We often talk about how Congress.gov is a group project comprised of multiple partners who provide different content and services to the site. The Library of Congress OCIO division provides the software and hardware for the site while, the reference librarians in the Law Library help public patrons navigate the site and construct searches for legislative information. The Library’s Congressional Research Service staff analyze the legislation, provide the bill summaries and assign the policy area and legislative subject terms. The Senate provides the data for the nominations collections and the House and Senate each provide the data for their respective executive communications collection. One of the largest collections in Congress.gov is the bill text collection. The bill texts originate in the House and Senate and are transmitted to the Government Publishing Office (GPO), which then provides us with the electronic text of the bills. GPO is also responsible for the publication and distribution of the Congressional Record.
One of these best places to find information on these various collections is the Congress.gov Coverage Dates for Collections page. It is one of the most information laden pages in Congress.gov and helps users understand the scope, parameters, and limitations of the collections which comprise Congress.gov. The page lays out, in a series of columns, information about the various collections, the dates they cover, and the times that they are updated.
The first column provides information on the various datasets that make up Congress.gov such as Bill Text, Bill Summaries, and the Congressional Record. The second column provides information about when information in that dataset will be updated, if it is updated. Historical bill data from the 18th and 19th century is not updated, but the Congressional Record daily edition is updated each day by 10am. The third column provides information on the start date of a collection so for example the full bill text dataset begins with 1993 while the Congressional Record daily edition begins with 1995, but the bound edition of the Congressional Record, which includes historic issues, goes back to 1909. The final column provides information about the entire range of Congresses that a particular dataset covers.
There is also more detailed information in hyperlinked footnotes at the bottom of the page. As a history nerd, I love footnotes and these footnotes provide important additional information about the datasets.
For example footnote 3, is linked to the update information for the Bill Text (full text) dataset. The update information for this dataset states that it “Varies.” To more completely comprehend what that means, users can then look at the information under footnote 3, which states:
House bills are generally available a day or two after they are introduced. Delays can occur when there are a large number of bills to prepare or when a very large bill has to be printed. Texts not yet published by GPO may be available from Bills to Be Considered or committee web sites. Senate bills usually take at least 5 business days. Please note that Senate bills are not made available before GPO has completed printing them. Online copies and printed copies are usually made available at the same time. Texts not yet published by GPO may be available from committee web sites.
The Congress.gov team also released a number of enhancements today, many of these were technical and related to backend processing, but the Browse lists have been expanded and the Congressional Record bound edition now goes back to 1899. Sometime in the new year, Congress.gov will include the entire Congressional Record dating back to 1873.
Enhancement – Browse – Expanded Scope of Coverage
- Browse lists are available starting with the 82nd Congress
Enhancement – Congressional Record – Bound Edition
- The Congressional Record Bound edition is now available for the 56th and 57th Congresses (1899-1903).
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