Re:Law for geeks (1)

orclevegam (940336) | more than 5 years ago | (#27092497)

And before anyone makes a big deal out of it, feel free to replace any occurrence of Microsoft in the previous statement with any other entity of their choosing.

Re:Law for geeks (5, Interesting)

Lord Bitman (95493) | more than 5 years ago | (#27092593)

I don't know about how git works for you, but for me, it requires a non-blank commit message. And if someone browses the log and sees a non-meaningful message, a message that doesn't explain the whole commit, or a singe commit which does "too much at once", questions get asked.

That's why we need "Git for government". Lots of small commits, references to why they happened (ie: links to C-Span video, audio or transcripts from meetings, etc)

This is something which needs to be taken on by someone on some level. It's not something which will happen immediately when someone passes a law requiring it. It'll need to be someone going up to a local lawmaker and dedicating all their time (100% of it) to tracking changes for them. Find out what's needed in terms of an interface to get real people to want to use it, make it so that non-programmers can benefit from it. Do this for one person, let anyone clone the results, and always be public about willingness to do it for anyone.
Re-election time comes around, and the person you're "sponsoring" gets to say: "I'm all for government transparency. Every last paragraph I've put into a bill over the past two years has an explanation attached to it. The service I use to make this available to the public is free for any lawmaker, and similar methods are available for free to all members of the public. Why has my opponent not bothered to do the same? What is he trying to hide?"

I would love to see an organization form around this very concept. "Free version control for government", a service provided by volunteers for absolutely anyone involved in writing laws or policy.

I don't see it as something which would ever really happen, of course.

Re:Law for geeks (2, Insightful)

b4dc0d3r (1268512) | more than 5 years ago | (#27093471)

You're not going to get multiple tiny commits. You're going to get this from every single bill:

Rev1: Senator Whatshisname. New bill proposal. (contents copied verbatim from lobbyist e-mail request, but this won't be specified anywhere)
Rev2: Senate Committee chair. Updates from committee meeting. (massive replacement of the text, no names specified)
Rev3: Senate Committee chair. Merged with House bill upon committee recommendation. (more replacement, no names specified)

And simultaneously:
Rev1: House Whatshisname. House version of new bill proposal. (contents copied verbatim from different lobbyist e-mail request, but this won't be specified anywhere)
Rev2: House Committee chair. Updates from committee meeting. (massive replacement of the text, no names specified)
Rev3: House Committee chair. Deleted bill, updates moved to Senate version.

Re:Law for geeks (1)

Fred Ferrigno (122319) | more than 5 years ago | (#27093817)

...which is pretty much what THOMAS gives you already. A diff function might be useful, provided the structure of the bill doesn't change much. Slashdotters are kidding themselves if they think legislators are going to track intermediate changes to draft versions.

Re:Law for geeks (1)

Richard W.M. Jones (591125) | more than 5 years ago | (#27094953)

I suggested "Git for government" to a UK MP [typepad.com] recently.

Re:Law for geeks (1)

Cyner (267154) | more than 5 years ago | (#27093901)

Thank god someone mentioned that we already have Code Access and Revision Tracking protocols around. Pick one of them, any one, I wouldn't care if they chose CVS. Even CVS is better than what we have now!

Here's a list, pick any Open Source one: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_revision_control_software [wikipedia.org]

Re:Law for geeks (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 5 years ago | (#27092259)

That is a serious problem; but it could be fixed with the application of tools that have been used for software stuff for years. It wouldn't be rocket surgery to have a system where the only way to start or change a bill would be with an authorized account in a revision control system. Then you could see exactly which account was responsible for any given changes. A lot of people wouldn't like it; but that is exactly why it needs to happen.

Re:Law for geeks (1)

Lord Bitman (95493) | more than 5 years ago | (#27092689)

If something like that were really implemented, it wouldn't be used at all, save for a staffer occasionally being told to do the equivalent of a mass commit without merging, squashing everyone who gets in the way.

People just don't work in a way which programmers would like. There are lots of "change this word here", etc, which is very vcs-friendly, but there is also a lot of "Based on the meetings, I wrote these 100 pages last week. Please review it."

It's those "bulk commits" that we need to find a system to improve.

Re:Law for geeks (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27093063)

That's exactly right.

Re:Law for geeks (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 5 years ago | (#27092125)

What you say is true, which suggests that it would be quite nice to take this a great deal further.

We really should be using a revision control system for laws the way we do for code. Make read access public, and have commit access tied to official's accounts, with the ability to delegate to staff if they so desired(ie, Senator X has an account. If he wishes, he can authorize a SenatorX.MinionY account, so Minion Y can work on legislation for him; but it is immediately clear who is responsible, have it work like hierarchical PKI). It would then be easy to compare versions of bills, see who is making what changes, propose changes yourself(interested groups could maintain their own forks of bills as model legislation), and all the other advantages that have made the technology ubiquitous in software development.

It wouldn't be trivial, setting up a complex system never is; but there is really no reason to not be using proven, effective technology for dealing with large quantities of code for the process of making laws.

And that's why Congress is so incredibly fubared (1)

MikeRT (947531) | more than 5 years ago | (#27092225)

When was the last time that Congress did a code review? The whole legislative process can boil down to a typical intern's approach to building software "write code, compile it, if it works, throw it into production until the boss (SCOTUS) says otherwise."

The legislative process needs to be made more deliberate. There need to be teams of lawyers charged with reviewing laws and drafting up use cases. Unfortunately, you won't have that until something can be done to make politicians do their jobs, and not spend all of their time pandering and promoting themselves.

Re:And that's why Congress is so incredibly fubare (1)

homer_s (799572) | more than 5 years ago | (#27093157)

You misunderstand the motivation behind legislation. Read the 'bootlegger and the baptist' when you get a chance.

Also, there is a difference between how a law emerges and how legislation emerges - the first is like evolution, people try different things and some order emerges; the second is like 'Intelligent Design'.

surely (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27092013)

Surely this is a call for the VW-API - the API for the People!

Hmmph. (4, Insightful)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 5 years ago | (#27092045)

It'd be more useful to see laws written in something resembling plain language. There is no excuse for 1,000 page omnibus bills. If it was line-item budgets, that would be one thing.

When you can't understand the law, you can't obey the law. And since ignorance of the law is no excuse, you can basically be arrested for anything. What a world.

Re:Hmmph. (1)

0100010001010011 (652467) | more than 5 years ago | (#27092143)

When you can't understand the law, you can't obey the law.

That's the point. One big step towards a police state is making sure that everyone is doing *something* illegal at all times. 99% of the time if you're not causing problems they just let it slide. Once you get on their bad side they slap you with a "Oh, you didn't know it was illegal to register your Gmail account with your local police department because your 17 year old ex girlfriend sent you photos of herself nude 10 years ago?" That's an arrestin.

Re:Hmmph. (4, Insightful)

DrLang21 (900992) | more than 5 years ago | (#27092147)

I used to think this until I started to realize the difficulty of writing plain language that was not ridiculously easy to technically interpret in a way that I completely did not intend. Thus I now try to avoid plain language when writing a contract. What's even scarier is that our laws are still often easy to bend in ways that were not intended. Plain language would probably make it a lot worse.

Laws are fairly easy to understand when you read them through. The problem is that they are the driest most boring pieces of literature ever written.

Re:Hmmph. (2, Insightful)

homer_ca (144738) | more than 5 years ago | (#27093075)

Yes, you've certainly explained the need for jargon, whether it's legalese or technical. Although jargon is confusing and excludes non-experts, plain language is just too ambiguous. Ever had a non-technical person explain a computer problem to you in "plain language"? Yeah, it's like that.

Re:Hmmph. (1)

timeOday (582209) | more than 5 years ago | (#27094809)

I'm amazed your point is not obvious to all the coders here on slashdot. What if your clients demanded you code in "plain english" so they could understand what they were getting? There's a reason we cannot do that.

Re:Hmmph. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27094849)

I used to think this until I started to realize the difficulty of writing plain language that was not ridiculously easy to technically interpret in a way that I completely did not intend. Thus I now try to avoid plain language when writing a contract.

Too true. If you write in normal speech, you quickly have problems. Many words are just plain ambiguous. Even in technical specifications, it's something that has to be dealt with: if you're comparing two things for equality, what happens if one string has a precomposed Unicode character and the other one has the combining characteristics? Should the "K" (Kelvin sign glyph) and the "K" (Latin upper-case K) be considered equal?

Plain language is almost always hopelessly ambiguous. Most legalese is actually very readable if you have a bit of practice.

Re:Hmmph. (2)

larry bagina (561269) | more than 5 years ago | (#27092187)

Time Geithner. The Treasury Secretary, the guy in charge of the IRS, couldn't get his taxes right. Tom Daschle, former senate minority and majority leader, couldn't get his taxes right. Charlie Rangle, one of the most important people when it comes to tax law, couldn't get his taxes right. Every time a new cabinet is assembled, half a dozen people drop out of consideration because they didn't pay their taxes. And no doubt more refuse consideration for the same reason.

People who write the law don't understand the law. People who enforce the law don't understand the law.

Re:Hmmph. (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 5 years ago | (#27093765)

What if it is more a matter of them not trying very hard?

(I do agree that the tax code is needlessly complex...)

Re:Hmmph. (2, Insightful)

mbone (558574) | more than 5 years ago | (#27092341)

I will grant that some obsfucation is deliberate, but a lot of it is an attempt to be precise. Plain language is all too often ambiguous. If you have ever tried to write a complicated contract, you will know what I mean. It's not that different from writing code - simple metacode may not be so simple once you have allowed for all possible exceptions and strange conditions.

Re:Hmmph. (4, Informative)

OctaviusIII (969957) | more than 5 years ago | (#27092547)

That 1,000 pages thing is misleading: bills are printed on half-sized pages, double-spaced, in rather large font (Times New Roman 16 or 18) with wide margins (at least 0.75"). Were it a normal ol' book, it would probably be in the 200-300 range.

Re:Hmmph. (1)

Dan Ost (415913) | more than 5 years ago | (#27093165)

Can anyone give an explanation for why bills are printed this way?

Re:Hmmph. (1)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 5 years ago | (#27093201)

Leaves room for comments to be inserted, and most of the people who read them are old and blind.

Re:Hmmph. (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 5 years ago | (#27093809)

Bigger letters are more important.

Plain language can be unambiguous. (1)

jonaskoelker (922170) | more than 5 years ago | (#27092643)

There's a lot of arguing back and forth about whether the government should use plain language.

The argument for is that then everybody can understand the law better; the argument against is that plain language tends to be ambiguous and the laws are complex in nature.

I conjecture the following: plain language can be used to describe complex systems in unambiguous ways (to the extent the systems are unambiguous, at least).

As a starting analogy, consider lambda calculus: you have three rewriting rules (variable renaming, function evaluation and eta conversion) which turn out to be turing complete: simple language, complex systems.

As another example, consider simple.wikipedia.org: it attempts to describe everything the "normal" wikipedia describes, but in a simpler language.

Regarding legislation: there has got to be some amount of complexity which is not really necessary and can be stripped away.

Re:Plain language can be unambiguous. (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 5 years ago | (#27094477)

As another example, consider simple.wikipedia.org: it attempts to describe everything the "normal" wikipedia describes, but in a simpler language.

Not necessarily. Some subjects can't be discussed efficiently with only text. English Wikipedia works around this by allowing the limited use of non-free files under fair use rationales. But Simple English Wikipedia does not use non-free files at all. Therefore, any article about a non-free pictorial, graphic, sculptural, musical, or audiovisual work will lose any meaning that the file conveyed when translated into Simple English.

Re:Plain language can be unambiguous. (1)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 5 years ago | (#27096033)

Some jargon is necessary. The vast majority is not.

Legal writing in this country is still obeying conventions that were formed in english common law hundreds of years ago: I'm not talking about laws, I'm talking about things like writing the number out, then following it with the same number in parentheses (e.g "Five (5)" ) which is a disambiguation that crept in to legal documents because of clerks with bad penmanship.

Indirect, passive grammar, certain torturous word choices "It having been said by the plaintiff" as opposed to "The plaintiff said." The legal tendency to use three words where one will do, "is of the opinion that" instead of "believes" and "in light of the fact that" instead of "because." It's all vintage legalese, and all pointless.

There are a lot of things that could be dramatically simplified without causing any significant ambiguity.

authenticated versioning (4, Insightful)

BigHungryJoe (737554) | more than 5 years ago | (#27092073)

Not a chance. They'd never be able to use the excuse "some anonymous person slipped in this provision at the last hour and I didn't want to not vote for the bill just because of this" again...

Re:authenticated versioning (3, Insightful)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | more than 5 years ago | (#27092425)

Yep . . . this would provide transparency in government . . . and all politicians will scatter away like cockroaches, when you turn on the light in the room.

No more secret reciprocal vote tradings, secret deals (my spotted owls, for your unneeded dam), etc.

This thing will get quietly scuttled for . . . "technical" reasons.

Re:authenticated versioning (1)

nametaken (610866) | more than 5 years ago | (#27092557)

Oh how fantastic that would be. I see the textual bulk of legislation going down drastically as you cut out all the BS and make people accountable for the content.

Hey, one can hope.

You can't force them to use it properly (1)

Fred Ferrigno (122319) | more than 5 years ago | (#27094717)

They're not going to commit any more than they absolutely have to. The revisions are just going to be snapshots of the bill at the various points where they are required to submit it to the record, as is the case now. Plus, the commits are all going to come from the same low-level staffer, who conveniently has a bad memory for who asked him to add what at the last hour.

One feature I hope to see (3, Insightful)

MikeRT (947531) | more than 5 years ago | (#27092111)

Bills should be accessible in a form similar to patches created by diff. There should be a web service that allows you to retrieve the affected USC titles, merge them, and then apply the new bill as a patch to the federal law so that you can quickly assemble a coherent view of how the law will change.

Re:One feature I hope to see (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27092441)

But then we would actually be able to hold these people accountable. They won't let that happen.

Re:One feature I hope to see (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27092455)

That would be the biggest improvement to THOMAS that they could make. Yes finding bills can be hard, but once you've found it, many time's it's incomprehensible because it reads exactly, no seriously exactly , like a raw diff.

"Modify 1(A)(a) Subsection 2(b) by removing the word 'and' and replacing it with 'or'," with no indication of what 1(A)(a) Subsection 2(b) is.

Re:One feature I hope to see (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27092737)

Go to www.govtrack.us and ask for some funding to work on this as a project if you feel strongly about it.

You will learn (1)

pacificleo (850029) | more than 5 years ago | (#27092121)

That like /. noone in congress RTFA before signing it off. But i would love to have an option to file a Bug report and sumbit a design chage request .

This API may allow congress critters... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27092123)

...to actually read the shit they pass.

PDF SUX (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27092131)

whatever you do DONT USE PDF !!!

I canno't stress this enough. pdf is unsearchable and a pain to make subsequent edits.

use a real text format and pay a second look at how programmers get things done.

Re:PDF SUX (1)

larry bagina (561269) | more than 5 years ago | (#27092299)

Remember that 800 trillion "stimulus"? Everyone agreed to make it available online for 48 hours before the final vote. The 48 hours thing didn't happen. And I hope you like PDFs that consist entirely of scanned images.

Re:PDF SUX (1)

tlhIngan (30335) | more than 5 years ago | (#27093039)

Remember that 800 trillion "stimulus"? Everyone agreed to make it available online for 48 hours before the final vote. The 48 hours thing didn't happen. And I hope you like PDFs that consist entirely of scanned images.

At least it's one PDF containing all the scanned images. They could've just as easily put up scanned images, one per page on a web site.

And also, scanned images in a PDF are quite useful - you don't get the searchability, but if the publisher screws up or adds stuff to the document they're printing, it's far better to see the actual thing everyone else is seeing, rather than the electronic copy that they think everyone else is seeing (people make mistakes, machines may put a blob of ink over a word that may change it, etc.) Sometimes the final output that is cleaned up by the printer isn't available before it hits the paper, so any alterations done (usually layout, but may inadvertently chop off words and sentences) can be seen. Imagine if the word "NOT" was accidentally misplaced or lost between the submission to the printer and the final printed book?

Re:PDF SUX (1)

FishWithAHammer (957772) | more than 5 years ago | (#27093271)

pdf is unsearchable

Wrong.

Feedback. (1)

Fished (574624) | more than 5 years ago | (#27092171)

The senator who introduced the language into an omnibus appropriations bill wants feedback on the best way to make (e.g.) the Library of Congress's Thomas data more available -- an API or bulk downloads, or both.

Both. Duh.

Use wiki API as the guide (3, Interesting)

yurik (160101) | more than 5 years ago | (#27092181)

The process of the bill writing seems to me to be very similar with how the Wikipedia articles get started / mature. Wikipedia API was designed specifically to work with the bulk data (see http://en.wikipedia.org/w/api.php [wikipedia.org] ) - we can just adapt a similar approach.

(Shameless plug: I was the dev who implemented the original wiki api)

Re:Use wiki API as the guide (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27092409)

I second this!

Do not reinvent something. There are TONS of tools out there to do this sort of thing. DO NOT WASTE tax payers money on reinventing something that works like CRAP. Use one out there that exists and works!

When a bill goes up for vote it needs to be frozen or locked out. With one addition after the lock out. Who voted for and against.

Seriously is this really that hard to do?

A logic based language (4, Interesting)

mbone (558574) | more than 5 years ago | (#27092193)

I have long thought that there should be a logic-based language for laws, at least for laws like the Tax code. My original idea in this direction was prolog, but something built on top of XML is probably more appropriate today.

It should, for example, be possible to automatically check that some 400 page law doesn't contain 1 paragraph that totally changes some other law, or that, say, 20 pages of consumer protections are not negated by two lines 100 pages later. The legal language used is already close to meta-code, but right now this all has to be checked by hand, allowing untold mischief. It should also be possible to check for logical inconsistencies and missing if-then-else options.

Some I am sure will see the current ... flexibility as a feature, not a bug, but I think it is high time to be able to do some automatic checking of what the Congress is doing and what proposed laws actually mean.

Re:A logic based language (1)

OctaviusIII (969957) | more than 5 years ago | (#27092635)

Shouldn't something similar to Perl be able to do just that? A bill contains references to every section of law it changes ("Public Law 103-34 Section 21a, Subsection B, line 32 shall read..."). If a script were written that could identify and read those references, couldn't that form the backbone of what you're referring to?

Re:A logic based language (1)

shadow_slicer (607649) | more than 5 years ago | (#27093251)

But what if the bill doesn't reference a section of law that it changes. What if you have part of one law that says that "Ice cream can not be sold on Tuesdays", and then part of another law is proposed that says that "Ice cream must be sold on the third Tuesday of the month". Unless the people writing the new law know about the old one, there's no way for them to reference the old law. There is no easy way to detect conflicts like this.

Additionally a logical language for law would have additional benefits. Since it is computer parseable, most lawyers could be replaced by technicians who can translate the real world situation into an equivalent logical query and determine which laws are relevant and what they mean. Of course the legal system would still need judges and juries to decide guilt and whether the law is fair (and submit bug reports to congress).

Re:A logic based language (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 5 years ago | (#27093879)

Unless you make a perfect language, there would still be mischief (because the mischief is intentional...).

All I can say is "about time"... (1)

Fallen Kell (165468) | more than 5 years ago | (#27092197)

This is something that should have been looked at 15 years ago when the internet was starting to take off. An electronic copy with revision control to show how a bill has been changed and who introduced the changes is really needed and USEFUL system. Now we will be able to really see who is responsible for different things, not just the people who introduced the bill or were cosponsors, as well as who voted and how they voted on the bill. We won't just need to take their word on it that your representative has certain positions on the issues. We will be able to see exactly what their real position is on the matter.

that's why...for the thousandth time, we need (1)

Em Emalb (452530) | more than 5 years ago | (#27092199)

line-item vetos.

Seriously. How many failed bills get shoved through as a rider on a more important bill (see the "stimulus" package for an example) because our elected officials are afraid to veto an otherwise solid bill with utter B.S. attached to it because they're afraid it would kill their career?

There's too many examples to count of crap like this happening. It would be refreshing, to say the least. And it might remove some of the internal politicking from the process. (Vote for my bill and I'll let you attach your completely unrelated failed bill to it as a rider)

Re:that's why...for the thousandth time, we need (1)

schnikies79 (788746) | more than 5 years ago | (#27092271)

You will never see line-item veto again since SCOTUS ruled it was unconstitutional.

Re:that's why...for the thousandth time, we need (1)

Em Emalb (452530) | more than 5 years ago | (#27092305)

One can only hope they ruminate on it again and change their mind.

Re:that's why...for the thousandth time, we need (2, Informative)

ceejayoz (567949) | more than 5 years ago | (#27092353)

You will never see line-item veto again since SCOTUS ruled it was unconstitutional.

If only there were a way to change the Constitution. What's a good word for that? Oh! Amending! Wouldn't it be cool if someone had thought of that when they wrote the thing?

Re:that's why...for the thousandth time, we need (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 5 years ago | (#27095085)

With the partisan politics going on nowadays, how will we get the 2/3 of both houses and 3/4 of the states behind anything?

Re:that's why...for the thousandth time, we need (1)

Late Adopter (1492849) | more than 5 years ago | (#27092411)

That depends on how it's implemented. You could have it set up so a President could veto a bill and send back a version to Congress that they must vote on without further changes. That might pass constitutional muster, since Congress still votes on the laws, and while not perfect, could be effective at getting rid of some amounts of pork.

Re:that's why...for the thousandth time, we need (1)

mR.bRiGhTsId3 (1196765) | more than 5 years ago | (#27092435)

Or, politicians could suck it up and realize that a solid bill with utter B.S. attached is just an utter B.S. bill. Oh wait, we're talking about politicians.

Re:that's why...for the thousandth time, we need (1)

Ornedan (1093745) | more than 5 years ago | (#27096125)

It's more like their opponents get to go "Look how $name voted against this very necessary and solid bill!". Which wouldn't be much of a problem if your people weren't drooling morons that can't comprehend anything longer than a 5 second soundbite. Which is incidentally too short a time to defend yourself in by explaining why the evil addition was necessary to stop.

Hear, hear (1)

XanC (644172) | more than 5 years ago | (#27092681)

I guess it takes a constitutional amendment to make that happen, and if so, let's do it. Also it's interesting that the Confederate president had line-item veto power explicitly granted in that constitution.

Re:that's why...for the thousandth time, we need (1)

OctaviusIII (969957) | more than 5 years ago | (#27092869)

Line-item vetos are tricky, though - it gives the President huge power to legislate spending. A better proposal is the concept of royal prerogative: every spending measure must come from the Government in power. Canada used to have a problem with earmarks until they reinstated this practice. Still, I have no idea how this could work in the US, so I'll leave that up to the constitutional experts.

distribute airbags too (3, Informative)

peter303 (12292) | more than 5 years ago | (#27092201)

I routinely look at large bills on thomas.loc.gov to see whats in them. 485 last minute earmarks in the stimulus bill and 9000 in the 2009 budget bills. Enough to make you gag.

These are sort of like an ebay auction: 24 hours before the vote these start to stream in. Often they are placeholders "text to be supplied" or very obscure references to the organization designated for the earmark. Not even the toiling interns who are supposed to vet these for their bosses can keep up last minute submissions.

Ironically the TARP bill last year was very streamlined and only had one earmark. But that was a controversial federal judge raise.

Another nausea in the bills are that 90% are resolutions commending people or organizations in their districts. this reads like the gossip pages in the newspapers. You see this if look at the full list of recent bills.

Re:distribute airbags too (1)

Jason Levine (196982) | more than 5 years ago | (#27095593)

These are sort of like an ebay auction: 24 hours before the vote these start to stream in. Often they are placeholders "text to be supplied" or very obscure references to the organization designated for the earmark. Not even the toiling interns who are supposed to vet these for their bosses can keep up last minute submissions.

There should be a rule that all text must be submitted into the bill 24 hours before the vote. No putting in "Text to be supplied" and sticking in stuff last second. No adding $2 million for a Ferry Boat minutes before the bill. (Real earmark, though I don't know for sure that it came in in the final minutes.) Of course, this goes hand in hand with two other rules I think should be instituted: 1) all items in the bill must relate to the bill at large. e.g. No putting in subsidies for an Iowa corn field in a health care bill. 2) all Congressfolk should be required to read the bill before voting on it. No claiming "Oh, I didn't read *that part* of the bill or I would have voted against it."

I'm not holding my breath that any of this will come to pass anytime soon, however.

Re:distribute airbags too (1)

Phroggy (441) | more than 5 years ago | (#27096077)

1 is more complicated than it sounds - if it's an "economic stimulus" bill, that's broad enough to cover just about anything, although I suppose it should exclude things like changes to criminal law.

2 probably doesn't have to be legislated, if you can get your 24-hour lockdown in place. Congressmen don't read the bills they vote for, because it's not reasonable for them to do so; make it reasonable, and they'll probably do it.

They should consider Portugal's solution.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27092241)

Silverlight!

corruption (2, Insightful)

Lord Ender (156273) | more than 5 years ago | (#27092257)

I almost don't want to know. "Kickback" corruption spending is practiced by basically everyone in congress. Whenever an important bill comes up, everybody says they will vote against it unless there is language included to fund some boondoggle project from their major campaign contributors back home. So they all compromise and agree to add these little corruption amendments, then vote yes. They don't care about the main topic of the bill or their constituents. They just want their kickbacks.

If we have accountability, we will have a clear picture of a system which is rotten to the core. What help would it be to find a 100% corruption rate?

100%? (1)

XanC (644172) | more than 5 years ago | (#27092721)

The number would be 99.8%. Dr Paul does not ever vote for those bills.

Re:100%? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27092909)

You are wrong.

Re:corruption (1)

JCSoRocks (1142053) | more than 5 years ago | (#27092983)

Where is "+1 The Sad Truth" when you need it? Legislation requiring future bills to be "about one thing" or some sort of legislation allowing us to see exactly who put what in there when has been overdue a long time. (Yes, that sentence is a train wreck. It's early.)

Just make it a wiki. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27092359)

Then I can mess with middle schoolers by editing the National Minimum Drinking Age Act to say that fifteen year olds can buy Keystone Light.

Use git (2, Funny)

Ingolfke (515826) | more than 5 years ago | (#27092377)

They should use git.

Re:Use git (1)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | more than 5 years ago | (#27093031)

Git? Too good for a government.

Giv'em tarballs and patches.

They couldn't screw this upcould they??? (1)

Cornwallis (1188489) | more than 5 years ago | (#27092433)

"...the first tangible move toward making federal legislative data available to the public in bulk, so third parties can mash it up and redistribute it in innovative and accessible ways." Meaning the MFers will start *charging* us for crap we should be getting for free. And for those who say "Naw, they wouldn't... wanna bet?

an API designed by a congressional comittee? (1)

Punto (100573) | more than 5 years ago | (#27092661)

will they use Perl?

Putting on my tinfoil hat, but ... (1)

ubrgeek (679399) | more than 5 years ago | (#27092669)

the first tangible move toward making federal legislative data available to the public in bulk

And then isn't the reverse true? Won't it make it easier to collect a lot more information about who is pulling what data? I'm not saying it's happened in the past [aaup.org] (I don't know if that suit ever went anywhere) but it is certainly possible.

CVS for all legislation (1, Interesting)

justcauseisjustthat (1150803) | more than 5 years ago | (#27092691)

All legislation should be written and updated in a CVS so that changes can be tracked easily, saving time & money, and also tracking who made what changes.

G.I.G.O (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27092705)

Consider: Congress had, a long time ago, granted its members the right to modify The Congressional Record. Supposedly these changes are limited: "Non-substantive changes can be made by members before the daily edition is published and again before the hardbound permanent edition is published"

http://www.llsdc.org/cong-record/ [llsdc.org]

Given the variability of what is included and/or indexed in the various official 'records', one might reasonably conclude the politicians _DO NOT WANT_:

* Accurate
* Complete
* Accessible

records of what has transpired.

I think the proposal in question is great.

Without some sort of independent, extremely-difficult-to-corrupt watchdog agency ensuring the accuracy and completeness of what goes into the "un-changable" record, an electronic version of these journals will fail due to GIGO.

Fantastic! (1)

Vthornheart (745224) | more than 5 years ago | (#27092789)

This is a fantastic idea! It would resolve a great deal of transparency problems with how our government works... yes, you can pour through Thomas, but Thomas is only a barely usable system, and its versioning capabilities definitely don't give the kind of information that would actually be useful to people trying to figure out who put line X in bill Y. If such an API existed (and was made truly useful in the ways being spoken of with versioning and robust searching), I would consider that a great victory for freedom of information.

Using the API (1)

agorist_apostle (1491899) | more than 5 years ago | (#27093051)

int totalCongressionalIQ = congressAPI.Stats.TotalIQ; Likely error: Cannot convert null to int because it is a non-nullable type.

Source Control (Subversion) for Bills? (1)

CodeBuster (516420) | more than 5 years ago | (#27093059)

Ever since I was introduced to and began using the open source source control system Subversion [wikipedia.org] , I have thought about how a source control server(s) for legislative bills would be one of the best ways to allow the public to stay informed about Congressional activities and, perhaps more importantly, to easily track changes in various pieces of legislation as they work their ways through Congress. So if the administration is serious about using open source AND they want to increase transparency in the legislature then it would be hard for them to go wrong with tool(s) like Subversion [tigris.org] .

foolproof method (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27093121)

1. Get elected to Congress.
2. Make up a bill that says you can personally go and seize any property you want from whomever you want for any reason or no reason at all.
3. Post online a bill with the same name but containing totally different text. For example, text saying how you're going to improve test scores in high schools.
4. The bill passes with overwhelming support from the public.
5. Go around the country and take whatever you want.
6. Profit!!
 
It's a foolproof method! No ??? before the Profit!!

XML (2, Interesting)

HighOrbit (631451) | more than 5 years ago | (#27093401)

Don't reinvent the wheel, just use existing standards. US Code (law), Code of Fedreal Regulations, legislative bills are all already highly structured documents. And what commonly used data format is widely used for structured documents?

[drumroll]

XML. The answer here is define to several XML schemas (schemata) to capture the structure of these documents and use existing standards and technology (i.e web services over http) to distribute. None of that is rocket science or would required years of development effort, but may required years of exectuion. Its not hard; its tedious. The tedious part will be converting all the old docs over to XML.

WRONG WRONG WRONG!!!!!!!! (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27093577)

As much as I like the idea of tracking the legislation progress, and getting legislation and L.O.C. data published to the public uniformly or standardized, WHAT THE HELL IS IT DOING ON AN OMNIBUS APPROPRIATIONS BILL????

These should be 2 separate pieces of legislation. If this gets tagged to the Appropriations bill, FROM THIS POINT FORWARD, it now has to be amended through appropriations, which is tantamount to battling for the last cookie in a kitchen full of sugar junkies.

THIS DOES NOT BELONG on an omnibus appropriations bill. PERIOD!

Didn't xml.house.gov do this? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27093721)

Didn't Congress already address part of this with xml.house.gov? Although, the schema they designed use the default namespace, yuck.

Sunlight Foundation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27094015)

http://www.sunlightfoundation.com/about/

After reading the article and looking at
the website, I donated.

Don't forget the DRM (1)

Cajun Hell (725246) | more than 5 years ago | (#27094099)

There should be some flag in the data that limits what clients are allowed to access it. Then you can implement, "This can't be forwarded to the press," or "this can't be imported into maplight.org" and other useful things. And at least the client software would then require some kind of licensing, could not be Free, and wouldn't have any sort of unapproved forks that contain unapproved features.

Apps for America Contest (1)

Reggstar (1493739) | more than 5 years ago | (#27094213)

I was recently looking for an API with this kind of data and found that votesmart.org has a pretty good one that offers information on federal, state, and local government representives, legislation, votes, and more. http://votesmart.org/services_api.php [votesmart.org]

Also, the Sunlight Foundation has an API with congressional data, and they are currently holding a contest for creation of any kind of application that would help improve accountability, transparency, and interaction in government. The app has to be released under the MIT, New BSD, or GPL family of licenses. First place prize is $15,000. Submissions are due by March 31st. You can read more here: http://www.sunlightlabs.com/appsforamerica/ [sunlightlabs.com]

I am not associated with VoteSmart or the Sunlight Foundation.

Load More Comments
Slashdot Account

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?

Don't worry, we never post anything without your permission.

Submission Text Formatting Tips

We support a small subset of HTML, namely these tags:

  • b
  • i
  • p
  • br
  • a
  • ol
  • ul
  • li
  • dl
  • dt
  • dd
  • em
  • strong
  • tt
  • blockquote
  • div
  • quote
  • ecode

"ecode" can be used for code snippets, for example:

<ecode>    while(1) { do_something(); } </ecode>
Create a Slashdot Account

Loading...