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Happy Seventeenth Birthday THOMAS!

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Our little website is seventeen years old today!  Just like most teenagers it can be a little temperamental at times, but we still love our baby.  I find its history quite interesting.  Andrew’s Time Capsule and Starting Point posts provided a unique view of THOMAS when it launched on January 5, 1995.  But what happened before then?

In 1993, Congress passed the GPO Electronic Information Access Enhancement Act, known as the GPO Access Bill, which required that the Government Printing Office (GPO) publish the full text of the Congressional Record and Federal Register online.

In the U.S. House of Representatives around the same time, Rep. Charlie Rose directed the House Information Systems (HIS) to publish the Congressional Record, the text of House legislation, and the U.S. Code free to the public online. This service premiered a month after GPO’s fee-based GPO Access site (which was available free through a Federal Depository Library system gateway). The documents were not considered “official,” but were the same ones GPO was publishing.

After the 1994 elections and major reorganization of the House of Representatives, Speaker-designate Newt Gingrich led a team to modernize House technology. Part of his efforts included a way to provide free online access to the Congressional Record, the text of legislation, and all other official documents of the House.  THOMAS was also something of a public-private enterprise, involving Gingrich and Rep. Vernon Ehlers along with one of the Library’s Madison Council members, Don Jones.

Thomas Jefferson Bust, Great Hall

Rep. Bill Thomas, incoming Chairman of the renamed Committee on House Oversight as well as the Joint Committee on Printing, oversaw House operations, the Library, and GPO. Rep. Thomas declared in a December 1994 letter to GPO and HIS that they would transfer legislative documents to the Library of Congress for the officially designated THOMAS system, named for founding father Thomas Jefferson. THOMAS and the Library of Congress would then serve as a free gateway to this information for the public. Newt Gingrich unveiled THOMAS at the Library of Congress a day after he was sworn in as Speaker of the House.

As Chris Casey stated in The Hill on the Net: Congress Enters the Information Age:

…there were good reasons for the Library to be THOMAS’s home. As the library to the legislative branch, and to the entire country, the Library of Congress provides a more appropriate symbolic home for the service. …coming from the Library, it is easier to accept the source of the information as nonpartisan in nature. …The Library also provides a logical home for THOMAS because of the nature of its mission. Public libraries, by definition, make information available to the public.

Source: Casey, Chris. The Hill on the Net: Congress Enters the Information Age. Chestnut Hill, ME: AP Professional, 1996.

Happy Birthday, THOMAS!

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