Speaker Ryan: "Keep Moving Ahead" on Congressional Bulk Data

John Boehner

WASHINGTON—Today in the Capitol Visitor Center Auditorium, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) addressed the 2016 Legislative Data and Transparency Conference and praised the work of the Bulk Data Task Force. In his remarks, which are prepared for delivery below, he challenged those fighting on the front lines of the open government movement to “keep moving ahead by publishing all legislative measures in a standard format. That means enrolled measures, public laws, and statues at large.

“Hi, everybody. I wanted to stop by so I could say thank you for everything you’re doing. Truth be told, I don’t really understand everything you’re doing—but I appreciate it nonetheless. Chairman Miller filled me in earlier, and as best as I can follow, you’re trying to figure out, “How do we make the text of our old laws just as accessible as our new laws?” How do we make it so people can read them online . . . search for key words . . . copy and paste extracts? In other words, how do we make it so they can compare and contrast what we’re doing now with what we did before? I think it’s a great idea.

“And we could really use it. Let me give you an example. Two years ago, I became interested in what’s called MIECHV: The Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program. Basically, the federal government helps states pay for nurses to visit poor mothers and give them advice. What’s really interesting about this program is how it divvies up the funding: Seventy-five percent goes to methods with proven results, while 25 percent goes to new methods that show promise. Frankly, I wish more programs were designed this way. Then we could really see what works and invest in it.

“But more to the point: I recently came across something called the Sheppard-Towner Act. It was signed into law by President Warren Harding—remember him?—in 1921. And, at least on paper, it sounds a lot like MIECHV. The federal government put aside money to help states pay for things like home visits. You can find the text online—if you really look for it. But it’s nowhere near as accessible as it could be. And I just thought to myself: Wouldn’t it be interesting to compare and contrast these two laws? To see what they did right . . . what they did wrong . . . and what we could do better?

“This is why the work you’re doing is so important. In the future, legislators are going to use a lot of the methods that you’re developing—not just to inform the public, but to inform public policy. 

“We’re already heading in that direction: In 2011, when Republicans took the majority, we tried to make the House more open and transparent. We created the Bulk Data Task Force, which helped make more information available in XML—like floor summaries, committee proceedings, and the US Code.

“Now we’re working to go further, and publish even more current and past documents in XML. I’ve asked our team to keep moving ahead by publishing all legislative measures in a standard format. That means enrolled measures, public laws, and statues at large. We want this data to be as accessible as possible throughout the legislative cycle. 

“Some people are going to say that’s a little obscure—and that’s because it is. But isn’t that why we’re here? To take the obscure and make it open and accessible? The way I see it, we’re part of a tradition, stretching all the way back to the Founders. The minute the House opened its doors to the public—in 1789—we created a culture of honesty.

“And now we’re bringing that tradition into the 21st century. We’re pushing forward the frontiers of transparency. The fact is, all this talk about data and evidence and results, what it all comes down to is two words: the truth. We are trying to find the truth. We want to know “What’s the right thing to do?” And that’s pretty important if you ask me.

“So I want to thank all of you again for having me. I especially want to thank our clerk, Karen Haas, Chairman Miller, and their team for all their hard work. And I want to close by just saying, ‘Keep it up.’ Thank you very much.”

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