The State of the Art in Legislative Editors and the DATA Act

(My plan was for my next blog to contain a mini-tutorial on my editor, that is still coming this weekend)

A report on legislative editors has just been released in Europe. You can find the report at https://joinup.ec.europa.eu/elibrary/document/isa-leos-final-results. It’s a very interesting read. It’s focused on Europe but is something we should look at seriously in the US.

After almost a decade in this business, I discovered my European counterparts a couple years ago when I attended the LEX Summer School in Ravenna, Italy (Info on ths year’s class can be found here) What struck me was how much innovative work was occurring in Europe compared to the USA. Sure we have plenty of XML initiatives in the USA and there are many examples of modern up-to-day systems we can point to, but there is a lot of fragmentation and duplication of effort and learning. All in all, it is my feeling we’re falling far behind in this field. And yet the Europeans expect and want leadership from the USA; we’re the ones with a society more conducive to innovation and entrepreneurialism.

So how are we doing in the USA? This week the DATA Act (H.R. 2146) passed the U.S. House. It requires accountability and transparency in federal spending. Sounds like a good thing, doesn’t it? One does expect that the government we elect ultimately be accountable to we the people.

The DATA Act, while addressing federal spending, could be the impetus that drives state governments in America to update their systems to publish in open and transparent formats. Viewed as an opportunity, this act could ultimately drive better cooperation amongst the various state legislatures. This cooperation would improve innovation and progress in US legislative systems by focusing on common approaches and open standards. This less insular viewpoint would, as a result, improve efficiency and lower costs. Common standards allow common tools and common tools cost a lot less than full custom solutions. Check out the blog by Andrew Mandelbaum at NDI – http://www.demworks.org/blog/2012/04/how-xml-can-improve-transparency-and-workflows-legislatures.

Henry Ford once said “If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right”. I was disapointed to see NCSL came out with their opposition to the DATA Act. Their reasoning is that the DATA Act is a cost they cannot afford at this point. Certainly, we are all feeling the effects of the economic meltdown in the past few years and it’s hurting the states especially hard. But why can’t the move to open and transparent systems be viewed as an opportunity to improve efficiency and reduce costs? If modern standards-based automation was a liability, would businesses have automated to the extent they have? I don’t see very much focus on using automation as a tool to improve efficiency in legal informatics. It’s an opportunity squandered I think.

If you want to know more about open legislative standards, consider attending our upcoming “unhackathon”. You can sign up here.

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The State of the Art in Legislative Editors and the DATA Act

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