Finalize a new system that allows the American people to easily track how amendments change legislation and the impact of proposed legislation to current law.

When developing and passing legislation, it’s important for constituents and Members of Congress alike to understand how bills and amendments will impact current laws and legislation. But the U. S. Congress lacks the technological capabilities to efficiently compare legislative changes. In some cases, amendments and edits are made by hand—making it immensely difficult to ensure that documents are fully up to date. And the U. S. Congress falls behind state legislatures in some cases. As Vice-Chair Graves noted in the May 10 hearing:

“Many Members come out of the general assemblies in the states, and the technology that’s being utilized in the states is remarkable for comparative language perspectives, being able to see how does a proposed law or an amendment interface or fit within existing law. And that’s something we don’t have access to here as Members of Congress.”
Vice Chair Tom Graves, May 10, 2019

To address this concern, the second recommendation made by the Committee again builds upon previous endeavors. The Comparative Print Project was established in the House Rules for the 115th Congress (Rule XXI, Clause 12) to help Members and staff accurately compare legislative text by using computational text analysis.[43] Using a computational approach avoids human error, making it easier and more efficient to compare edits and amendments.

Specifically, the Comparative Print Project was directed to complete three “phases”: 1) a document-to-document comparison, 2) how an amendment changes current law, and 3) how an amendment changes an ongoing legislative proposal. Phase One of the Comparative Print Project concluded in 2017 and can be found for congressional staff use at the website BillCompare.House.Gov. Figure 1.1 below offers an example of comparative print. Phase 2 and Phase 3 are currently underway, and according to Mr. Reeves from the House Clerk’s Office, the project is “in the 90 percent range” of being completed.[44]

Figure 1.1: “Track Changes for Legislation” – An example of a comparative print[45]

 report-chapter3.1-figure1.1

 

Despite this success, the Committee identified possible areas of concern, and recommended adjustments to the Comparative Print Project to ensure greater transparency and efficiency for all Members and their constituents. First, the Committee emphasized the need for this resource to be available for House-wide use. Currently, the Comparative Print Project is accessible on a limited basis, as only the Office of the Legislative Counsel and the Rules Committee have access to the amendment comparison tool. This creates a “bottleneck” within the Office of Legislative Counsel, as they address House-wide questions. In his testimony to the Committee on May 10, Mr. Reeves expressed an intention to make this tool available to all House offices.[46]

Second, the Committee recommended that resources be provided to train and support staff as they learn the new comparative print application. The Committee tasked the Clerk’s Office to develop training, as well as anticipate challenges to ensure a smooth transition. The Comparative Print Project holds profound possibilities for how Congress develops legislation and communicates statutory changes to the American people. A smooth transition and robust understanding across Congress is essential to the success of this project.

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