Congress.gov is a fantastic source of legislative information, and a marvelous source for investigating specific legislation and exploring the legislative history of a bill. Congress.gov also contains large amounts of data and various users have expressed interest in having additional access to download this data. Certain entities or persons have “scraped” the website over the years and the Government Publishing Office (GPO) has also offered bulk data downloads for some collections, but these have all been somewhat imperfect measures. However, today we are introducing the beta Congress.gov API which will provide access to accurate and structured congressional data. We are very excited about this release and a great deal of hard work has gone on behind the scenes this year to make this happen.
So what is an API? It is a method by which structured data can be shared when an application submits a request and receives the data back. The Congress.gov API is a REST API and presents data in a hierarchical browse format with responses provided in XML or JSON. The XML format is the default for the API.
The Congress.gov API will cover many of the Congress.gov collections out of the gate, including bills, amendments, summaries, Congress, members, the Congressional Record, committee reports, nominations, treaties, and House Communications. Over time we will be adding other Congress.gov collection endpoints, such as hearing transcripts and Senate Communications
As with all Congress.gov products, we have worked to provide documentation about the API as well. In this case there is documentation, user guides, a change log that details changes to the API, and opportunities for feedback. To use the API you must first get an API key.
There is a GitHub page for the Congress.gov API where you can get additional information and provide feedback if you encounter any problems. We encourage users to look at the issues section for information which can help answer possible queries. And, as always, we are here to help through our Ask a Librarian service.
Be sure to join us for the Congress.gov Virtual Public Forum on September 21st where we will talk more about the new beta Congress.gov API.
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