By slipping a simple, three-sentence provision into the gargantuan spending bill passed by the House of Representatives last week, a congressman from Silicon Valley is trying to nudge Congress into the 21st Century. Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) placed a measure in the bill directing Congress and its affiliated organs—including the Library of Congress and the Government Printing Office—to make its data available to the public in raw form. This will enable members of the public and watchdog groups to craft websites and databases showcasing government data that are more user-friendly than the government's own.
If the Senate passes the bill with the provision intact, citizens seeking information about Congress' activities—such as bill names and numbers, amendments, votes, and committee reports—won't have to rely on government websites, which often filter information, are incomplete, or are difficult to use. Instead, the underlying data will be available to anyone who wants to build a superior site or tool to sift through it. "The language is groundbreaking in that it supports providing unfiltered legislative information to the public," says Honda's online communications director, Rob Pierson. "Instead of silo-ing the information, and only allowing access through a limited web form, access to the raw data will make it easier for people to learn what their government is doing."