Thursday, October 11, 2007

Another political resource; Sunlight Foundation & Open Congress

Click the link in the title (to the previous entry as well -- I forgot to say!), to connect to Sunlight Foundation. They are part of the people behind Congresspedia, and describe themselves thus:

The Sunlight Foundation was founded in January 2006 with the goal of using the revolutionary power of the Internet and new information technology to enable citizens to learn more about what Congress and their elected representatives are doing, and thus help reduce corruption, ensure greater transparency and accountability by government, and foster public trust in the vital institutions of democracy.
They make grants (I can't tell where the money comes from yet) to folks who want to create internet-based resources to open the political world to the general public. One of their in-house creations, Open Congress, is another possible great resource for law librarians and our patrons. It provides links to full text of Congressional bills. You can get there either by knowing the bill number or using the site's keyword search engine. The bills are the links to lots more -- the reader can track vote history in the bill, and look at the history of the bill. It does not appear to carry other Congressional publishing, such as hearings or reports, or access to the Congressional Record. It does, however, tell who sponsored the bill, news and blog coverage of the bills' topics.

You can also search the site by Senator or Representative, by Congressional committee and by industries. It allows the user to navigate by the list of topics devised by the Congressional Research Service to index bills. The tools are interesting widgets, not useful for research, but of interest to politically aware citizens to use in their blogs. You can track bills with these widgets and have the tracking posted on your blog. Hmm. Here is how Sunlight Foundation describes their Open Congress:
When Congress created Thomas, its leaders asserted that finally the public would be able to follow what their elected representatives were up to, using the Web. But while Thomas has a wealth of information ranging from drafts of bills and amendments, votes, and the complete text of the Congressional Record, finding specific information is a daunting task for the average user. OpenCongress aims to be Thomas as if it were designed for ordinary people. The site - which will be launched in beta form in November - will inform and connect citizens with what is happening in Congress by bringing together Thomas's official congressional data on bills, votes, floor statements and conference reports with press and blog coverage, non-profit analyses, and social wisdom generated by its users. OpenCongress will allow anyone to easily track a bill, an issue, a vote, a member, a campaign contribution, or a phrase used in the Congressional Record, and to follow developments in any of those areas by subscribing to its RSS feed. The first phase of the site will concentrate on making it easier for users to find out basic information, but our goal in 2007 is to also facilitate collaborative analysis of bills by experimenting with wikis and message boards for sharing information and context. The goal of Open Congress is to narrow the gap between what Congressional insiders and average citizens know.

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