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House Appropriations trims legislative agencies budget request

Language on bulk XML legislative data decried by transparency advocates retained by committee
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The House Appropriations Committee approved May 31 a spending bill for the coming year that would give legislative watchdog, printing and research agencies slightly less than their requested amounts.

Under the House committee's markup of the legislative branch appropriations bill for fiscal 2013 (H.R. 5882), the Government Printing Office would see the largest cut relative to its request, with a reduction of 2.86 percent.

In the report (.pdf) accompanying the mark up, House committee says that it approves a increase in the GPO's revolving fund to $4.24 million, but not to the level that the GPO had requested, which was $7.84 million. The GPO has emphasized information technology efforts paid for through the revolving fund as a  way of staying relevant in an era increasingly less-dependent on physical paper.

The Government Accountability Office, meanwhile would receive 1.22 percent less than its $526.33 million request and the Congressional Research Service would receive 1.41 percent less than its $109.2 million request. If signed into law, the GAO amount would nonetheless be a real increase over current fiscal amount of $511.3 million. The increase would permit the GAO "to hire up to 3,000 [full-time equivalents], an increase of 21 FTEs," the report states.

The report retains language decried by transparency opponents that would indefinitely postpone public bulk downloads of legislative information in XML. Good government groups, including the Sunlight Foundation, have pressed for the Library of Congress to release the bulk data used to track legislative developments in the library's THOMAS website, arguing that they could do a better job of presenting information.

"THOMAS was revolutionary...in 1995," writes Sunlight Foundation Policy Director Daniel Schuman in a June 4 blog post. The language in the report would require a task force to examine issues surrounding XML bulk downloads of legislative data before making such data available to public, but sets up no deadline for the task force to report back.

A May 31 blog post from the digital communications director for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) portrays the report's language as a boon for governmental transparency, stating that "the task force will address potential costs, timeline for implementation, how and whether to authenticate data, and more."

For more:
- download the House Appropriations Committee fiscal 2013 legislative branch report (.pdf)
- go to the THOMAS page for the bill

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