US Congress Gets an API

Kevin Farnham
Jan. 09 2009, 02:46AM EST

The New York Times has just announced its new Congress API, which provides capability for developers to access to four sets of data about US Congressional representatives and their votes: "a list of members for a given Congress and chamber, details of a specific roll-call vote, biographical and role information about a specific member of Congress, and a member’s most recent positions on roll-call votes" (see Congress API profile for details).

The data the API provides "data comes directly from the U.S. House and Senate Web sites, and is updated throughout the day while Congress is in session." And for individual member responses, the Times "include a numeric ID assigned by GovTrack, a free and open-source service that monitors legislative activity."

The Times team also describes a bit about the coding going on behind the scenes:

We Hpricot, an HTML parser for Ruby, written in C, to parse both the XML produced by the House and the HTML displayed on Senate.gov, and we use the ar-extensions plugin for Ruby on Rails which extends ActiveRecord to speed the bulk loading of records. We also parse some information from THOMAS, the Library of Congress Web site.

It's a RESTful API with data returned in XML. You'll need an API key to use it and up to 5000 daily requests are available for free. This is another innovative API from the Times, who now offer a variety of useful APIs. See our New York Times API Directory for a listing.

As Josh Catone notes, while, as a "dead-tree" newspaper the New York Times might be "running on fumes," they've:

been doing a lot of cool stuff with all the data they and others have collected over the years. ... [the Congress API] has a database of House votes back to 1991 and Senate votes dating to 1989, as well as membership information going back to 1983 and 1947, respectively.

More from Stephanie Condon at CNET and Marc Canter .

This API is another notable step in making government data accessible to developers. Along with efforts by the Sunlight Foundation, Vivek Kundra in Washington D.C., and the UK government, more of these opportunities are opening-up. Expect to see more government mashups coming soon.

And see our Gov Mashup and API Dashboard for the latest on government-related open platform news.

Kevin Farnham

Comments

Comments(2)

Cool, I will definitely check this out. I've been wanting to make a Congressional mashup website for a while, but the challenge in collecting data keeps putting me off. The thomas website was hard to use and I didn't have enough knowledge about how Congress works to understand all the information it returns, and determine which was relevant.