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Source Control For Bills In Congress?

kdawson posted more than 7 years ago | from the real-subversion dept.

Software 300

grepya writes "An article in Slate talks about the sneaky way a major change in the Patriot Act reauthorization bill was made by (possibly) a Congressional staffer without even his boss knowing about it. (The change increased the power of the Executive at the expense of the other two branches of government.) Now, I write software for a large and complex system containing millions of lines of code and I know that nobody could slip a single line of code into my project without my knowledge. This is because everything that goes into the build goes into a source control system, and email notification is generated to interested parties. This is for a body of work that affects perhaps a few hundred thousand people at most (our company and the combined population of all our customer organizations). Shouldn't the same process be applied to bills being debated in national legislatures that affect potentially hundreds of millions of people?"

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I think I saw this. (1)

DragonTHC (208439) | more than 7 years ago | (#18258470)

Wasn't this in the last episode of "24"?

The vote without even reading/knowing the bills (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18258870)

Congressmen do not read the bills for the simple fact that most of the major bills, tax, spending, etc., are not finalized (i.e., have major changes being made) utill the last minute. They often admit that they don't know what's in the bill being voted on.

They 'know' that cuts in any pet spending program cannot be made because we cannot 'afford to pay for the cuts'.

They hypocritically claim to know that we cannot afford to cut anything and yet admit that they vote for legislation that they do not know how much is being spent and what items it is spent on in bills.

The third Congressional sham is that they claim that reducing the rate of growth of spending on a particular program is a cut. A cut is an actual reduction in spending year over year. This is due to the 'baseline-budgeting' where spending on each program is automatically increased by 4% a year without congressional action.

These are reasons why you should not believe the parroted lines from each party.

Congress should be judged based on the actual bills they pass and not on the CNN Crossfire type of sound-bites.

Re:I think I saw this. (4, Funny)

trimbo (127919) | more than 7 years ago | (#18258924)

Wasn't this in the last episode of "24"?

No, no no, you're thinking of the one where Jack yelled into his cellphone "Chloe, There's NO TIME!", got shot and died, was brought back to life, saved the President, yelled "DAMMIT!", confonted the bad guy (a different high ranking government official bad guy than last week), pulled out his gun, pistol-whipped the high ranking government official and threatened to kill him with "TELL ME WHAT I WANT TO KNOW NOW!"

Re:I think I saw this. (3, Funny)

hazem (472289) | more than 7 years ago | (#18259002)

DAMMIT! You just gave away the entire next season!

alternatively... (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18258472)

... maybe the US Congress should read the bill before they pass it into law.

Re:alternatively... (5, Interesting)

Baricom (763970) | more than 7 years ago | (#18258508)

Absolutely. I was just discussing this with someone today - if the "readings" in Congress were mandatory and could not be bypassed by consent, we'd have a much better legal system for a variety of reasons - Congressional representatives couldn't claim ignorance, there would be an incentive to keep bills shorter, and an unexpected change would be noticed more readily.

Re:alternatively... (4, Insightful)

krotkruton (967718) | more than 7 years ago | (#18258596)

The use of the word "readings" made me think a bit. When I had to do a reading for the day's discussion in English class in high school (or any other class really), I was held accountable for reading the material, yet Congress members aren't held accountable for reading the material they discuss each day. They may not be completely analogous, but that's pretty messed up when you think about it.

Re:alternatively... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18258618)

"[...] and an unexpected change would be noticed more readily."

Because I'm going to be paying fierce attention to every word read, when I've already read the bill and "know" it hasn't changed since then... Some sort of version control system seems better.

Re:alternatively... (0, Troll)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 7 years ago | (#18258906)

Absolutely. I was just discussing this with someone today - if the "readings" in Congress were mandatory and could not be bypassed by consent, we'd have a much better legal system for a variety of reasons - Congressional representatives couldn't claim ignorance, there would be an incentive to keep bills shorter, and an unexpected change would be noticed more readily.

ROTFLMAO. As if someone would actually sit through the hours it would take to read (aloud) many of these bills - and even if they would, I doubt they'd notice a change of a few dozen words out of thousands.

Re:alternatively... (3, Insightful)

eli pabst (948845) | more than 7 years ago | (#18259340)

ROTFLMAO. As if someone would actually sit through the hours it would take to read (aloud) many of these bills - and even if they would, I doubt they'd notice a change of a few dozen words out of thousands.

So just blindly voting on a bill you haven't read is somehow better? I'd rather they didn't do anything rather than pass shitty laws. Look at the freakin DMCA mess.

Re:alternatively... (1)

mOdQuArK! (87332) | more than 7 years ago | (#18258998)

I often daydream that bills shouldn't be allowed to be passed into law unless they can be read aloud by the relevant representatives, by memory, on the floor of both Congressional houses.

You'd probably be able to fit the entire legal system on an index card.

(Then you'd have to tackle all those agency regulations...)

Re:alternatively... (1)

quantaman (517394) | more than 7 years ago | (#18259026)

Absolutely. I was just discussing this with someone today - if the "readings" in Congress were mandatory and could not be bypassed by consent, we'd have a much better legal system for a variety of reasons - Congressional representatives couldn't claim ignorance, there would be an incentive to keep bills shorter, and an unexpected change would be noticed more readily.
Is it just me or does the idea of a major legislative body just sitting around, listening to someone read what everyone concerned should already know, seem quite wasteful?

Even if they did do as you say a subtle change snuck in could still slip past because no one is paying attention (as they feel it's a waste of time and the change is subtle). The problem, as the submitter said, is realizing that a handful of words among thousands have just changed. The solution, as the submitter said, is some form of source control, not wasting everyones time with a solution that won't fix the true problem.

Re:alternatively... (5, Insightful)

newt0311 (973957) | more than 7 years ago | (#18259212)

Actually a wasteful system seems like a very good idea. Historically, there is a direct correlation between how oppressive and how efficient a government is. It seems like all governments have an inherent urge to oppress their constituents and that greater inefficiency slows it down. Then again, we all hae to pay for that in terms of taxes so it sucks either way.

Alternative 2 (2, Funny)

EmbeddedJanitor (597831) | more than 7 years ago | (#18258538)

Use source control for the whole of congress, not just the bills.

Oops, seem to have made some bad mistakes voting in some idiots in the last election? No problems just type "cvs update -D 2000-01-01 congress" and get back the congress you had back then.

Re:Alternative 2 (1, Funny)

ari_j (90255) | more than 7 years ago | (#18258604)

Sounds good to me. Bill Clinton gave us something that few Republican presidents ever have: a Republican Congress [wikipedia.org] . I'm just in favor of as little party solidarity between the House, the Senate, and the Executive as possible. :P

Re:Alternative 2 (4, Funny)

Trailer Trash (60756) | more than 7 years ago | (#18259314)

cvs? It sounds like someone's already using subversion...

Re:alternatively... (3, Interesting)

vyrus128 (747164) | more than 7 years ago | (#18258564)

There are already people who agree with you [downsizedc.org] ...

Re:alternatively... (1)

Etherwalk (681268) | more than 7 years ago | (#18258686)

> ... maybe the US Congress should read the bill before they pass it into law.

Tee-hee! That was modded funny!

Seriously, though, it doesn't mean anything unless you actually test them on the meaning of the bill as you'd test a student. The equivalent law in the New York State Assembly used to require (as of a few years ago--I don't know if it still does) that the bill phsyically sit on the assemblyperson's desk for two days before it's passed. So they'd print out hundreds of copies of hundreds of pages of law that nobody actually read, and leave them sitting on the desks in Albany.

alternatively...RTF(_) (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18258696)

The irony of slashdot telling people to RTFB is black hole massive.

Re:alternatively...RTF(_) (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18258716)

funniest comment in a LONG time!

honestly... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18259118)

congressmen rarely read bills, they get "cliff's notes" style summeries instead.

I don't think you understand (5, Insightful)

Rude Turnip (49495) | more than 7 years ago | (#18258478)

They want it to be this way by design.

Re:I don't think you understand (5, Interesting)

Kobayashi Maru (721006) | more than 7 years ago | (#18258812)

You know, this is a damed good idea. So simple that I just HAVE to look for pitfalls.

First, I read about something called the Federal Register [wikipedia.org] the other day. As I understand, it is a daily publication of the GPO, responsible for creating a record of public government communication.

Where does this fit into the equation? Wikipedia says it has been operating since the 1930s. That to me suggests existing infrastructure. Could this program be adopted to handle pending Congressional legislation? Does something similar exist already? Are these even valid questions? I'm trying to get a sense of the public accounting context that exists today.

Now, once we set up a legislative mechanism to get the information in place, there are practical considerations. I happen to agree with the parent's cynicism. Open government is less corrupt government, and there will surely be resistance to a program like this. What is the likelihood that something like this would be ignored? The aforementioned Wikipedia states that the Register is for public notices not "classified." Do government agencies really bother? Would Congress bother? Would it matter, practically speaking?

Then there's the question of volume. I understand the current Register is thousands upon thousands of pages. What would be the best way to handle all this data? Pressure our Congressmen to form a committee to look into the possibility of proposing vaguely worded, easily subverted legislation that would create a billion dollar, privacy infringing, twenty-year behemoth of a program? Or dictate simply that the data should be available in a specified format (something akin to a patch) in a timely manner.

I think the latter would be better, because it would force We the People to take a little responsibility for the program. I mean really, who doesn't think that an enterprising group of dedicated people, working for free in their spare time would work more efficiently than a monstrous bureaucracy? Sound like a familiar Slashdot battle?

Either someone will rise to the challenge and write a utility to "visualize" the data in an interesting way, or not. If not, I think we have bigger problems than Congressmen not reading their bills.

Make the data (near) freely available, then leave it up to The People to figure out how to use it. That's my take.

Re:I don't think you understand (1)

brainy (121004) | more than 7 years ago | (#18259028)

There is something that deals with legislation: the Congressional Record (wiki article [wikipedia.org] , the actual thing [gpoaccess.gov] ). It provides a record of floor speeches, bills, and more! Of course, it would still have to be read...

Re:I don't think you understand (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18258856)

No, that's the whole point. Congress doesn't want to give up power and they are now just realizing they gave too much. How could this happen? The Patriot act is 402 pages long. I doubt that any senator read the entire bill before voting on it. I agree that a source control system is a good idea. However, I doubt it will solve the underlying problem, which is that congress doesn't vote on one issue at a time. They vote on packages.

This is what the PATRIOT act is supposed to do:

UNITING AND STRENGTHENING AMERICA BY
PROVIDING APPROPRIATE TOOLS REQUIRED
TO INTERCEPT AND OBSTRUCT TERRORISM
(USA PATRIOT ACT) ACT OF 2001


I don't see how removing congressional oversight over US attorneys has anything to do with terrorism.

Re:I don't think you understand (1)

pizpot (622748) | more than 7 years ago | (#18258932)

I like countries with slow steady governments--no news is good news. Ones not ashamed to say sorry once in a while. Not ones that have so many laws they can't even be read... and they ask my country to make more laws too. Go away, eh. We were fine before cable TV.

Good idea (1)

Wonko the Sane (25252) | more than 7 years ago | (#18258480)

Except: should they use bk or git?

Re:Good idea (1)

Dorceon (928997) | more than 7 years ago | (#18258820)

Perforce.

Fat chance (5, Insightful)

El Cubano (631386) | more than 7 years ago | (#18258488)

Shouldn't the same process be applied to bills being debated in national legislatures that affect potentially hundreds of millions of people?

You mentioned getting email notifications about changes to the repository. You work with the code every day (or nearly every day). You see, these representatives in congress often times vote on bills which they have not even themselves read. They get the executive summary.

That is like the difference between you reading the code for a newly modified parser class and getting one of your underlings to brief you about the changes. You might spend an hour or more reading source code for a whole new class, and only two minutes getting briefed on it. You have to get them actually read the bills first.

Maybe we should require that all bills be read aloud in their entirety in an open session of congress?

Re:Fat chance (1)

lilomar (1072448) | more than 7 years ago | (#18258512)

Maybe we should require that all bills be read aloud in their entirety in an open session of congress?
Amen. Maybe this would help reduce porkbarreling too. If they are forced to listen to the entire thing they wouldn't be so quick to add random stuff to it.

Re:Fat chance (1)

mikelieman (35628) | more than 7 years ago | (#18258666)

By Everybody... In HARMONY.

Re:Fat chance (2, Interesting)

caitriona81 (1032126) | more than 7 years ago | (#18258814)

Lets go further - open reading during which you have line item voting of each clause, and another full reading after any reading in which a clause us stuck or an amendment made. This would dramatically slow congress down at first, but if upheld, within short time would practically abolish bundled legislation and pork barrel projects, as once the "vote on exactly one thing at a time" mentality took hold, things could no longer be slipped into bills.

Alternatively, require the bills to be written entirely on the floor, motion by motion starting from a blank piece of paper and only introducing changes in the exact form in they are read. Same effect.

Of course, this would actually protect the mechinisms of democracy from the corruption that is so rampant, so this would never happen...

 

Re:Fat chance (5, Insightful)

nick_davison (217681) | more than 7 years ago | (#18258630)

If people are determined to obfuscate, they'll find a way to.

You add version control... The first thing they'll do is hire aides to add literally thousands of minute ammendments to every bill for the simple reason that it now becomes impossible to read every minor change log. They may well not sneak anything nefarious in to this bill, the next one or the next ten. Then, one day, fifty bills later, after people have long since given up reading change logs, one of the thousand minor edits will do just what they're currently doing.

With source control for code, you can monitor what goes in because people are rarely actively trying to sneak anything in. If you do have someone who wants that chance and so starts spamming change logs, you can identify their malicious intent, go to your boss and get them fired. In congress, sadly, they've long since turned a blind eye to such pork barrel [wikipedia.org] behavior and, if they turn a blind eye to it in this form, there's no reason not to expect them to turn a blind eye to it in a future form.

The original poster's mistake is thinking that congress somehow wants to not be corrupt. Yes, we can force a fix on one form... not that they actually want that fix... but, as the old saying goes, "Where there's a will, there's a way." and a lot of politicians have a very strong will for sneaking in self serving measures.

Re:Fat chance (4, Insightful)

Albanach (527650) | more than 7 years ago | (#18258752)

I think the point is that while such a change could be slipped in, it couldn't be slipped in anonymously. It'd be interesting if politicians had to take personal ownership of each line of every bill.

Re:Fat chance (1)

Lord Bitman (95493) | more than 7 years ago | (#18258878)

--Reason: Please use fewer 'junk' characters.Reason: Please use fewer --
r152892 | subcommittee-5928 | 2007-03-05 22:48:02 -0500 (Mon, 05 Mar 2007) | 2 lines

  * Compromise to end bickering over -r152891

--Reason: Please use fewer 'junk' characters.Reason: Please use fewer --
Individual lawmakers do not make changes, afaik.

Re:Fat chance (4, Insightful)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 7 years ago | (#18258818)

Then, one day, fifty bills later, after people have long since given up reading change logs, one of the thousand minor edits will do just what they're currently doing.
Make the change log public.

Even if the watchdog groups don't catch the shenanigans before the bill passes, there will at least be a transparent record of who did what.

Public accountability has a way of leading to public pressure. A Senator/Congressman will only be able to fire so many aides for sneaking in legislation before the public will say "maybe the problem isn't with the aides."

Re:Fat chance (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18259238)

I think there are two points you overlook here related to commit privileges.
First, you don't give commit privileges to interns. The only people with commit privs are actual senators/representatives/PMs. So some lackey can't change things without express authority from their privileged boss.

Of course, lackeys will still do all the typing and doc prep. Then somebody with access to commit privs will do the final commit without even proofreading it. So you say that everything is same old, same old. But the changelog will show who authorized the commit. You have to take responsibility for your commits. You didn't proofread before signing off on a commit? You take the blame. You gave your credentials to one of your staff lackeys to do commits for you? You take the blame.

And finally, if somebody tries to game the system by submitting 50 last minute changes everytime, you just vote no. Then you say, "I move to take a vote on changeset 1492, the last branch that has been stable for more than 90 minutes, and the only one that we have all been able to read." "Seconded." "A motion has been made and seconded... there will be a 30 minute pause while the build server compiles changeset 1492, after which the voting will commence."

Re:Fat chance (1)

complete loony (663508) | more than 7 years ago | (#18259250)

Bill going into a committee? They can work on their own branch, and merge the changes back when they agree on them. Heh, I'd love to be able to run a blame report on something like the dmca or patriot act.

Re:Fat chance (1)

hxnwix (652290) | more than 7 years ago | (#18259262)

But we would still know who to blame for every letter of every bill.

A lot of politicians have a very strong will for sneaking in self serving measures.
I'm sorry, but I don't think that we should give in on this one. Our legal corpus should not be polluted with provisions and ammendments so odious as to necessitate furtive & anonymous implantation.

some people wouldn't get it (1)

dilbert627 (561671) | more than 7 years ago | (#18258502)

Yeah, that's a really good idea. But all those emails might clog up the internet tubes, and be delayed several days...

Paperless Congress (3, Insightful)

Benaiah (851593) | more than 7 years ago | (#18258504)

Its all done with paper.

Maybe if some of the politicians passing laws about technology were a bit more tech savvy we wouldn't see any of this. Corruption by camouflage. I bet that even though the changes weren't supposed to be in there. They won't be amended. That would just be silly.

Re:Paperless Congress (1)

Doppler00 (534739) | more than 7 years ago | (#18259270)

Yeah, let's face it. People in Congress are old and computer illiterate. It's pathetic. This is why government is so inefficient. Anytime I see someone holding a book, a binder, or caring BOXES of freakin' papers into congress. It's just absolutely pathetic. Or even worse, those poster boards they have generated that they yap about on CSPAN, as if powerpoint was too complicated for them.

I've been trying to convince the people where I work to go digital with all our documents, I even started a wiki for documents. Sadly, it's hard to change old BAD habbits. I have almost 500 user manuals on a server, easy to find. Where do people go first? The filing cabinet. And most of the docs there are out of date anyway.

Read the Bills Act (5, Insightful)

remahl (698283) | more than 7 years ago | (#18258506)

Make Congress Read the Bills [downsizedc.org] . If they have to sit through a reading, maybe they'll cut down on the length and complexity of the laws. Here, apparently nobody knew what they were passing into law.

Read the LawyerSpeak Act (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18258572)

Re:Read the Bills Act (1)

symbolic (11752) | more than 7 years ago | (#18259166)

Reading should be MANDATORY - how it ever got to this point were reading (and hence, understanding) the laws that are passed, is beyond me. I'd go so far as to call it political malpractice. And it should be actionable.

Re: Very Simple To Do (5, Funny)

DumbSwede (521261) | more than 7 years ago | (#18259218)

Has I understand it, it should be simple enough to just have somebody just slip this new Mandatory Read law in.

Anyone here at Slashdot know someone on the inside?

Should, yes... (4, Funny)

Junior J. Junior III (192702) | more than 7 years ago | (#18258514)

This problem should really take care of itself. Just get a staffer to SQL-inject* the necessary clause as a rider for some boring budget stuff that no one will read all the way through, wait for Dubya to sign it, and then pop out and shout p0wned! Then they'll have to build that foolproof system, and we'll be all set.

*SQL = Staffer Quill Language

Sure, but... (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18258516)

...I'm more concerned about their system of bug tracking.

Yes, and a debuggable malloc too. (4, Interesting)

istartedi (132515) | more than 7 years ago | (#18258522)

I once had a conversation with a lawyer friend, who explained that there are portions of the law that refer to laws that have been repealed. I tried to explain to him that in computing this is directly analogous to de-referencing a pointer to memory that's been free()'d. We all know what this does in a program. In law, it perhaps there is a default judgement in cases like this. He was just a law student at the time, and IANAL, so maybe some real lawyers could explain how this situation is handled now.

Throw in a garbage collector as well. (5, Insightful)

NotQuiteReal (608241) | more than 7 years ago | (#18258570)

If we could pass laws/amendments to "sunset" EVERY existing law, then our esteemed representatives could spend their time deciding what laws are important enough to renew, rather than making up new malarkey.

Re:Throw in a garbage collector as well. (5, Insightful)

istartedi (132515) | more than 7 years ago | (#18258726)

OK, as long as there's somebody to implement an OnSunset() function that notifies the legislature. Otherwise, you could end up with situations where, for example, the meat industry suddenly no longer has to control rodents, and nobody realizes it until they walk into their local KFC and find that all the chicken has been replaced by.... oh... nevermind.

Newsflash: Laws keep good guys nice. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18258954)

Criminals ignore laws.

Re:Throw in a garbage collector as well. (1)

complete loony (663508) | more than 7 years ago | (#18259264)

Personally I want to see clear use cases and good test coverage. How do they expect to be able to re-factor if they don't know what the current system is actually doing?

Re:Yes, and a debuggable malloc too. (2, Interesting)

MindStalker (22827) | more than 7 years ago | (#18258574)

Yea, if a law overrides another law it states so. Whats really fun is when a law unintentionally contradicts another law without intending to or with any notice :)

Fragile base class (3, Interesting)

michaelmalak (91262) | more than 7 years ago | (#18258660)

Going off on the same tangent, here's an example of a fragile base class [underreported.com] . The Virginia legislature shortened (rather than completely eliminate, as in your malloc() dangling reference example) a list of businesses subject to some exemptions, not realizing that that same list was also used by another law saying which businesses had to be closed on Sundays.

Re:Fragile base class (1)

sconeu (64226) | more than 7 years ago | (#18259102)

And just why should the VA Legislature care if businesses are open on Sunday?

I mean, if it's because it's the Christian Sabbath, it would seem like the First Amendment to the US Constitution (extended to the States via the 14th) applies.

Re:Yes, and a debuggable malloc too. (1)

RealGrouchy (943109) | more than 7 years ago | (#18258746)

Traditionally, it's been solved a fight to the death.

This system seems to be working well, as the judgements have never been appealed.

- RG>

Re:Yes, and a debuggable malloc too. (1)

kushboy (233801) | more than 7 years ago | (#18258940)

I've noticed things like this before. It began when I was a student senator at a university and read through the student constitution: piece of crap. I went through and had to amend it all up. Then I wondered how well the state statutes were written: longer piece of crap. It's really surprising, or was to me. So much points to removed sections or points to sections that have been altered. Coming from a programming background, it was scary at first, but speaking to people who I thought would care, it doesn't seem like a big deal. They said they'd get around to it but would love an email whenever I found an error.

Don't be silly ... (3, Insightful)

jc42 (318812) | more than 7 years ago | (#18258526)

That would make "earmarks" and "pork" very difficult to insert in bills without leaving evidence of who did it. Congress would never allow such things to be audited.

Merging (1)

Michael Woodhams (112247) | more than 7 years ago | (#18258528)

Great, then it comes time to merge the HR branch of the bill with the Senate branch. Some overworked staffer sits there clicking 'accept' to all changes without looking at them, then they pass the bill and wait for it to crash to find the inconsistencies.

Yeah or maybe... (2, Insightful)

Rotten168 (104565) | more than 7 years ago | (#18258536)

people shouldn't vote for these fools.

Re:Yeah or maybe... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18258598)

"Well, I believe I'll vote for a third-party candidate"

"Go ahead, throw your vote away!"

Read The Bills Act (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18258552)

There is another way to look at controlling legislation, IMHO much more important than mere source control:

A group called DownSizeDC.org is promoting a bill that would force every legislator who votes for a bill to sign a declaration that have either read the entire text of the bill, or had it read to them. The "Read the Bills Act" would also require that every piece of legislation be posted on the Net in its final form for a full 7 days before any vote could occur, giving the rest of us time to read and react...

There used to be requirements in US House and Senate for reading of the bills, but they both routinely waive that requirement. If it were required, the number and complexitiy of bills actually presented would go down dramatically.

Re:Read The Bills Act (1)

RealGrouchy (943109) | more than 7 years ago | (#18258776)

The problem is that omnibus bills (common in the U.S., prohibited in many countries) are long, complex, and in some cases, intentionally deceptive.

This idea of getting senators to read long, complex, and decpetive bills before they vote on them seems to be a roundabout way of trying to "solve" the problem. Why not just elminiate omnibus bills in the first place?

- RG>

Omnibus bill solution: (1)

r_jensen11 (598210) | more than 7 years ago | (#18258816)

Add a clause in an omnibus bill that essentially prohibits any new omnibus bills. Then when a congressman sponsors an omnibus bill, they get slammed and the bill dies like people did during the French Revolution.

Re:Read The Bills Act (1)

timeOday (582209) | more than 7 years ago | (#18258832)

The "Read the Bills Act" would also require that every piece of legislation be posted on the Net in its final form for a full 7 days before any vote could occur, giving the rest of us time to read and react...
That makes so much sense, I can't wait to hear how somebody will spin to make it sound like a bad idea.

Re:Read The Bills Act (0)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 7 years ago | (#18258934)

A group called DownSizeDC.org is promoting a bill that would force every legislator who votes for a bill to sign a declaration that have either read the entire text of the bill, or had it read to them. The "Read the Bills Act" would also require that every piece of legislation be posted on the Net in its final form for a full 7 days before any vote could occur, giving the rest of us time to read and react...
 
There used to be requirements in US House and Senate for reading of the bills, but they both routinely waive that requirement. If it were required, the number and complexitiy of bills actually presented would go down dramatically.

That's a wonderful theory - right alongside "we'll all hold hands and sing kum-by-ya" in practicality. The folks at DownSizeDC.org seem to have failed to notice that it's 2007, not 1807. You can't run a country in the 21st century the same way you could a much smaller and less complex country 200 years ago today.

Great suggestion but... (2, Interesting)

kad77 (805601) | more than 7 years ago | (#18258558)

We can't Congress to be transparent in the process of who votes for bill revisions such as earmarks or some other types of amendments AFAIK. Try getting those initial steps worked out first (right), then talk about pushing meaningful revision control.

For them, I'm guessing this idea ranks right up there with allowing more CSPAN cameras, databases on attendance (+other metrics), term limits, etc. If we get a bill addressing this topic, I'm sure it's title will match the concept far more than the content.

Another class idea that will be promptly ignored by the cretins more interested in personal power than public service.

I think Blizzard puts it best... (1)

Logiksan (947439) | more than 7 years ago | (#18258578)

"Working as intended."

Not needed. (4, Informative)

afeinberg (9848) | more than 7 years ago | (#18258586)

Sadly, this is a bit alarmist.

Bills are already drafted using XML assigned numbers. Any amenment to a bill has its own number, bills which are "engrossed" or passed have a different number. They know exactly what they are voting for.

http://xml.house.gov/ [house.gov]

Re:Not needed. (1)

TheSync (5291) | more than 7 years ago | (#18259138)

When I first downloaded the final FY'06 Committee Report on the HHS Appropriation, it was a PDF scanned in from a combination of printed text with considerable handwritten markup.

accountability (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18258600)

A bill that increases accountability in congress has an XP Box's chance in a Cracker's convention.

Would PARALYZE government (3, Funny)

Creosote (33182) | more than 7 years ago | (#18258602)

If all Congressional documents were stored in a Subversion [tigris.org] repository, Homeland Security would positively short-circuit trying to follow up on all of the suspicious emails from young DC residents saying things like "Hey, are you sure the latest pages are committed to Subversion yet?" and "Something just bombed in my sandbox, I'm going to have to nuke everything in sight and do an update!"

Re:Would PARALYZE government (1)

etresoft (698962) | more than 7 years ago | (#18258796)

The easy joke here is to say they would probably use VSS. But, that isn't likely. It is more likely some defense contractor would be hired to implement a version control system fit for the government. That would be something to see indeed. I am strongly in favor of the idea just for the entertainment factor.

Changes must be approved after introducting a bill (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18258628)

As many others have pointed out, the problem is that not enough people actually read the legislation they're voting on. The actual drafting of the bill is in committee or even in secret.

Simply, NO. (2, Insightful)

Seumas (6865) | more than 7 years ago | (#18258636)

If we shouldn't have any method of auditing votes for who we put into office, why should we have a method for auditing the revisions made to the bills the people we vote into office author?

As if we can expect people who think global warming and evolution are "completely lacking any evidence" and who believe the internet is a series of tubes to actually understand what version tracking is, anyway!

Don't forget Ken Thompson's "cc hack" (1)

hemp (36945) | more than 7 years ago | (#18258674)

I know that nobody could slip a single line of code into my project without my knowledge.

Don't forget Ken Thompson's "cc hack" - you don't have to necessarily have access to the source code. Access to compilers/pre-compilers/scripts/make files/etc may be enough.

 

This does not belong on Slashdot (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18258712)

If this shit continues, I won't be able to continue to enjoy the technical content on Slashdot. There are places for people to piss and moan about the Patriot Act and politics, Slashdot is NOT one of them. Your Rights Online is the edge, do not cross it with bullshit like "source code control for congressional bills". Like we're really going to get Barbara Boxer to use SVN. If you have some suggestions in this area, take it up with the congressional I.T. department, not the entire IT industry you dumb ass!

Re:This does not belong on Slashdot (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18258850)

Fall in a well and die. Non-technical content is interesting too.

I think this is a fabulous idea. (1)

dlthomas (762960) | more than 7 years ago | (#18258730)

We have learned a bit about project management and system design since America was founded. What is the legislative process but a large project to design a complex system? We certainly have to be careful while doing so, but we should certainly use this experience in informing the workings of our government.

Do note that there is already a certain amount of this going on. Consider the various versions posted on Thomas. It would be interesting to see this further refined.

When I'm in congress, I'll take a look at it.

Applying principles of engineering to legislation (1)

Ichijo (607641) | more than 7 years ago | (#18258788)

Source control is a good start. But I'd also like to see a more rigorous engineering discipline applied to creating laws. Things like clearly defining the problem, finding the simplest solution that solves that problem, and then testing any changes before releasing them to the world. (MMORPGs might make good test beds for suggested laws. Twilight clauses ought to be used far more often.) And refactoring. Right now, our laws are a series of patches upon patches. ("Law cruft"?)

Re:Applying principles of engineering to legislati (1)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 7 years ago | (#18258840)

("Law cruft"?)

In Microsoft terms, "legal bloat".

Maybe... (2, Insightful)

vozzon (1072664) | more than 7 years ago | (#18258792)

Maybe if we just didn't elect corrupt morons and elected people who actually give a damn about freedom and this country.

It'll never happen for one reason (1)

MikeRT (947531) | more than 7 years ago | (#18258806)

The current method of producing bills is often like a set of diffs. It says shit like "change USC blah blah to blah blah at line X, word Y." If there were a standard method behind the madness, the common man could simply pass the USC (United States Code) and the bill through a merge engine, and then see the changes as they'd finally look.

End result? Probably a revolution because the intentions of most Congresscritters, which are profoundly treasonous to the traditions of liberty and patriotism, would be exposed to the public.

Sarbanes Oxley (2, Insightful)

unborracho (108756) | more than 7 years ago | (#18258810)

Yeah - it's already required by law for public trading companies - it'scalled Sarbanes-Oxley. Maybe you've heard of it?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarbanes-Oxley_Act [wikipedia.org]

Delay voting (1)

DebateG (1001165) | more than 7 years ago | (#18258826)

Each bill should be introduced, debated on, and amended. When no more amendments or riders are added, the bill should be placed off the table for one week. During this week, the final text of the bill should be published online, giving the public time to review it and question it. After a week, the bill should be re-debated and voted on. This would have an added benefit of making Congress debate a lot more and pass fewer and better laws. Sometimes the solution is just one more level of indirection.

laws (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18258844)

No that would be of the people for the people we cant and dont and never will have that.

Yeah right (1)

exp(pi*sqrt(163)) (613870) | more than 7 years ago | (#18258852)

I know that nobody could slip a single line of code into my project without my knowledge.

Been there... Done that (5, Insightful)

zerrubabul (1050318) | more than 7 years ago | (#18258860)

Such things already exist. I know someone who works for a company that makes version control software for documents. Their biggest customers are law firms. Nobody in a fortune 500 company wants some new hire paralegal modifying a clause in a billion dollar contract that it took months to negotiate. Congress people know the system could be made more fool proof but that would remove one more venue of plausible deniability they can use with their constituents. In Washinton crap just doesn't naturally roll down hill, it's designed to do so. Just as "Scooter"...

Sir Humphrey might have said... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18258876)

Where did you get that preposterous idea? It's the thin end of the wedge!

Elegant (2, Insightful)

Livius (318358) | more than 7 years ago | (#18258894)

That's one of the most brilliant ideas I've heard in years.

However, to be successful, it requires that legislators actually *care* what they are voting on. Realistically, they must have something like source control already. Voters have to send them the message that ignorance is no excuse. It's not technology that's holding them back.

Voting on a bill without reading it, if it can be proved, should result in expulsion. If you sign a contract on behalf of your employer without reading it, you would almost certainly be fired on the spot. If you work at a bank but "didn't read" the part about the amount of money, chances are you would go to jail.

Blame? (1)

moloney (197410) | more than 7 years ago | (#18258922)

cvs annotate bad_bill.txt

I've said it before, and I'll say it again (1)

Scoldog (875927) | more than 7 years ago | (#18259048)

Democracy simply doesn't work

In other news, the following people are gay!

sausages (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18259106)

There something people say about sausages and laws...

Brilliant Idea! (2, Funny)

thedji (561789) | more than 7 years ago | (#18259134)

I can't wait to use this:

$ svn blame PATRIOT

Re:Brilliant Idea! (1)

coffee_bouzu (1037062) | more than 7 years ago | (#18259298)

That sounds interesting, but I'm waiting to use:

$ svn blame Canada

//seen that movie way too many times

This isn't a version control problem . . . (1)

Trollusk (145659) | more than 7 years ago | (#18259224)

This is like checking in code for someone else without reading it. Version-control software won't do a damn thing if the people using it are dumbasses. Same thing with Congress.

And there's just about no process or procedure you can require that will magically make dumbasses not do dumb things. Smart teams review code, no matter what software they use. If members of Congress are sloppy and other members don't check on them, we'll get more responsiveness voting for less sloppy candidates than in trying to make them jump through more procedural hoops.

Law is code (1)

macosxaddict (559557) | more than 7 years ago | (#18259272)

Every line of legal text is really a line of code, executed by the legal system. So of course it should be version-controlled, like any other complicated, group-created artifact. Bugs in the code are called "loopholes". Ambiguities in the phrasing are race conditions. We should treat law as the complicated set of (poorly-defined) rules that it is.
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