The Library of Congress this week unveiled Congress.gov, a new site for U.S. legislative information that will eventually replace the 17-year-old Thomas.gov. The new site is intended to have more robust search features and a more user-friendly design, as well as to be platform agnostic, enabling it to be used on mobile devices as effectively as on computers.
The site was launched in a beta version and will not fully replace Thomas for at least two years. The beta site contains legislation from the 107th Congress (2001) to the present, profiles of members of Congress from the 93rd Congress (1973) to the present, and selected member profiles from the 80th through the 92nd Congresses (1947 to 1972).
“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 announcing the site Wednesday. “It is fitting that we announce this new resource within days of Constitution Day, celebrating the establishment of our representative democracy. Continual enhancements to and now reinvention of this resource reflect the Library’s commitment to Congress’s goal to open the legislative process to the American people and promote an informed democracy.”
The design of the site is much improved over Thomas, providing cleaner, easier-to-understand pages for bills, members of Congress and the like. For bills, a tabbed display allows easy viewing of the bill’s text, status, amendments, sponsors and other relevant information. Bill pages now have static URLs so that you can easily return to them. (It would be nice if bill pages also had individual RSS feeds, but they do not.)
Search is also improved. You can search universally across all content for all years. You can then refine and narrow your search results using “facets” that represent specific data fields. Using this feature, you can refine a search to a particular Congress, legislation type, subject, committee or various other categories.
Over the next year or two, more resources will be added to the site, including the Congressional Record, Congressional reports, the Congressional Record Index, House and Senate calendars, nominations and treaties.
Nice as the new site is, it has already come under some criticism. At the blog of the Sunlight Foundation, Daniel Schuman writes that what’s missing from the site is public comment on the design process and computer-friendly bulk access to the underlying data. “We hope that Congress will now deeply engage with the public on the design and specifications process and make sure that legislative information is available in ways that most encourage analysis and reuse,” he writes.
The Library of Congress is encouraging users to provide feedback on the site, which it will use in making further improvements and refinements.
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