{ subscribe_url: '/share/sites/library-of-congress-blogs/law.php' }

Advanced Searches Using Legislative Action Codes on Congress.gov

The following is a guest post by senior legal reference librarian Beth Osborne.

Recently, one of my colleagues from the blog team asked me if I knew of any “hidden treasures” at the Law Library of Congress that I wanted to mention in her recent post. Of course, I realized she was asking about something special—but perhaps often overlooked—from our wonderfully vast physical collection. However, my first thought was, “Congress.gov Action Codes!” So even though action codes did not quite fit the hidden treasures post, I thought I would take a few moments to talk about this powerful advanced search feature from Congress.gov.

First—a brief background. Thousands of pieces of legislation are introduced in a two-year Congress, though relatively few are ever enacted into law. From the introduction of a measure to its passage, failure, or death, many different legislative actions can occur. Every bill or resolution that is uploaded to Congress.gov has information about the actions taken during the legislative process (for example, see the list of “All Actions” taken on S. 24, the Government Employee Fair Treatment Act of 2019). The Congress.gov data on legislative actions is largely pulled from the Congressional Record.

Congress.gov enables researchers to search within certain categories of information (fields), and “legislative actions” is one such category. A task such as identifying all bills that were “introduced in the House of Representatives” is easy because that action is available from the left-hand menu as you look at a list of search results. However, if you want to craft a search based on less common legislative actions, or based on multiple legislative actions, using action codes in the advanced search feature may work for you.

Action codes are numerical codes assigned to certain types of legislative actions. One benefit that action codes have over keywords is that they efficiently encapsulate similar actions described in different ways. For example, if you wanted to know how many bills had received floor consideration in the House, you could do a keyword search for every word or phrase that conceivably qualifies as a floor action (such as taking up, amending, debate, voting, passage, amendments between the chambers, conference actions, etc.). But, this would be an unwieldy and inefficient search. Instead, you can execute your search using the action code that represents “house floor actions” (actionCode:7000) and quickly capture all variants of floor actions that have taken place in the House.

To use action codes, start on the page for advanced search of legislation and jump or scroll to the menus under “Action/Status.” You will likely need to scan the list of action codes to familiarize yourself with what is available and find the code or codes suitable for your search. Additionally, you can find a list of action search scope notes, which provide explanatory notes on action codes, as well as a large set of prepared queries featuring action code search fields. When using an action code, you need to use the prefix actionCode:XXXX, where XXXX is the code. If you are using more than one action code, you can use parentheses and connect them with a search operator.

Let’s take a look at three different scenarios and use action codes to craft searches that produce relevant results. All of these scenarios begin on Congress.gov’s advanced search page. Tip: keep the page on action codes open while you review these examples.

Scenario 1: How many pieces of legislation did Representative John Lewis sponsor in the year preceding his death?

  1. Scroll down to the fields under the heading “Action/Status.”
  2. Type actionCode:1000 into the search bar below the heading “Action/Status.” Note that action code 1000 stands for “Introduced in House.”
  3. Click the link for “Or limit search to a single action within a specified date range.” A new menu appears pertaining to “Date.” Use the dropdown menu to select “is between” and enter your dates. Since Representative Lewis passed away on July 17, 2020, enter 07/17/2019 and 07/17/2020.
  4. Scroll down the page a little further to the heading “Sponsors/Cosponsors.” Enter Lewis, John in the search bar below “Sponsors/Cosponsors” and make sure only “Sponsor” is checked below.
  5. Execute the search. You should see 26 results for the number of pieces of legislation sponsored by Representative Lewis in the year preceding his death.

Screen capture of a Congress.gov search

Scenario 2: How many pieces of legislation on Congress.gov (1973 to present) were enacted into law but not signed by the president?

  1. Scroll down to the fields under the heading “Action/Status.”
  2. Type actionCode:(36000 NOT 37000). Note that action code 36000 stands for “Became public law” and 37000 stands for “Public Law signed by President.”
  3. Scroll up to the top of the page to the heading Congress and check the box next to “All since 1973 (93rd Congress).”
  4. Execute the search. You should see 39 results for the number of pieces of legislation on Congress.gov (1973 to present) that were enacted into law but not signed by the president.

Screen capture of search with action codes

Scenario 3: In the 115th Congress, how many pieces of legislation that originated in the Senate were referred to a House committee but were not considered on the floor of the House?

  1. Scroll down to the fields under the heading “Action/Status.”
  2. Type actionCode:(10000 AND 2000) NOT actionCode:7000. Note that action code 10000 stands for “Introduced in Senate,” code 2000 stands for “Referred to House committee,” and code 7000 stands for “House floor actions.”
  3. Scroll up to the top of the page to the heading “Congress” and check the box next to “115th Congress.”
  4. Execute the search. You should see 63 results for the pieces of legislation that originated in the Senate and were referred to a House committee but were not considered on the floor of the House.

Screen capture of action codes search on Congress.gov

Now you have the tools to run your own advanced searches using action codes. Happy searching!

Add a Comment

This blog is governed by the general rules of respectful civil discourse. You are fully responsible for everything that you post. The content of all comments is released into the public domain unless clearly stated otherwise. The Library of Congress does not control the content posted. Nevertheless, the Library of Congress may monitor any user-generated content as it chooses and reserves the right to remove content for any reason whatever, without consent. Gratuitous links to sites are viewed as spam and may result in removed comments. We further reserve the right, in our sole discretion, to remove a user's privilege to post content on the Library site. Read our Comment and Posting Policy.

Required fields are indicated with an * asterisk.