Text Analysis of Government Spending Bills

Fellows: Matthew Heston, Madian Khabsa, Vrushank Vora, Ellery Wulczyn
Data Science Mentor(s): Joe Walsh
Project Partner: Sunlight Foundation, Chicago Harris

Government legislation is not designed for readability, and their volumes of text are not easily analyzed. Advocacy and research groups would like a way to digest bills quickly, filtering out the bureaucratic jargon and leaving the important details. The Sunlight Foundation is a nonpartisan nonprofit that uses technology to make governments more accountable. Their API for federal bills are valuable streams of legislative text that can be used for analysis given the right tools.

In 2014, we worked with Christopher Berry from the Harris School of Public Policy to develop tools to transform text into usable data for fast, in-depth analysis. The first use case was spending bills; we created a database of federal spending that identifies and organizes the what, where, how much, and who from legislature. Ideally, these tools will be universal, enabling organizations to search legislature for other topics as well.

We have made tremendous progress on this project over the past few years. You can read about it here.