Legislative Branch Innovation Hub: The Bulk Data Task Force continues to coordinate technology projects across the legislative branch. The projects seek to improve how legislative data and documents are prepared, managed, distributed, and archived. In July, with support from the Government Publishing Office (GPO), the Task Force launched the Legislative Branch Innovation Hub at usgpo.github.io/innovation. The Innovation Hub seeks to highlight legislative branch activities that use technology to cultivate collaboration, foster data standardization, and increase transparency.

Updates to Congress.gov: In 2018, the Library of Congress continues to make improvements to Congress.gov, including public release of CRS Reports (expected in September), a Committee name history project tracing historical names of the House and Senate, and increasing download capacity to 1,000 search result items from any single collection.

Documents in USLM: In support of the House Bulk Data Task Force, GPO is working with its legislative data partners to transform a subset of enrolled bills, public laws, and the Statutes at Large from locator-coded text format to XML format using the United States Legislative Markup (USLM) schema. These documents will be available to the public during the second quarter of 2018.

Govinfo.gov is out of beta: In January 2018, GPO’s website, govinfo.gov, a replacement for the Federal Digital System (FDsys) public website, fully transitioned out of beta. Govinfo is a redesigned, mobile-friendly website that incorporates innovative technologies and includes several new features for an overall enhanced user experience. Retirement of FDsys is planned for December 2018.

Congressional Data Challenge winners: On October 17, 2017, the Library of Congress (LOC) announced the Congressional Data Challenge, a competition asking participants to leverage legislative data sets on Congress.gov and other platforms to develop digital projects that analyze, interpret, or share congressional data in user-friendly ways. Using the Challenge.gov platform, entrants submitted projects that were evaluated by an external team of experts for their usefulness, creativity, and design. On June 20, 2018, the LOC announced that high school students won the top two prizes for the competition, which was open to the general public. The first place winners, awarded $5,000 by the LOC, developed a project titled “U.S. Treaties Explorer” that enables researchers, students, and the general public to explore treaties in an interactive and visual way instead of text.

Updates to Congress.gov: The Library of Congress continued to make improvements to Congress.gov, including the ability to download up to 500 search result items from any single collection, such as legislation, Committee reports, and the Congressional Record. The House’s executive communication data was released on Congress.gov in the same year.

Phone calls increase: In early 2017, the 115th Congress experienced record numbers of phone calls. By February, the Senate received 1.5 million calls a day, the busiest in the Capitol switchboard’s history—nearly double the previous record.

Updated Clerk website: On June 27, the House Office of the Clerk unveiled the alpha version of the homepage of its new website and HouseLive 2.0. The homepage highlights House Floor activity and provides easy access to vital legislative information, including live House Floor video, in a user-friendly, responsive, and modern design. HouseLive 2.0 now features video rewind, closed captioning search, and Floor summaries integrated into the live broadcast. The beta version of the website is expected to launch in 2018.

Meeting with the public: Continuing its commitment to holding public meetings to discuss the availability of legislative documents and data, the House held the fourth annual data transparency conference hosted by the Committee on House Administration in June, the third Congressional Hackathon, hosted by Representatives Kevin McCarthy and Steny Hoyer in November, and two public meetings of the Bulk Data Task Force in April and December, respectively.

House Rules change: As of December 31, 2017, House Rules for the 115th Congress require that comparative prints under certain circumstances be made available prior to legislative consideration by the House. The House Office of the Clerk worked closely with the House Office of Legislative Counsel to build tools that would meet the requirements of this new House rule found in clause 12 of rule XXI. When required, these documents can be seen on docs.house.gov/floor.

Govinfo.gov goes online: On February 3, GPO launched the beta website govinfo.gov, an eventual replacement for the Federal Digital System (FDsys) public website.

House and Senate bill status information: In February, House and Senate bill status information was made available in XML format on GPO’s Bulk Data Repository. Sample files were released for comment on GitHub prior to release through FDsys, govinfo, and Bulk Data repository.

House Rules in XML: In April, the House Rules and the House Manual for the 113th and 114th Congresses were made available in XML format using the USLM schema through FDsys, govinfo, and Bulk Data repository. The files were released for comment on GitHub prior to that release.

Online lobbying disclosure forms: In January, the House transitioned to an online Lobbying Disclosure Act filing system, and the paper forms were discontinued.

GitHub: In March, GPO joined GitHub. The sharing and collaborating site provided a needed place to share information and receive requests from third-party data users.

Bill text in XML: The Library of Congress’s site Congress.gov began using XML files as the default view for bill text. While the style sheet was first used on THOMAS in 2004, it was not until now that it was used as the primary display for bill text.

Quick links to Statutes at Large: The Office of Law Revision Counsel (assisted by GPO and the Library of Congress) made quick links available from the online version of the U.S. Code (uscode.house.gov) to the complete Statutes at Large. The Law Library of Congress explained in their blog that users “can now jump to pinpoint page citations in the Statutes at Large.”

House Rules change: The House Rules for the 114th Congress continued to call for greater transparency and accessibility to legislative information. Among other things, the Rules instructed the Clerk of the House to make available electronically each memorial pertaining to Article V of the Constitution of the United States and added a requirement that parallel citations for amendatory instructions to Public Laws and Statutes at Large that are not classified in the U.S. Code be included in proposed legislation.

Member data in XML: In April, the House Clerk began publishing basic Member data in XML format.

House bill summaries: House bill summaries were made available as XML bulk data on the FDsys Bulk Data Repository. Senate bill summaries were added to this collection in January 2015.

Congress.gov transition: In September, the Library of Congress completed the transition from beta.congress.gov to Congress.gov.

GPO name change: In December, GPO’s official name changed to Government Publishing Office, reflecting the increasingly prominent role that GPO plays in providing access to government information in digital formats.

House bills in XML: House bills were made available as XML bulk data on the FDsys Bulk Data Repository. Senate bills were added to this collection in January 2015.

Docs.house.gov expansion: In January, the website docs.house.gov was expanded to include Committee meetings and text of legislation that will be considered by House Committees.

U.S. Code available in XML: In July, the Law Revision Counsel made the U.S. Code available in XML. This was the first release of the “generation two” schema named the “United States Legislative Markup” or USLM.

Docs.house.gov launches: The House created the online repository docs.house.gov, which makes text of legislation being considered on the House Floor available by week.

Committee video:The House implemented a strategy to centralize the webcasting of Committee proceedings, providing for consistent public access and archiving at House Committee Hearings and Meetings Video on Congress.gov.

Congressional Record for iPad: The Library of Congress, with support from the Government Printing Office, released an iPad application for the Congressional Record. The project was initiated by House Leadership and guided by the Committee on House Administration.

FDsys API Link Service: FDsys API Link Service became available at api.fdsys.gov.

Bulk Data Task Force: On June 1, House Report 112–511 that accompanied H.R. 5882, the Legislative Branch Appropriations Act of 2013, directed the establishment of the House Bulk Data Task Force to examine increased dissemination of congressional information via bulk data download from non-governmental groups supporting openness and transparency in the legislative process.

Congress.gov in beta: On September 19, the Library of Congress launched the beta version of a second-generation system delivering federal legislative information freely available to the public—Congress.gov.

House Rules change: The House Rules for the 112th Congress called for greater transparency and accessibility to legislative documents. The intention of the change was to ensure that Members and the public had easy access to bills, resolutions, and amendments considered in Committee and by the House and to place electronic distribution on par with traditional printing.

House Floor proceedings available in XML: The House Office of the Clerk began posting the summary of Floor proceedings on its website.

Letter from House Speaker to House Clerk: Speaker John Boehner directed the Clerk to continue efforts to release the House’s legislative data in machine-readable formats.

Mobile Member Guide app: GPO launched a mobile version of the Member Guide at m.gpo.gov/memberguide. The Member Guide serves as a single point of access for Member information from several different official sources, including the Pictorial Directory, Congressional Directory, the Biographical Directory, and other Member listings.

Congressional email use soars: Since 2000, congressional offices saw constituent communications increase from 200 to 1,000 percent, thanks in large part to the growth of email and online messaging. Congressional offices often use that same technology to respond to constituents, effectively replacing a paper response with a digital one. By 2011, 86 percent of congressional offices answered all or most of their incoming constituent email with email, compared to 37 percent in 2005.

Electronic Voting System: The main display boards for the Electronic Voting System (EVS) on the House Floor were upgraded from a series of light bulbs behind Plexiglas® to high definition LED boards. The summary displays were converted to high definition LED boards in 2009.

Live House proceedings: On April 13, HouseLive was launched—providing live and on-demand video access to House Floor proceedings.

First electronic device on House Floor: On June 30, Representative Charles Djou of Hawaii became the first individual to use an electronic device during a House Floor speech. In the 112th Congress, the House Rules were amended to permit the use of mobile electronic devices so long as it did not impair decorum.

Discharge petitions: Petitions to discharge legislation from a House Committee were posted online and made available in XML.

Senate votes available in XML: Senate roll call votes were made available in XML on the Senate’s website.

GPO’s FDsys launches: FDsys went live on January 15 with information from all three branches of the federal government, including content and XML metadata files for bills, calendars, Committee prints, hearings, reports, documents, Congressional Directory, the Congressional Record, Public Laws, and United States Code. In December 2010, FDsys became GPO’s system of record, replacing GPO Access. In addition to being available on the Library of Congress’s THOMAS and LIS sites, XML bill files were made available on FDsys.

Public disclosure forms: Effective January 1, the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995 required the Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House of Representatives to make all registrations and reports available online for public inspection in databases that were searchable, sortable, and downloadable.

Public disclosure forms: Gift and travel forms were publicly available with downloadable data.

LIMS: The House’s Legislative Information Management System (LIMS) was successfully ported from an IBM mainframe to an HP UNIX server. LIMS originated from the Bill Status System.

Phone calls decrease: In 2005, the Capitol telephone switchboard received more than 30,000 calls per week. This was a marked decrease from the 1983 statistic of U.S. Capitol operators receiving more than 22,000 calls a day. The decrease in calls was due to the rising popularity of emails during this period. Based on 2002 statistics, on average the House received 234,245 emails a day, amounting to more than 88 million emails a year.

House and Senate bills available in XML: The Library of Congress began publicly posting House and Senate bills in XML format. It was agreed by the Library of Congress, the Government Printing Office (now Government Publishing Office), the Clerk of the House, and the Secretary of the Senate that the same style sheet used for the web display should be used by all legislative branch websites displaying XML bill format.

House votes available in XML: During the 108th Congress, House roll call votes were made available in XML on the House Clerk’s website. Votes were available online, but in HTML format, since 1997.

House legislation in XML: During the 107th Congress, the House Office of Legislative Counsel began using an XML editor to draft legislation. This marked the official use of the “generation one” schemas for bills, resolutions, and amendments using document type definitions (DTDs). It is commonly referred to as the Bill DTD.

SGML/XML study: The House Clerk presented the SGML/XML Feasibility Study Final Report to the Committee on House Administration.

House emails: The House of Representatives received emails at the rate of more than 48 million a year.

BioGuide available online: The entries of the printed Congressional Biographical Directory became available online during the week of November 9 (105th Congress), at bioguide.congress.gov under the auspices of the House Legislative Resource Center and the Senate Historical Office. The project was the first SGML/XML project for the House and Senate and paved the way for the drafting of legislation in XML in both chambers. With 15 previous print editions spanning back to 1854, the online directory provides up-to-date information on Members of Congress to researchers around the world.

Establishment of exchange standards: During the 105th Congress, the Clerk’s Office began establishing a document exchange standard, as well as the transformation, creation, and exchange of House documents using XML. This included an effort to customize an XML editor for the creation of bills and resolution. The initiative is rooted in a 1996 directive from the chairmen of the Committee on House Oversight (now known as the Committee on House Administration) and the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration to the Clerk of the House and Secretary of Senate, respectively, to work together toward establishing common data standards for the exchange of legislative information (2 U.S.C. 181).1

House Member websites: By the summer, 223 lawmakers had websites. More than 3,500 miles of copper cable and 312 miles of fiber-optic wire in Capitol Hill offices had been installed to connect them to the internet. In the fall of 1995, the House appropriated funds to buy each Member and Committee a new computer capable of connecting to the internet.2

THOMAS launch: Congress directed the Library of Congress to make federal legislative information freely available to the public. THOMAS was unveiled January 4—the opening day of the 104th Congress.

Electronic Voting System: The House’s EVS was updated.

GPO Access: GPO Access was launched on June 8 and included the Congressional Record, Congressional Record Index, Enrolled Bills, and the Federal Register.

GPO’s Federal Bulletin Board: GPO’s Federal Bulletin Board contained more than 5,000 files representing more than 18 federal organizations including Congress, the White House, and the Supreme Court.

House.gov: The House of Representatives launched its first internet website, house.gov. The Senate followed suit with the launch of senate.gov nearly a year later.

First Member website: With assistance from MIT, Senator Edward Kennedy is credited with being the first Member of Congress with a website.3

Members of Congress on the internet: On June 2 (103rd Congress), the House launched a pilot program to connect seven Members to the internet.

Electronic information access: On June 8, Congress passed the GPO Electronic Information Access Enhancement Act (Public Law 103–40), which directed GPO to make legislative and other official documents available to the public in digital form, leading to the launch of GPO Access in 1994.

Electronic Voting System wiring: Aging wiring in the main display boards was replaced.

GPO typesetting ends: During the 98th Congress, all machine typesetting ended at GPO.

Electronic Voting System updated: The House’s EVS was updated.

First live, televised proceedings: On March 19 (96th Congress), the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) and C-SPAN picked up the House feed and broadcast the House proceedings to the public. The first Member to speak before the television cameras was Representative Albert Gore Jr. of Tennessee.

First live radio broadcast of the regular proceedings of the House: Only 16 Members were present for the beginning of the first live radio broadcast of the regular proceedings of the House. Freshman Representative Albert Gore Jr. of Tennessee gave the first one-minute speech using the opportunity to comment on the important event. Associated Press Radio was the only major radio broadcaster to carry the day’s proceedings.

Electronic legislation: During the 95th Congress, the House Office of Legislative Counsel began producing legislation in electronic form.

First House electronic vote: Only 16 Members were present for the beginning of the first live radio broadcast of the regular proceedings of the House. Freshman Representative Albert Gore Jr. of Tennessee gave the first one-minute speech using the opportunity to comment on the important event. Associated Press Radio was the only major radio broadcaster to carry the day’s proceedings.

House Bill Status System: On February 26, the House Bill Status System began operation. In 1975, the Committee on House Administration printed the document “The Bill Status System for the United States House of Representatives.” According to the Committee print, the Bill Status System “was implemented to fulfill a need for a centralized source of legislative status information.”

Computer typesetting: Just as machine typesetting replaced handset type in 1904, so, beginning in 1967, computer typesetting replaced machine typesetting when GPO implemented the Linotron—GPO’s first venture into computer typesetting.

TV and radio ban: Speaker of the House Samuel Rayburn barred television and radio coverage of House Committee hearings—which the networks had covered intermittently. Telecasts of House Floor debate still was not authorized under the chamber’s rules. Live television broadcasts from the House Chamber continued to be conducted during Joint Sessions when the President delivered the annual State of the Union Address.

First live television broadcast: The first live television broadcast coverage of a congressional proceeding occurred on January 3, when cameras were allowed into the House Chamber to telecast the opening of the 80th Congress. It was the last such broadcast for more than three decades.

First Members on live TV: The first U.S. government officials to appear on a live television broadcast were four Members of the U.S. House of Representatives: Speaker William Bankhead of Alabama, Majority Leader Samuel Rayburn of Texas, Minority Leader Joseph Martin Jr. of Massachusetts, and Congresswoman Edith Nourse Rogers of Massachusetts. On January 27, the group was interviewed in front of the Department of Agriculture along the National Mall. Images and sound were transmitted one-half mile away to the National Press Club where members of the press and Washingtonians gathered on the top floor in front of several television receiving sets.

Radio galleries open: On July 24, the House and Senate radio galleries formally opened to accommodate reporters disseminating news by radio, wireless, and other similar means of transmission.

First bill summaries: During the 74th Congress, the Library of Congress was directed to author the Digest of Public General Bills and Resolutions (known today as “bill summaries”).

GPO offset presses: GPO installed its first two offset presses, a development in printing technology that drastically reduced costs for long runs and paved the way for later developments in phototypesetting and the entry of computers into the printing process.

First public address system: On February 8, President Warren G. Harding was the first person to use the system in the House of Representatives for a radio broadcast when he addressed a Joint Session of Congress in the House Chamber.

First live radio broadcast: On December 19 (67th Congress), House debate about a constitutional amendment to abolish tax-exempt securities became the first ever congressional proceeding broadcasted on the radio.

GPO electric trucks: GPO replaced its horse-drawn wagons with electric trucks for deliveries to Capitol Hill.

Machine typesetting: The arrival of Linotype and Monotype at GPO revolutionized government printing. These machines shifted the formula for typesetting from minutes-per-line to lines-per-minute.

House telephone switchboard purchased: Congress purchased a hundred-line switchboard, placed it in the Capitol, and hired an operator to manage the 200 calls per day.

GPO becomes official government printer: The Printing Act of 1895 made GPO responsible for the printing of all three branches of the federal government and for the dissemination of government publications for deposit in congressionally designated libraries nationwide.

First House telephone: During the 46th Congress, the telephone was installed in the House of Representatives lobby four years after Alexander Graham Bell received his patent and made his first long distance call.

First U.S. Capitol elevator: The first elevator was installed in the Capitol, and electric lighting began to replace gas lights in the 1880s.

GPO printing press: GPO purchased a Bullock press—cutting edge printing technology of its day. Installation of the Bullock was one in a continuing series of technological changes that vastly expanded the volume and quality of GPO’s printing work.

Government Printing Office created: Now named the Government Publishing Office, GPO was created by Congress in June 4, 1860 (36th Congress), and began operation on March 4, 1861 (37th Congress), with 350 employees. Not only did the 37th Congress convene on March 4, 1861, it is also the day Abraham Lincoln was sworn as the 16th President of the United States.

First official telegraph: On May 24, inventor Samuel Morse sent a telegraph from the U.S. Capitol to his partner in Baltimore, Maryland.

Library of Congress established: On April 24, President John Adams signed a bill providing for the transfer of the seat of government from Philadelphia to the new capital city of Washington. Part of the legislation appropriated $5,000 “for the purchase of such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress…” On January 26, 1802, Thomas Jefferson signed the first law establishing the structure of the Library of Congress. In August 1814, the Library of Congress was destroyed in the fires from the War of 1812. Within a month, former President Jefferson offered his personal library as a replacement.

House opens to public: Although the Constitution does not mandate open sessions, the House opened its doors to the public starting in April, during its first meetings in Federal Hall in New York City. Since that time, the House has maintained galleries so chamber proceedings can be viewed by the public.4

1 See also Public Law 104–197.

2 “Capitol Hill Takes to Cyberspace, Though in Fits, Starts and Stumbles,” New York Times, July 10, 1996.

3 “Calling Sen. Kennedy via the Computer,” Boston Globe, September 15, 1993. Chris Casey, The Hill on the Net: Congress Enters the Information Age (Boston: AP Professional, 1996).

4 U.S. House Journal. 1789. 1st Cong. 1st sess., 4 April.

About the Timeline

This technology timeline was compiled from official legislative branch sources by staff in the House Office of the Clerk’s Legislative Computer Systems and Office of Communications. Staff at the Library of Congress, the Government Publishing Office, the Senate Office of the Secretary, and other legislative branch organizations provided assistance in gathering this information.

Additional information can be found at: gpo.gov/about/gpohistory/ and history.house.gov/Exhibitions-and-Publications/Electronic-Technology/House-Technology/

Updated July 2018