A popular Government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives. — James Madison
If you’ve ever wanted to find information on a particular piece of legislation, you probably know how maddening it can be. News outlets, who have a duty to help maintain an informed citizenry, are often bizarrely reluctant to provide useful information like bill numbers, voting roll calls, or bill texts. Instead, Americans are often left with colloquial bill names and vague summaries of their contents. This lack of details can make it hard to look for more information on a particular piece of legislation, which can lead to people being frighteningly misinformed about controversial legislation like the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (remember death panels and incoherent chain emails about dhimmitude?).
Fortunately, our government it a little more helpful. Since 1995, the Library of Congress has provided THOMAS, your one-stop shop for all things legislative. Unfortunately, the site mostly looks like it was designed in 1995, which is off-putting to some. It navigation is also not the most intuitive, although its manageable. To learn more about a bill simply search for its name, or its bill number, if you somehow managed to find that out.
If there are changes you want to see on Congress.gov, or if you want to let them know that prettifying their old service is all you really wanted, you can let them know through the feedback button near the top-right of every page.
If THOMAS and Congress.gov are not enough for you, there’s always the Federal Register and C-SPAN to provide you with even more accurate, (tediously) detailed information about the workings of the federal government.
[UPDATE: 23 September 2012] So, this morning I came across govtrack.us, which should probably top your list of best sources of government data. It’s got all the information that THOMAS and Congress.gov have and more. It’s better organized and easier to navigate. It also tracks legislation in all 50 states (and kind-of-sort-of in the District of Columbia), which is my favorite part. Govtrack.us also lets you set up your own lists of items to follow and provides its data for free to other developers. Finally, it’s even prettier than Congress.gov.
1. This odd little bit of punctuation is an irony mark, used to indicate a second level of meaning, in this case: sarcasm.