I spoke earlier today at the Committee on House Administration’s Legislative Data and Transparency Conference on recent progress and coming updates to Congress.gov. For those who were not able to attend the conference or to see it via webcast, here is a summary of my talk.
As you may have read in my bio, I started my Library of Congress career managing enhancements to THOMAS. If you submitted a comment to the feedback link on THOMAS, Andrew Weber and I have read it. We did our best to deliver improvements based on your requests and suggestions, but the THOMAS infrastructure is aging and there were many items that simply were not possible to deliver within the existing framework. It became apparent that it was time to develop a replacement for THOMAS.
THOMAS was not built in a day; it is not possible to instantly replace a system that took 18 years to develop. Thus began the iterative design and development of the system now known as beta.congress.gov. We began by designing and crafting the infrastructure and framework from the ground up. This included setting up redundant servers, designing databases and implementing improved data transfer, installing and configuring a search engine, full information architecture analysis and resulting website design, web delivery infrastructure and development, and ensuring accessibility and responsive design.
We launched the beta site on September 19, 2012 and periodically have issued releases to enhance the system. With each successive release, we added more data, enhanced existing features, and added new functionality. We have more enhancements planned before the end of the calendar year. Andrew and I are still reading your requests and suggestions, but now we can act on them, which is much more gratifying!
We launched Congress.gov with legislation and members, and since then we have added the Congressional Record and CBO reports. We started with only the two most recent Congresses, and we now include the 107th through the current Congress. We transitioned to the 113th Congress in January of this year, in a much smoother and more efficient manner than the every-two year ritual of adjusting THOMAS to a new Congress. We have listened to your feedback; in some cases we have fulfilled requests already; in other cases we have ensured that your suggestion is on our roadmap.
We have several more releases planned, including enhancements to both data coverage and functionality. During the next few months we will extend the currently available data sets back to the 104th Congress, and will add Committee profile pages and indexed text of congressional reports back through the 104th Congress. The next step will be to extend the core legislative data back to the 93rd Congress. We also plan a release that focuses on improvements to the visual design and information architecture, based on usability testing that was conducted this spring. Future releases will further enhance the search features, and begin implementation of an alerts framework.
Next year we will perform a gap analysis and will implement all of the remaining features of THOMAS not yet represented in the new system, as well as a few special treats not in the legacy system. We will add Nominations, Treaties, Communications, and the Congressional Record Index. We will add alert capabilities and the first iteration of personalization. Behind the scenes we will be working to develop additional infrastructure such as internal content management tools, to help ensure efficient delivery of enhanced content. We then plan to retire THOMAS, with pomp and circumstance appropriate to a system that has served its citizens well for almost two decades.
Post retirement of THOMAS, we will begin to add functionality and data beyond that currently available in THOMAS. The modernized framework of the new system will allow us to add exciting enhancements, many of them suggested by readers of this blog.
I would also like to thank our data partners for all of your contributions. Congress.gov is truly a team effort, both within the Library of Congress and across Capitol Hill.