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A Congress.gov Interview with Owen Henry, Legislative Data Analyst

Today’s interview is with Owen Henry, a legislative data analyst in the Congressional Research Service (CRS) of the Library of Congress.

Describe your background. 

My parents both worked for the Department of the Interior over in Foggy Bottom, so I grew up living around Washington, DC. I got a degree in political science from Oberlin College, then went to work as an organizer on political campaigns. Computers were always a hobby of mine, so while on the campaigns I gravitated towards making sure we had good tech support and good data.

I met my (now) wife on my first campaign and knew I wanted to be with her always, so I switched from campaigns to political technology in DC to be near her. Since then I have provided technology support for nonprofits and political organizations, designed features and run projects for political software companies, migrated and set up fundraising databases, configured email programs and platforms, programmed business intelligence reports, and more that I’ve probably forgotten. I like trying new things! 

Pictured: Owen and his wife, Chloe

Pictured: Owen and his wife, Chloe

How would you describe your job to other people? 

I solve problems for people. Sometimes that means helping people understand a feature in Congress.gov, sometimes that means proposing and working on projects to enhance the way we use data, and sometimes that means pulling data and reports from a database. Because people use Congress.gov in a lot of different ways, I have to be able to come up with a lot of different types of solutions. I really love the variety.

What is your role in the development of Congress.gov?

Right now, I spend a lot of time working on the way we’re processing and loading data into the system. The goal of the Congressional Research Service is to be accurate, authoritative, and timely with our data, and in order for that to happen, everything has to run smoothly under the hood as we’re compiling and combining data from the House, Senate, and the Government Publishing Office.

As experts in those datasets, my team and I spend a lot of time monitoring for and correcting errors in that process, which is currently very time-intensive and manual – we’re in our office every day (before the sun is up!) checking for errors and making corrections. I’m working on making the process faster and easier for my team, and on coming up with ways to run analytics on what types of errors we’re hitting. This should help us reduce errors over time.

What is your favorite feature of Congress.gov? 

Stable URLs! In a lot of web applications, you have to use special technology and code to get to a result set from a search – in Congress.gov, you just need a URL to get back your result list, which makes monitoring list results and changes in legislation a lot easier. It also really helps researchers, congressional staff, and users, because you can always get an updated result set from just your bookmarks bar. 

What is the most interesting fact you’ve learned about the legislative process while working on Congress.gov? 

I think what I find most interesting is the way that the staff of various Capitol Hill agencies collaborate to deliver the most accurate, up-to-date information to Congress every day. In most places I’ve worked, the data entry, production, and reporting work happen over a period of weeks – here, that cycle happens in a single day, every day that Congress is in session, with the expectation and goal of perfect accuracy. It’s really challenging and the House and Senate clerks, as well as the staff at GPO, deserve recognition and applause for making it all run so well.

What’s something most of your co-workers do not know about you?

I’m the step-grandson of a semi-famous bird artist, and my house is filled with prints of his art – my favorite is a 4-by-3-foot print of a pair of peregrine falcons that hangs in my living room, and my second favorite is a print of a pair of snowy owls.

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