GovTrack Goes Open Source

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Josh Tauberer

Apr 3, 2008, 8:17:34 AM4/3/08
to,, Open(Data).Open[Govt]
(Begin obligatory three-way posting.)

This week I made officially totally open source.
GovTrack is a website that tracks U.S. federal legislation and also
builds the only comprehensive open database of congressional
information. While the data behind GovTrack has been provided in the
public domain for a number of years now, and has been successfully
powering a bunch of other sites like OpenCongress, I've been playing
catch-up in getting the source code of the website opened up.

The benefits of open source only come if other people help me develop
the site, so I hope my time spent opening up the site isn't for nothing!
(This also comes on the heels of being called a weak link in the
transparency web <g>, so this ought to address some of those concerns.)

Basically there are three components to GovTrack:

The website front-end, i.e. the system that generates the HTML pages of
the site. This is newly open source. I hope others will contribute new
features and usability improvements.

The legislative database, i.e. the XML files. This has been and
continues to be public domain.

The website back-end, which is the collection of screen-scraping Perl
scripts that create and update the legislative database. I previously
posted some of these files publicly, but now I am licensing them under
an open source license, and I am continuing to post more of the scripts
over time. It takes more time to do this because of Perl module hell,
dependencies on some external files, and some API keys in the files.

The front-end and back-end are licensed under the new GNU AGPL license,
which basically means that you cannot modify the files without making
the modifications publicly available. This is intended to prevent
commercial services from gaining any advantage from the source files
that they couldn't already get from using my legislative database
directly (as anyone can). I'm pretty thankful that such a license came
into being (and, importantly, with the backing of lawyers that know what
they're talking about), since otherwise I would have been more reluctant
to do this.

More details are here:


- Josh Tauberer

"Yields falsehood when preceded by its quotation! Yields
falsehood when preceded by its quotation!" Achilles to
Tortoise (in "Godel, Escher, Bach" by Douglas Hofstadter)

Greg Elin

Apr 3, 2008, 9:51:30 AM4/3/08
Greg Elin
Chief Data Architect
Sunlight Foundation (
Sunlight Labs (
cell: 917-304-3488
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