On June 4, 2013, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) blogged that Cosponsor.gov is “a sweeping expansion of our Citizen Cosponsor Project. The new website will now feature every bill and resolution introduced in the House, from Republicans and Democrats. I’m excited that any engaged citizen can voice their support, and track the status of legislation in the House.”
The website is designed to engage the public in the legislative process. As Miranda Neubauer of Personal Democracy Media’s techPresident blog wrote on June 4: “The initial version launched last year only featured a narrow selection of bills,” primarily those sponsored by Republicans. “The new platform built on that proof-of-concept is made possible through the bulk download of House bills in XML format” from the Government Printing Office (GPO). This is a significant improvement over last year’s version of the project that limited participation to those with Facebook accounts.
Users can indicate the bill they would like to co-sponsor; by clicking the Keep Me Informed button, users will “receive first-hand information and updates on the status of the bill as it moves through the legislative process.” The Citizen Cosponsor Project can be reached through the Majority Leader or at Cosponsor.gov. Both URLs present a website that is easy to use, even for those with little familiarity about how bills become laws.
A few bills are featured on the homepage. By clicking View All Bills, users can search for bills, sort the list by Status (options are All, Introduced, Referred to Committee, Passed Committee, or Passed House), Title (A–Z), ID (H. Con. Res #), Type, or Popular (by number of citizen co-sponsors). Users can also browse bills by subject in the following broad categories:
- Economy and Jobs
- National Security
- Working Families
- Energy and Environment
- American Leadership
- Education and Workforce
- Science and Technology
The name and number of each bill is presented, as well as a brief synopsis. A tracker graphic indicates the status of the bill (along with dates) as it progresses from introduction to committee to the floor of the House. The number of citizen co-sponsors is also indicated, along with the Congressional sponsor and co-sponsors in Congress. Users can view the text of the bill or download a PDF version (retrieved from the GPO Federal Digital System).
“Transparency, open government and engagement should be a key goal of all elected leaders in Washington, and Cosponsor.gov is one step in that direction,” Cantor says. A truly engaged citizenry would be able to comment on bills, suggest changes, or even suggest bills of their own, but this is not possible at present. In last year’s proof-of-concept effort, comments were encouraged, but they were sent to the Majority Leader. Perhaps a third iteration of the project would allow comments to be emailed to sponsors of specific bills. Despite these issues, any effort to improve the legislative process is welcome and should be applauded.