March 4, 2015 – With a new session of Congress back in swing, now is a good time to introduce yourself to Congress.gov, the official website for federal legislative information. Several years ago the site replaced THOMAS, which served as the legislative information database since 1995. To improve functionality, all information from THOMAS was added to Congress.gov in 2014.
Emily Gellings is a research specialist at Reinhart Boerner Van Deuren S.C., Milwaukee. She is the immediate past president of the Law Librarians Association of Wisconsin. She received her Masters of Library and Information Science from UW-Milwaukee.
Gelling is a member of the Law Libraries Association of Wisconsin (LLAW), a chapter of the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL). LLAW's Public Relations Committee coordinates regular contributions by its members to InsideTrack.
The variety of information on Congress.gov is vast and is only growing. Legislative information is a key area for the site, containing both historical and current material. Full text legislation is available back to 1993 and full text committee reports and congressional records back to 1995. More recent additions to the site include House Committee hearing videos, nomination information, and appropriations tables.
New information is constantly being added to the site, so if you've previously not found something on the Congress.gov, it's worth a second look. The Library of Congress has announced plans to add treaties and Senate and House Executive communications soon.
More Sophisticated than THOMAS
Congress.gov is not simply a new interface for THOMAS, but in fact offers more sophisticated searching and browsing, monitoring capabilities, and even an iPhone and iPad app. Searching is more intuitive than on THOMAS, and has been replaced with a more Google-like search that allows searching across multiple congressional sessions at once.
Making Congress.gov work for you is simple by creating a personalized account. By doing so, users can save searches and monitor legislative information. Signing up for an account is easy and only requires a valid email address.
Once you’re signed in, you can save searches from within the site. After running a search, select the Save this Search link on the search results page. Access previously saved searches from the Your Account page, which can be found under your username in the upper-left hand corner of all pages on Congress.gov. Click on the title of any saved search to rerun the search.
Another benefit of creating an account is the ability to create alerts. Alerts can monitor bill pages, member profiles, or the Congressional Record. To set up an alert to monitor a current bill, open the bill information page for the bill you're interested in. Select Get Alerts, which is located under the bill title. Email alerts will be sent out anytime there is new information added regarding your bill.
To sign up for Congressional Record alerts, select the link for Congressional Record under the Congress.gov at the top of each page. Select the Get Alerts link under the Congress Record banner. You will receive an email alert will each time the Congressional Record is updated.
If you're having trouble using the site, or researching any legislative information, Congress.gov links to Ask a Law Librarian. Librarians from the Library of Congress are available to help with research via email or phone. A research librarian at your firm or State Law Library can also assist with congressional legislative research.