THOMAS.gov reboots

But watchdog notes key components of beta.congress.gov are missing
Tools

The Library of Congress unveiled beta.congress.gov Sept. 19, in a much called-for redesign that will eventually replace the 17-year-old THOMAS.gov website and the congressional legislative information system.

In a Sept. 19 statement, the Library of Congress highlighted the site's upgrades, including improved search, URLs that are compatible with page titles, mobile-friendly design, easier identification of bill status, links to members' legislative history and biographical profiles, and the ability to share and save bill searches.

"The new, more robust platform reaffirms for the 21st century Congress's vision of a vital legislative information resource for all Americans," said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington in the statement.

But there's also a lot missing with LOC's latest project.

For one, the site lacks the ability to download legislative data in a bulk, machine-readable format, notes Daniel Schuman, policy counsel at the Sunlight Foundation in a blog post--a long-standing request from transparency groups. Schuman also notes that the agency provided no insight into the redesign process and failed to seek public feedback on the changes.

In an earlier post, Schuman said that LOC plans to keep THOMAS and LIS live, alongside the beta site for "several years," and would likely roll out more functionality and applications--guided by public feedback--gradually, following the initial launch.

Indeed, the LOC statement says it will collect user feedback to inform upgrades. However, the statement does not mention any plans to provide bulk data downloads or application programming interfaces.

"Data, such as the Congressional Record, committee reports, nominations, treaties and communications, will be incorporated over time in a planned, prioritized order," according to the press release.

In the LOC statement, Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) and Rep. Gregg Harper (R-Miss.), touted the site's improvements and congratulated the agency.

"Congress.gov will enhance transparency, increase savings for the Library, and provide Congress and the nation the vital legislative information we need to deliberate about our collective public policies," said Lungren, who is chairman of the Committee on House Administration.

Those hoping to take the new beta site for a spin may have a tough time finding it if they don't already know the new URL. As of 3:40 pm on Sept. 19 the only mention of the new site on THOMAS.gov was a link buried halfway down the lower right side of the homepage with a broken image source.

For more:
- go to beta.congress.gov
- read the Library of Congress press release
- read the Sunlight Foundation blog post

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