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and private sector analyses, lobby group position papers, and newspaper reports from local, national, and international sources. Much of this data will exist in a variety of formats, including text, audio, and video. In addition to official documents from the current and from previous Congresses, Members need immediate access to some types of information, such as the status of floor actions and pending amendments, even before they are officially published. Finally, after policies have been agreed upon and laws have been passed, Members need information about the effects of these decisions on domestic and international affairs. For a legislative information system to serve the Congress well, it must be able to provide access to this broad range of information to Congress on a timely basis, in formats that are understandable, and in ways that support the legislative decision making process both now and in the future. The plan discusses the kinds of data needed from both government and commercial sources.
Commercial Sources. Although one option for Congress would be to contract with one or more commercial sources for legislative information, the Library recommends instead that the "core legislative information" of Congress should be compiled and made available to its Members and its committees by its own offices and staff through the legislative information system proposed in this plan.
The system developed to provide core legislative information should be based on an open architecture that encourages commercial providers to continue to offer their services to Congress on a competitive, value added basis. In this environment, Members and committees would be free to purchase the systems and services that were of use to them, and which would complement the legislative information system proposed in this plan.
The Library recommends that Congress produce and distribute its core data to ensure continuity and reliability. Guaranteed access to the legislative information of Congress should not be dependent on continued success in the marketplace. Congress should have complete control of the collection, validation, and distribution processes for its own data.
Other Technical Issues. The plan discusses other technical issues for the Working Group to address, including the evaluation and selection of search engines, the design of the user interface, the coordination of training and user support, the development of productivity tools, the retirement of older systems, preservation and long term access, the need for common architectures and the use of open standards within the Legislative Branch, and the importance of security.
Public Access. The plan proposes that the public have access to the same core legislative information as the Congress, and that this information be made available on a system with comparable capability. The plan also discusses reasons for maintaining both the LOC THOMAS system and the GPO ACCESS system, while taking steps to integrate the best features of both systems, thereby reducing duplication of effort and confusion among users.
Schedule. Completion of the system proposed in this plan and its general availability in all congressional offices will require several years. The schedule for the project will be significantly affected by the time required to 1) upgrade the workstations in House and Senate offices 2) develop and implement new data coding standards and
procedures 3) develop all the required capabilities in the new retrieval system and 4) provide adequate security.
Nevertheless, the nature of technology in use within the House and Senate and the support agencies allows for an iterative development cycle that permits the release of new features and files as soon as they are available. This means that congressional staff will be able to use each new capability as early as possible, assuming they have a workstation that will support the system, without having to wait for the entire plan to be complete.
Estimated Costs and Staffing. At this stage of planning for the legislative information system, it is difficult to project costs with any precision. The full scope of this effort first has to be approved or further defined by the committees. The Working Group, supported by the Senior Technical Team, will then have to develop the plan in more detail with time frames for the various phases agreed upon. This effort will obviously be multi-phased over several years.
The staff resources available to all of the Legislative Branch organizations that will be tasked to build this system are a critical issue. For this plan, the Library has assumed that the system will have to be built within existing resources approved by Congress, and that the time frame for completion of specific elements of the system will therefore have to be adjusted based upon available staff and financial resources. Also, participating organizations must be able to manage their resources so that they can fulfill their other mandated and priority mission functions.
It will be a significant challenge to build the proposed legislative information system with existing, and probably declining resources, especially because the demand for staff with the technical skills needed to build the new legislative information system for Congress has become highly competitive.
Next Steps. It is important to begin the process of coordinating the separate system initiatives under way within the Legislative Branch as soon as possible. Otherwise, this rare opportunity for creating an integrated and collaborative system will be lost. The committees may well wish to obtain additional comments on this plan from other offices and agencies of the legislature and from commercial vendors through an invitation for comment or through a hearing. Once this process is completed, the Library recommends that the committees determine whether they wish to approve and implement this plan in its current or in a modified form by the end of the current fiscal year.
A PLAN FOR A NEW LEGISLATIVE INFORMATION SYSTEM FOR THE UNITED STATES CONGRESS
Public Law 104-53 (H.R. 2492), section 209, directed the Library of Congress to develop a plan for the creation of a single legislative information system to serve the entire Congress. The law directs that the plan be approved by the Committee on Rules and Administration of the Senate, the Committee on House Oversight of the House of Representatives, and the Committees on Appropriations of the Senate and the House of Representatives. Upon approval of the plan, the Library of Congress, or the entity designated by the plan, shall develop and maintain the system, in coordination with other appropriate entities of the legislative branch.
The law directs the Library to take into consideration the findings and recommendations of the Library's earlier study, required by House Report No. 103-517, to identify and eliminate redundancies in congressional information systems. The law also requires that the Library examine issues regarding efficient ways to make legislative information available to the public and submit its analysis to the committees for their consideration and possible action.
The Conference Report (H.Rept. 104-212) that accompanied H.R. 2492 directed the Library to include in its analysis and plan an evaluation of commercial sources of legislative information as well as the various databases and data creation, processing, and distribution systems extant in the legislative branch. This report constitutes the required plan and is submitted by the Library in accordance with the directives contained in Public Law 104-53.
In July 1995, the Library of Congress completed a study of duplication among legislative information systems supported by the Congress.' This study documented the extent of overlap which has developed since the 1970s both among the systems designed for the collection and preparation of legislative data and among the systems designed for the retrieval, display, and printing of this information. The study found that while there have been steps taken to reduce duplication in the creation and preparation of data, there are still significant opportunities for reducing this overlap further and making the process even more efficient. With respect to systems for retrieval and display, the report found that, on balance, duplication has been increasing. Despite Senate proposals to eliminate its retrieval system and rely on the Library, overlap had increased because of the creation within the last two years of systems that contain common legislative information, including the GPO ACCESS system, the LOC THOMAS system, and the House gopher and Web servers.
'DUPLICATION AMONG LEGISLATIVE TRACKING FINDINGS, A Report Prepared by the Library of Congress for the House and Senate Appropriations Committees Pursuant to House Report 103-517 and House Report 104-141, July 14, 1995.
Recent improvements in technology, coupled with the need to replace aging legacy systems, have led to independent efforts in the House, Senate, and GPO to improve their systems for data collection and preparation. This same combination of aging systems and recent technical advances has also affected the development of retrieval systems; the Library, the GPO, and the House are each rebuilding or improving their existing search and display systems.
The fact that these new development programs are under way now offers an excellent opportunity to reduce duplication and to increase the amount of coordination that should exist among systems that are so highly interdependent. One of the primary recommendations of this plan, which will be underscored in other contexts, is that the committees should act soon to ensure that these separate initiatives are purposefully integrated both to reduce duplication of effort and to improve the quality and compatibility of the systems being developed. Absent such a directive, the design and development of these systems will proceed quite separately, with the result that in a relatively short time (probably by the start of the next Congress), they will be much more difficult and costly to integrate.
The Library suggests that the plan contained in this report, after it has been reviewed and modified as necessary by the committees, can offer an effective means to achieve this coordination, particularly by the establishment of a bicameral working group on a new legislative information system (see discussion below). The Library further suggests that this plan, as approved, can provide the basis for the guidelines and agenda for the proposed working group.
The section that follows describes the major programs under way within the legislative branch to create and provide access to legislative information; it also updates the information contained in the Library's duplication study submitted in July 1995.
GPO ACCESS System. The 103d Congress passed Public Law 103-40, which directed the Government Printing Office (GPO) to make Legislative Branch and Executive Branch information, beginning with the Congressional Record and the Federal Register, available via online systems. In response to this mandate, GPO developed its ACCESS system, which was first released to depository libraries and the public in June 1994. This legislation authorizes the Superintendent of Documents to determine what other publications distributed by that office will be made available on the system. With respect to legislative information, ACCESS currently includes, among other documents, the full text of bills and the Congressional Record for the 103d and 104th Congresses, the Congressional Record Index (since 1983), the House and Senate Calendars, committee reports for the 104th, the History of Bills since 1983, the 1994/5 Unified Agenda, and the U.S. Code. In December 1995, the Public Printer eliminated all charges for use of the ACCESS system. GPO plans to replace the current ACCESS software with a more sophisticated commercial retrieval system during the first half of calendar 1996. GPO has also developed plans for making