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Another Step Toward Transparency in Government
by
Posted On August 27, 2013


On July 30, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) announced that the House of Representatives is making the United States Code available for download in XML format. The U.S. Code has been available online (see below), but not always up-to-date, in an easily accessible format (for online viewing or download). With the release of an XML format, the public can expect developers to create apps to view and analyze legislative data in new and exciting ways.

Commenting on the House’s decision to publish the updated U.S. Code online in XML, Candice Miller (R-Mich.), chairman of the Committee on House Administration, said: “Before today, given the ever-evolving nature of the U.S. Code and its antiquated production methods, the process of accessing and understanding current law was often costly and time consuming. This new feature created by the House Office of the Law Revision Counsel provides everyone with free online access to the complete, updated U.S. Code.”

The U.S. Code represents the laws of the United States by subject. Each title of the Code consists of chapters devoted to a particular subject. Searching the U.S. Code and browsing within titles is easiest at the U.S. Code website. Advanced search options and the ability to set preferences for presenting results are well-fashioned so that novice users can understand what is meant and advanced searchers can manipulate the search string to discover just the portion they need. The Search Tips page is detailed and helpful.

The currency date for each section of the U.S. Code is displayed above the text of the section. If the section has been affected by any laws enacted after that date, those laws will appear in a list of Pending Updates. If there are no pending updates listed, the section is current as shown.

The U.S. Code can be downloaded in XML, XHTML, and PCC (photocomposition codes, sometimes called GPO locators). At present, this is a beta site, so some limitations exist. Additional formats for downloading (e.g., PDF) will become available after additional testing.

The Office of the Law Revision Counsel is an independent, nonpartisan office in the U.S. House of Representatives under the authority of the Speaker of the House whose main responsibility is to prepare and publish periodically a new edition of the U.S. Code with annual cumulative supplements reflecting newly enacted laws.

Efforts to Improve Public Understanding and Access to Laws and the Lawmaking Process

Online access to federal legislation continues to improve. A year ago, Peggy Garvin reported on the beta version of Congress.gov, a new public legislative information site that will replace Thomas.gov. Earlier this summer (June 4), House Majority Leader Cantor blogged about Cosponsor.gov, a new website that “will now feature every bill and resolution introduced in the House.”

Thanks to Daniel Schuman for his July 30 Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington blog post pointing to additional Congressional efforts to improve online access to the legislative process, including:

  • Bills to be considered on the House floor this week
  • Calendar of upcoming hearings in the House by week
  • Text of House bills

The Government Printing Office

The U.S. Government Printing Office’s (GPO’s) mission is to provide publishing and dissemination services for the official and authentic government publications to Congress, federal agencies, federal depository libraries, and the American public. In 2009, Miriam Drake covered the replacement of GPO Access with FDsys, a new digital system for access to government information. Indeed, one can find U.S. Code, 1994–2012, from the right-hand navigation on the homepage. Additionally, the GPO prints a complete new edition of the Code every 6 years, with a supplement printed annually in each of the intervening years.

In a related matter, on July 24, the Senate Rules and Administration Committee advanced the nomination of Davita Vance-Cooks as the 27th Public Printer of the United States. Unanimously confirmed, Ms. Vance-Cooks is the first African-American and first woman to be nominated and confirmed for the leadership of the GPO.


Barbie E. Keiser is an information resources management consultant located in the metropolitan Washington, D.C., area.

Email Barbie E. Keiser
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