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Congress API Update

Here’s a status update for developers who use the Sunlight Congress API.

The U.S. Capitol (Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)

When we took over projects from the Sunlight Foundation last year, we inherited an Application Programming Interface, or API, that overlapped with one of our own.

Sunlight’s Congress API and ProPublica’s Congress API are similar enough that we decided to try to merge them together rather than run them separately, and to do so in a way that makes as few users change their code as possible.

Today we’ve got an update on our progress.

Users of the ProPublica Congress API can now access additional fields in responses for Members, Bills, Votes and Nominations. We’ve updated our documentation to provide examples of those responses. These aren’t new responses but existing ones that now include some new attributes brought over from the Sunlight API. Details on those fields are here.

We plan to fold in Sunlight fields and responses for Committees, Hearings, Floor Updates and Amendments, though that work isn’t finished yet.

As part of the merger process, we also need to deprecate a few features: For instance, the combined API will drop a few older attributes, including the unique identifiers for lawmakers that were used by the now-defunct Thomas website. We’ve also removed Facebook numeric IDs (not account names) for lawmakers, owing to changes in the Facebook API. Details on which fields we’re not supporting are here, organized by specific object (Member, Bill, etc.).

We are also deprecating the Sunlight API’s feature that let developers filter on fields within requests. The ProPublica Congress API has a more traditional RESTful style that has only a few query-string options.

Another feature we need to deprecate is the geographic lookup for members and districts. You likely already have moved off of this, as the lookups have been out of date since before we took over the API. They reflect the early part of the previous Congress, before Virginia, North Carolina and Florida approved new congressional maps for House districts.

As an alternative, we are encouraging developers to use the Google Civic Information API, which is what we use in our Represent news application. If you wish to run your own geographic lookup service, you can use the Pentagon codebase that Sunlight originally developed or a more recently updated project called Represent Boundaries.

With that exception, users of the existing Sunlight Congress API will see no change during this time, and we’ll continue to update the data in it.

Once we’ve completed the process of merging in all of the Sunlight responses and fields, we’ll release version 2 of the ProPublica Congress API.

We’ll be adding some brand-new responses to the ProPublica Congress API, too. Among them are public statements by members of Congress, which we’ve already started showing on Represent. In addition to being able to search the titles of these statements, Represent users can browse them on member pages or by popular subjects like “repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act.”

We welcome your input and feedback at [email protected].

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