Friday, April 15, 2005

Research Tip: was created by a graduate student of linguistics in his spare time. Its mission is to make information about Congress free and open, and more accessible and useful for everyone. GovTrack follows the status of legislation and the activities of senators and representatives, gathering information from official and unofficial sites into a single large collection. Because much of the information on GovTrack is from government sources, it can only be as current as those sources.

GovTrack does a nice job of combining information in ways you won't find at the official sites. For example, if you search debates in the Congressional Record, which you can find under "Representatives" in the blue navigation bar across the top, GovTrack displays more than just the text from the Congressional Record. Whenever a bill is mentioned in a debate, GovTrack inserts "Quick Info" boxes with Last Action and Status summaries and links to other bill information.

If you search legislation, you retrieve not only status and summary information about the bill, a list of related bills, and links to the bill and legislative history documents. Under Other Information, you can also retrieve information from, the web site of the Center for Responsive Politics, about "The Money Trail" — organizations whose employees made campaign contributions to the legislators who sponsored or cosponsored the bill. Similarly, when you look up a senator or representative, you are linked to information from official sites as well as campaign contribution information from OpenSecrets.

The tracking feature on GovTrack makes it more than just a portal to Congressional information. You must register to use these features, but registration is free and only requires your email address. GovTrack makes it possible to track representatives, bills, subjects, committees, and votes.

The first step is to set up Monitors, which you can find under "Your Settings" in the blue navigation bar. Choose the General, People, Subjects or Bills tab and browse to a page you want to monitor. Find the Monitor box on the page (see example below) and click on the Monitor button to subscribe to events that match that page. Return to "Your Monitors" and choose the General tab to turn on daily or weekly email updates on the items to which you subscribed.

Sample Monitor Box

The events to which you subscribe will be listed on your "Tracked Events" page, which you can find under "Your Settings." The "Tracked Events" page also has an RSS or Atom feed to which you can subscribe to receive updates in your news aggregator. Click on the "RSS or Atom feed" link and follow the instructions in the pop-up window. Right-clicking on the link does not work.

For more information on GovTrack, read Peggy Garvin, Under Development (March 13, 2005).

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