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Farewell OpenCongress, hello GovTrack

Friday, February 12, 2016 10:05
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(Before It's News)

By The Sunlight Foundation

As our Board Chair Mike Klein recently wrote, the Sunlight Foundation was created to catalyze open and responsive government through technological innovation and policy advocacy, and to be an active open source collaborator. We were founded to create and to collaborate.  

Sometimes, collaboration means an overt step forward. It’s creating an API and making it freely available or providing seed money to a nascent civic tech organization. It’s building a coalition or convening a conference. Other times — this time — collaboration is a step to the side. It’s clearing a lane so that the civic tech community can move forward quickly and efficiently toward common goals, rather than losing energy by duplicating effort.  

With that in mind we will retire OpenCongress, Sunlight’s federal congressional information website, on March 1 and redirect users to GovTrack. Both OpenCongress and GovTrack are comprehensive, nonpartisan sources for legislative information that have been used by millions of people. Both sites serve a critical purpose: providing congressional information to citizens and civil society with an eye toward transparency and accountability. Both pull from open data that has been shared through the @unitedstates project on Github, which Sunlight and GovTrack contribute to and helped develop. And both projects offer free data and APIs that civil society groups and citizens can use for their own purposes. (While Sunlight is retiring OpenCongress, we will continue to support our Congress API.)  

Some key differences exist between GovTrack and OpenCongress, though, and we wanted to make sure civil society didn’t lose functionality when we retired this site. In particular, OpenCongress includes the ability to contact congressional members through Sunlight’s completely redesigned and revamped Email Congress, a service that relies on the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s javascript driver, because collaboration = awesome. As well as being available at the brand new, GovTrack is now incorporating the Email Congress service into its own site. And users can now access GovTrack’s excellent data and strong analytics as well as Email Congress in one spot. Win, win.

This has been a long journey, led by champions in the civic tech space. Josh Tauberer created GovTrack in 2004 as a hobby and now runs it through Civic Impulse, LLC, his company. David Moore and the Participatory Politics Foundation launched OpenCongress in 2007. Josh and David were the vanguard for comprehensive, nonpartisan sources for legislative information as civic tech initiatives began to flourish, and they continue to lead in the civic tech space. Over time, Sunlight began operating OpenCongress as a joint project with the Participatory Politics Foundation, until it assumed sole operation of OpenCongress in 2013. Both sites reflect years of dedication and creativity from incredible humans within multiple organizations who fight the good fight, and do it well.

We share an overarching goal in this space — using technology to create a nation in which people are more empowered to engage with government, and government is consequently more responsive to the public. GovTrack has got our back, and yours, if citizens need a great, nonpartisan source for congressional information. Meanwhile, Sunlight will continue to have your back with a whole range of tools, websites and APIs — Real-Time and Foreign Influence Explorer, Open States, Politwoops (welcome back!), Political Party Time, Hall of Justice, Political Ad Sleuth, Capitol Words and our informative reporting, to name a few — that are dedicated to increasing governmental accountability, transparency and responsiveness.

In civic tech, resources will always be more limited than passion or resolve. When we can collaborate to amplify everyone’s efforts and create efficient solutions, we should. It’s that simple. We’ve got a lot of work to do. Let’s do it together.  

The Sunlight Foundation is a non-profit, nonpartisan organization that uses the power of the Internet to catalyze greater government openness and transparency, and provides new tools and resources for media and citizens, alike.


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