Carol M. Morrissey has been a Legislative Specialist in Washington, D.C. for 14 years. She is a lawyer and legislative expert, and has authored a Congressional update column for LLRX.com, called CongressLine, since 1996.
GalleryWatch.com, which promotes itself as "The Dot Com Company for Legislative Professionals," is a new online legislative tracking service which has boldly arrived in Washington and is taking the town by storm. The brainchild of Texan Brent Goleman, GalleryWatch was originally founded in 1996 as a Texas state legislative tracking service. Mr. Goleman has come to Washington to parlay the legislative and technical experience he gathered at the state level to the Federal arena. Although GalleryWatch's recent arrival on the legislative scene has held them back archivally (the system is current through the 105th Congress for some files, the 106th for most), it is unique in its packaging and customization of information.
Welcome to GalleryWatch
The initial sign-on page offers you a choice of GalleryWatch - Federal or GalleryWatch -Texas. For purposes of this article, we will click on the "Federal" option - which brings you to the "Welcome" or My GalleryWatch screen, which features a whole host of pull down menus and a customized layout. This customization feature allows the user to manipulate the specific information to be displayed on their initial screen. For example, my screen permits me to do a "quick search" for bills, view a "snapshot" of tracked bills, see headline news, press releases, new regulations, daily bills introduced and to check floor status. I have chosen, for the time being, not to display information on government documents, markups, budgeting and GalleryWatch announcements. This initial page is what GalleryWatch is all about; timely and easy access to legislative information.
Searching for Legislation
From your Welcome page or anywhere in the database, you have access to the pull down menus - Congress, Tracking, Notify Me, News, Elections, Federal Government and the ubiquitous Site Map. Legislative professionals have high expectations in regard to the online legislative systems they use, and they certainly expect them to be able to search and track bills correctly and efficiently. The search bill function is available under Congress and tracking (not surprisingly) is accessed through Tracking. Congress houses the meat and potatoes of GalleryWatch, allowing the user to not only search bills, but to search the Congressional Record and to locate committee, floor, member or vote information.
The Search Screen
The bill search screen offers the options of a quick search (if the bill number is known), subject search (using the Congressional Research Service subject categories) or an advanced full text search. The advanced search feature allows for word as well as phrase searching. Your finished search can be saved and added to the "Saved Search" file to be run either by you or GalleryWatch at a later time. At this point, you can directly "Add to Track" or add the bills in your search results to a tracking file.
Now that you have the results of your bill search, its time to find out more information. GalleryWatch provides Basic Bill Information (title, sponsor, committees), an Index to Bill Information (access to a full history, floor amendments, text, press release, etc.) and for bills with more than one version, there is a line-by-line comparison. If there is a committee report associated with your bill, a link to the report will appear on the bill information screen. Committee reports are not available in a separate file of their own. A nice feature included under Basic Bill Information is the “Personal/Group Notes Field.” New notes appear on the MyGalleryWatch page and can be shared or personal.
Also, a word to the wise concerning printing. The bill text can be printed from the bill information page, but be aware that unless you choose the "full display" option, it will print by the screen. Pdf. versions are currently not available, but will be soon.
Once you have perfected and saved your search (and this applies to all searchable files), you may invoke the Notify Me feature. GalleryWatch will automatically run your search for you and notify you of the results by e-mail. This service is also available for daily bill, regulation, committee schedule and House and Senate floor information notification. Pager notification is available for monitoring floor (the user gets a page within minutes) and committee actions (the user will be notified that day).
GalleryWatch will track bills, the federal register (agency) and the statutes (Unites States Code.) To create a new or edit an existing track, go to Edit Tracks. This screen is very straightforward, you add your legislative information and then name it - abbreviations and IDs are also options. From this file a user can also request a report on their tracked bills using the ID reporting function.
Most of the information contained under Congress is self-explanatory - for example, "Committee" contains daily, upcoming and recently posted committee schedule information. However, one file I have found to be very helpful and whose description is confusing is "Reports." Experienced legislative specialists may expect to find House and Senate committee reports here, but in fact it contains bill and committee information and status. For those clients who do not subscribe to the Congressional Record, the House and Senate Daily Report is a wonderful way to keep abreast of bill activity.
News, Elections and Federal Government
The News file does not confine itself purely to politics. It runs the gamut from Headline News to Hill Events (fundraisers), to links to the top media Websites and Hill Insider News (gossip). The Headline News file is searchable.
Elections covers Presidential and Congressional candidates. It includes news articles, contribution and fundraising information. The Federal Government file includes agency information (agency contacts and Websites), and the searchable Federal Register and United States Code. There is also an "Executive" component that is supposed to contain White House press releases. However, this file does not seem to receive the attention it deserves, and information is often out of date. The MyGalleryWatch page provides much more current White House information.
GalleryWatch is still working on enhancing its repertoire. Markup information is now offered through a relationship with the National Journal magazine. Budget and appropriations information is now available on GalleryWatch through USBudget.com. They currently do not have any hearing information online, although they are addressing that void in a serious manner. The committee schedule files are not searchable and suffer from the same archival drawback as the rest of the database. Also, for those of you out there who bill your time for a living, the system lacks an accounting feature.
GalleryWatch is an ambitious system, and I am impressed with its capabilities. GalleryWatch also understands the value of customer support and customer input. It has some issues that need to be addressed, but it is a sound and dependable product.