A New Wave of Transparency

I use the Library of Congress THOMAS system to look up bill quite frequently. Whenever a rumor is going around about a bill I start digging to see if they’re true, false, or somewhere in between (which is the usual case). Unfortunately THOMAS is a clunky pile of shit and, thanks to Congress, will remain that way:

But if you know anything about our federal government, you know that if you if really want to see what Congress is up to, looking at one bill at a time often won’t tell you much. You often need to review multiple bills, or hundreds of bills, such as all the legislation filed by a certain senator or dealing with a certain issue.

For instance, if you really want to see what kind of oddball stuff members of Congress are trying to get exempted from import tariffs this year, like my colleague Mark Flatten recently did, you’ll have to look at more than 2,000 bills.

A web interface that lets us call up and download one bill at a time was really innovative once — say, 15 years ago. But that won’t cut it anymore.

Folks with computers — notably, professional and citizen journalists — would be able to take information about massive numbers of bills and analyze them in myriad ways — if Congress would allow such information to be downloaded from THOMAS in bulk.

It won’t. And, according to a new draft report from the House Appropriations Committee, it won’t be allowing bulk data downloads from THOMAS anytime soon.

Instead of taking a step towards greater transparency, the committee got hung up on whether people would know if the data they’re seeing on the Internet were accurate and really from Congress — “authentication,” they call it.

Their excuse doesn’t even make sense. If we allow bulk downloads of bills people may not be able to “authenticate” them? Bullshit.

THOMAS is one of the best tools in the arsenal of anybody pointing out the failures of the state. Digging through the Library of Congress grants me access to every stupid little bill that is working through the legislative process. Every bill meant to strip us of more freedoms, every bill designed to control our actions, every bill that will redistribute more wealth can be found on THOMAS and the denizens of the Internet are making great use of it. Because of this the state wants to prevent it from being even more useful, in fact I wouldn’t be surprised if legislation was passed that deteriorates the already abysmal user experience of THOMAS.

Information is power and the state wants to maintain a monopoly on power.