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Boehner Calls for More Web-Friendly Records

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) announced that they plan to take steps toward making the House publicly release legislative data in machine-readable formats.

In a letter to Clerk of the House Karen Haas, Boehner and Cantor asked that her office work with the House Administration Committee and Member offices to establish electronic data standards.

“We have asked that this standard be developed in conjunction with your office for the purpose of transitioning the House to more open data formats, such as XML,” the House leaders wrote. “We believe that this legislative data, using standardized machine-readable formats, should be publicly available on House websites.”

Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said in an email that the full extent of the electronic standards will be announced in the coming weeks by the House Administration Committee.

Committee spokeswoman Salley Wood said the standards will require that all legislative data, such as bills, resolution and amendments, be posted in “searchable, user-friendly formats such as XML.”

“These requirements, which the Committee plans to vet with various House stakeholders in the coming weeks, will apply to primary posting sites as well as Committee sites,” Wood said in an email. “The requirements will also address video archiving of committee procedures and will vastly improve transparency of the legislative process.”

The way in which the Speaker released the announcement, however, shows that the House still has a way to go in transitioning to more open formats.

Boehner’s office published the text of the letter on his House website. But a link to the letter takes visitors to Scribd, an advertising-driven social media website where users can publish and download electronic documents.

There, the letter is published as a PDF file that is not searchable and does not allow users to copy and paste the text. Users must sign up for an account with the site to download it.

Transparency advocates hailed the announcement as an important step toward making Congress more accessible.

“This is a fantastic move from Speaker Boehner, and recognizes the transparency innovation happening outside Congress,” Sunlight Foundation Policy Director John Wonderlich wrote on the organization’s blog. “We’re excited to see what this commitment will yield, and to work with the House and the community of legislative data users to help create the most effective access possible to House legislative data.”

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