This fall brings a number of updates to GovTrack including a new Call Congress advocacy tool and improved display of bill text. Read on for details!

Call Congress

Earlier in the fall we announced that you can now use GovTrack to call your representative about a bill. You’ll find a new Call Congress button on every bill page, and when you click it we will walk you through how to effectively call Congress. Subsequent to our initial announcement we added the ability to call your senators for bills currently pending before the Senate.

So far about 200 calls have been made to Congress through GovTrack. It’s not very much, but we’re more than happy to have helped those people so far and we look forward to helping more users call Congress in the future!

Bill Text

When reading the text of legislation, you may notice we’ve added more styling and added links to the law when existing laws are cited in bills. Our developer Gordon Hemsley explained this work in a blog post this week. We’ll be continuing work on bill text over the next few months.

Advocacy and Policy Work

As always, I’m working to get Congress to make more and better information available to us. I attended a meeting in the Capitol earlier in the fall to discuss current transparency efforts happening in the House, and I’m working with some other groups on a new advocacy effort that hopefully you’ll hear about in a few months.

I’ve also been working on transparency advocacy for the executive branch. This week I published updated guidance for how to make government data open, co-written with the Sunlight Foundation and the Open Knowledge Foundation, and with endorsements from nearly a dozen other open government advocacy organizations.

Keyword Tracking of Bills

We’ve had the ability to track bills by keyword for a while, but it was incredibly difficult to find and use. So we re-did all of that. Now justĀ start on the Bills page and enter keywords into the form on the left side of the page.

Historical Bills

We added to GovTrack information on bills in Congress fromĀ 1799-1873, via the Library of Congress’s American Memory archive. Use the Advanced Search page to check out these historical records with scans of the original printed bills. (Gordon worked on this one too.)

For Phones and Tablets

Some improvements were made to how the site shows on on small screens like phones and tablets.

  • The advanced bill search page and other search pages now show up much better on small screens.
  • When browsing GovTrack on small screens we now make the advertisements smaller, which counter-balances the fact that we recently made other ads on the site larger (when viewing on regular sized monitors).

Other Site Improvements

  • We now show whether a senator is the senior or junior senator for a state.
  • The “summary” tab on bill pages now only shows summary types we actually have a summary available for.
  • When looking at votes, the order of the Members of Congress was by state but the states were not quite in alphabetical order. Almost. But not quite.
  • In places where we used to say “At President” we now say “Enrolled Bill” which is the more accurate term for what we mean. This is when a bill has passed both chambers of Congress in identical form. It heads to the President next. We also fixed some errors in historical data related to bill activities for this stage.
  • Your web browser now connects to GovTrack over a secure https: (SSL) connection which makes it harder for eavesdroppers to pick up your GovTrack browsing history or your login credentials (if you are logged into GovTrack).
  • The vote category “treaty ratification” wasn’t right. We’ve removed this category for now. All such votes are now just categorized as unknown-category.