Wikipedia:WikiProject United States Federal Government Legislative Data
This page provides support to Wikipedia editors who want to develop articles related to legislation in the United States Congress as it makes laws within the Federal Government of the United States. This project is an outgrowth of a conference in March 2013 in Washington DC: Wikipedia:Meetup/DC/Legislative Data Workshop. Wikipedia is the sixth most popular website and constitutes the Internet's largest and most popular general reference work. As of 2014, it has 18 billion page views and nearly 500 million unique visitors each month. Americans already use it daily to find out information about current proposed legislation and existing public laws. This project is devoted to increasing and improving Wikipedia's coverage of those laws.
- 1 Why write about legislation on Wikipedia?
- 2 Events
- 3 Tools and resources
- 4 Developing legislative content for Wikipedia
- 5 Participants
- 6 Articles created as part of the project
- 7 References
Why write about legislation on Wikipedia?
Wikipedia is an excellent place to host information about legislation. Wikipedia's strong commitment to providing a neutral point of view means that readers can trust content to be neutral and unbiased, explaining the many sides of every argument. The peer review editing process helps to ensure this. Wikipedia is also a repository of a wealth of information. Readers who don't understand some of the concepts mentioned in a piece of legislation or who have never heard of the federal agency being charged with a new task can easily follow the internal wikilinks to find out more information. Readers already use wikipedia to learn about proposed legislation and existing law, as the page view histories of the Affordable Care Act and CISPA demonstrate. Finally, according to Wikipedia:Purpose, "Wikipedia's purpose is to benefit readers by acting as an encyclopedia, a comprehensive written compendium that contains information on all branches of knowledge." The encyclopedia could not fulfill that purpose without including coverage of major legislation.
Several in-person events in the Washington D.C. area have been associated with this project.
Legislative Data Workshop
On March 14 and 15, 2013, the Cato Institute, a United States-based think tank, hosted with Wikimedia DC a two day workshop event about transparency, legislative data, and Wikipedia. According to event sponsor Jim Harper, "transparency, and the hope with getting data on to Wikipedia, is meant to provide the public with neutral information tools that all communities can use to oversee the government and advocate for what they want."
The Cato Institute has project, called "Deepbills", to produce enhanced XML markup of federal legislation. It hopes to use this data to make more information available to the public about how bills affect existing law, federal agencies, and spending. Cato has been marking up the bills introduced in the current Congress with “enhanced” XML that allows computers to automatically gather more of the meaning found in legislation. This project fundamentally rooted in transparency and building bridges among politically diverse organizations. Cato is seeking to produce data and systems that will broadly appeal to organizations and individuals across the political system: something that makes it easier to compile basic factual information in a transparent way. The Cato Institute sponsored this event for Wikipedians and people interested in transparency as a way to look for ways Cato's data could be used to enhance the information about legislation on Wikipedia.
For commentary on this, please visit the following:
- Wikipedia and an open government initiative
- Wikipedia and Legislative Data Workshop
- Legislative Data and Wikipedia Workshop—March 14th and 15th
Legislative Data Meetup
On June 8, 2013, the Cato Institute hosted with Wikimedia DC a follow up [Wikipedia:Meetup/DC/Legislative Data meetup]] to check on the progress that had been made since the first Legislative Data Workshop and discuss new challenges that had been identified. Editors reviewed and offered suggestions on how to improve some of the articles found on the List of bills in the 113th United States Congress. Together, several editors created a new infobox template that includes additional fields to provide information about what agencies are affected by a bill, the total authorizations in a bill (permission to spend money), and the total appropriations in a bill (money distributed to agencies).
Transparency Time: Wikipedia-Editing for Congress
On August 18, 2014, the Cato Institute and Wikimedia DC will be holding a Hill Briefing for Congressional staff, members of Congress, and the general public. Senior Fellow of the Cato Institute, Jim Harper (User:JimHarperDC), Legislative Researcher/Writer Michelle Newby (User:HistoricMN44), and Wikimedia DC Public Policy member Jim Hayes (User:Slowking4) were all scheduled to speak at the event. The event invite stated:
In a recent 90-day period, there were almost 400,000 hits on Wikipedia articles about bills pending in Congress. The collaboratively edited Internet encyclopedia is a major source of information about congressional activity for average Americans. But past editing controversies have caused some of the most knowledgeable potential editors — congressional staff — to steer clear of providing information to the public this way. Wikipedia could deliver government transparency on a grand scale, positioning the public to demand better outcomes. Congressional staffers can aid that process by learning how to edit Wikipedia and how to navigate its rules around notability, neutrality, and conflicts of interest. Join us for a discussion of congressional Wikipedia editing and the sea change to government transparency it might produce.
Tools and resources
There are a number of tools and resources available for editors who want to edit Wikipedia to improve the quality or add to the number of articles on legislation or public laws.
- Government 101: How a bill becomes a law at Project Vote Smart
- Senate glossary - an official United States Senate glossary of terms associated with legislation and the legislative process
- Senate Reference Guide: Legislation - the Senate's reference guide on legislation - what's currently active, how to find legislation, what the legislative process is, etc.
- The Hill's Floor Action blog - The Hill, a D.C. area newspaper, has a special blog devoted to Congress. It is a good source of information about upcoming legislation, legislation just introduced, statements from Congresspeople, and legislation that has just passed.
Sources of information on bills:
- Library of Congress' THOMAS website - this site is an official source produced and maintained by the United States Library of Congress. Users can search for various bills and find all the information about them collected in one place, including links to the appropriate portions of the Congressional Record. This website is being phased out of use.
- beta.congress.gov - this is the new website of the Library of Congress that will replace THOMAS. It is an official resource. On each bill page, users can find tabs referring them to separate pieces of information about the bill: an official Congressional Research Service summary, the text of the bill, major and minor actions in the procedural history, a list of co-sponsors, the relevant committees, and a list of related or identical bills.
- govtrack.us - A website created and maintained by Joshua Tauberer. This website is helpful when you want to look at the text of the bill. Special formatting adds a gray box around piece of text that are being amended into other laws (visually distinguishing that text from other portions of the bill) and includes direct links to United States Code sections and United States Public Laws that are cited in the bill text. Users can also create an account to receive notices about specific bills (when passed, for example) or specific topics.
- opencongress.org - a project of the Sunlight Foundation. This website also tracks legislation, lawmakers, and votes. Also includes a smartphone app.
- washingtonwatch.com - one of the older Congress tracking websites. This site is an especially good sources for budgetary data related to the bill (it usually has the most updated Congressional Budget Office report links) and will breakdown the amount the bill will cost per year per individual or family.
- cbo.gov - the official website of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). The CBO is responsible for reviewing pieces of legislation and determining how much they would cost if enacted. The CBO also notes which ones meet the requirements of the Statutory Pay-as-You-Go Act and the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act. As a public domain U.S. government source, budget reports can be reproduced in their entirety in Wikipedia.
- appropriations bills - this official source will list all of the current appropriations bills under consideration for a particular fiscal year.
Relevant Wikipedia sources
- Authorization bill - a type of legislation used in the United States to authorize the activities and activities of the various agencies and programs that are part of the federal government of the United States. Authorizations give those things the legal power to operate and exist.
- Appropriations bill (United States) - a bill that appropriates (gives to, sets aside for) money to specific federal government departments, agencies, and programs. The money provides funding for operations, personnel, equipment, and activities.
- United States Congress - the main page about Congress. Each two-year meeting of Congress has its own subpage, such as the 113th United States Congress.
- List of bills in the 113th United States Congress - a list of all introduced bills in the 113th Congress that have Wikipedia articles
- Acts of the 113th United States Congress - a list of pieces of legislation that became law during the 113th Congress
- List of United States federal legislation, 1789–1901
- List of United States federal legislation, 1901–2001
- List of United States federal legislation, 2001–present
Sample legislation article layout
In order to improve the content of legislation articles on Wikipedia, we have worked up a proposed structure for such articles. The article should have an infobox that includes information about who introduced the bill, when, and its procedural history. The introduction section should provide information on the status of the bill as well as a summary of what it would do. A background section can/should be included to discuss general information the reader should have to place the bill in context. A provisions section should detail what the bill would do. Information from the public domain Congressional Research Service's report can often (but not always) be used here. (The summaries can be found at beta.congress.gov's individual page on that bill.) The summary should include wikilinks to the relevant concepts, prior laws, and government agencies. (That's the beauty of Wikipedia - if you are unfamiliar with something or some agency, knowledge about it is a simple click away!) If the Congressional Budget Office has done a report (check by searching [www.cbo.gov cbo.gov] that information can be included as well. The procedural history section should detail the bill's history - who introduced it, which committees it went to, if they held any hearings, what the committee report said, and any votes that were made. Finally, there should be a debate section offering information on the arguments for or against a bill from the bill's supporters and opponents. Since Wikipedia strives to be neutral, it's best if arguments from both sides are included, although this can be difficult. Often one side is significantly more vocal than the other, making sources about that side's opinion easier to find. Other times a bill is considered "non-controversial" (usually evident when it is passed by a voice vote or with unanimous consent) and there is very little opposition to it.
You can use this proposed sample layout to create a Wikipedia article on U.S. federal legislation:
- Category:Lists of United States legislation
- Category:United States federal legislation - this category has 47 subcategories that allows legislation to be put into a more specific place. However, only legislation that has become law should be listed here.
- Category:United States proposed federal legislation - the category should contain proposed legislation until it becomes law (if it ever does). There are ten subcategories for increased specificity.
- Template:Infobox United States federal proposed legislation - The main template for proposed legislation. Allows editors to include information about appropriations in the infobox.
- Template:Infobox U.S. legislation - alternate legislation template.
- Template:USBill - multiple templates related to legislation appear on this page. Allows an editor to create an automatic link of United States Code, Public Law, or proposed bills to their text an a standard external source.
In 2014, a Twitter bot called @CongressEdits gained a lot of media attention for tweeting out a link every time someone using a Congressional IP address edited Wikipedia. Inspired by this bot, another bot, the @wikibills bot, was created. This bot tweets out a link everyone a person edits one of the articles on the List of bills in the 113th United States Congress. Make such an edit and you could become Twitter famous!
Developing legislative content for Wikipedia
Given the goal of producing articles about legislation that can be updated automatically and systematically with legislative data, we offer these suggestions for the organization of legislative issues on Wikipedia and for writing articles about the bills in Congress.
Organizing articles about public issues and legislation
Many articles about public policy issues come into existence and grow because of importance and public interest in a particular bill. If the issue isn't settled in a single Congress, however, the article's references to that bill will fall out of date even if much of the material in the article is relevant and accurate. In our early work, we have found, for example, that the current (March 2013) versions of articles on CISPA and the House budget refer to the past year's legislation. ('External' links are to March 2013 versions to illustrate this point.)
To remedy this, we recommend writing about public issues and the legislation that relates to them in a hierarchical way, separating the general issue and the legislative proposal from the specific bill(s) that relate to them. We'll describe the hierarchy starting from the top.
Given the importance of the issue area, it may be appropriate to have a top-level article at a very high level of generality. "Cybersecurity legislation in the United States" might be a good example. (There is an article called Cyber-security regulation that is a good high-level overview, if slightly dated for this rapidly changing area.)
The next level down might be an article on a general proposal, such as CISPA, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, which is one of several proposed federal statutes. Now, CISPA started as a single proposal, but it did not pass in the 112th Congress and has been reintroduced in the 113th Congress. The (current) article about CISPA is about the issue and the bill at the same time, even though the original CISPA bill is dead. This must be confusing to readers.
Articles about specific bills could complete the hierarchy, discussing things specific to those bills such as sponsor/cosponsors, committee referral, hearings, differences from other versions, key points in the debates about them, votes on them, their status at any given time, and so on.
This hierarchy - with separate articles for each of 1) the broadest issue area, 2) the general proposal, and 3) the specific bills - seems like the best way to articulate for readers how public policy issues are handled.
It will take a lot of work to untangle current articles that interlock given public policy issues and the bills (now dead) that dealt with them in the past. Going forward, we recommend maintaining separation among broad issues, legislative proposals, and the individual bills that address them. If a bill is important, it may merit as many as three articles: one about the bill itself, one about the proposal it contains, and one about broader issue it tries to address. Hopefully, articles about the higher-level topics exist already!
Members of the following groups may be interested in the activities of this WikiProject:
- WikiProject United States
- WikiProject United States Government
- WikiProject United States Public Policy (archived/mothballed)
- WikiProject U.S. Congress
If you would like to list yourself as a participant in this project, please sign here:
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Articles created as part of the project
- National Pediatric Research Network Act of 2013 (H.R. 225)
- Hurricane Sandy relief bill
- Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2012
- Veteran Emergency Medical Technician Support Act of 2013 (H.R. 235)
- Dietary Supplement Health And Education Act of 1994
- United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2013
... and many more, found at: List of bills in the 113th United States Congress.
- "wikipedia.org Site Overview". Alexa Internet. Retrieved 2014-07-23.
- Bill Tancer (May 1, 2007). "Look Who's Using Wikipedia". Time. Retrieved December 1, 2007.
The sheer volume of content […] is partly responsible for the site's dominance as an online reference. When compared to the top 3,200 educational reference sites in the US, Wikipedia is No. 1, capturing 24.3% of all visits to the category. Cf Bill Tancer (Global Manager, Hitwise), "Wikipedia, Search and School Homework", Hitwise, March 1, 2007.
- Alex Woodson (July 8, 2007). "Wikipedia remains go-to site for online news". Reuters. Retrieved December 16, 2007.
Online encyclopedia Wikipedia has added about 20 million unique monthly visitors in the past year, making it the top online news and information destination, according to Nielsen//NetRatings.
- "comScore MMX Ranks Top 50 US Web Properties for August 2012". comScore. 12 September 2012. Retrieved 6 February 2013.
- Cohen, Noam (9 February 2014). "Wikipedia vs. the Small Screen". New York Times.
- Harper, Jim (26 February 2014). "Legislative Data and Wikipedia Workshop - March 14th and 15th". Cato Institute. Retrieved 14 August 2014.
- Harper, Jim. "Transparency Time: Wikipedia-Editing for Congress". Cato Institute. Retrieved 14 August 2014.
- Oleszek, Walter J. (2008). Congressional procedures and the policy process (7. ed., [Nachdr.]. ed.). Washington, D.C.: CQ Press. p. 42. ISBN 9780872893030.
- Tollestrup, Jessica (23 February 2012). "The Congressional Appropriations Process: An Introduction" (PDF). Congressional Research Service. Retrieved 23 January 2014.