How is this database different from traditional government archives?

The database provides researchers with superior tools for both information retrieval, a goal of most official archives, and pattern recognition, which is often difficult to uncover without spending immense amounts of time and effort studying and classifying hundreds if not thousands of records in numerous agency archives. The Pennsylvania Policy Database files all state, public opinion, government spending, and news media records in exclusive and exhaustive categories which are consistently organized over time. It allows users not only to locate essential documents but to recognize and graphically display patterns of policy development across many issue areas, many policy-making venues, and many years. Users can quickly identify turning points and shifts in public attention between policy areas and significant increases or declines in activity as reflected in legislation, governors’ speeches, court decisions, state spending, or media reporting as elected officials track it. All records or abstracts of documents also can be instantly downloaded for further detailed analysis.

What records are included and how was it built?

The database includes House and Senate bills and resolutions, acts, legislative hearings, governors’ budget messages, governors’ executive orders, state expenditures, news reports from across the state, Governing magazine articles, public opinion polls, legislative studies, and Pennsylvania Supreme Court decisions. Working under the supervision of faculty leaders, students at the participating universities abstracted and coded these records into 21 major and more than 200 minor topic areas, using definitions and decision rules the national database. Although keyword search is provided as a supplemental feature, it is not the primary tool for either coding or finding records, as it is in many traditional archives. Keyword search tools require researchers to guess at the terminology to use (sometimes including the proper spelling, capitalization, etc.) and are vulnerable to changes in the meaning of terms over time.

Student researchers use the codebook and assign a code to each data entry. Every dataset is receives double-blind coding, which identifies the main policy that is affected. All categories are mutually exclusive. For those cases that do not clearly have a distinguishable, predominant substantive issue focus, the coder assigns the numerical lower code. We follow the guidelines employed by the national databases in the US and other countries for these rare cases. We are applying two algorithms developed by Temple staff to our bill dataset in addition to our human coder.

Rather, two student workers read and double-blind coded each record working independently, or with one student and a computer using specially created policy coding software. If necessary, a graduate student serving as research manager breaks tie votes. The Commonwealth’s expenditures follow the same major policy topics coding as all other records. Total state spending and general fund balances or deficits are available in constant or current dollars. The project covers the years from 1979 to the most recently completed two-year session of the legislature.

What are the project’s benefits?

The project supplements existing state information-retrieval systems and is consistent with public demands for increased transparency. State policymakers and aides can more efficiently research recurring issues and previously-tried solutions, avoiding the need to reinvent the wheel. The integration of government records, news accounts, and opinion data can help students, educators, and policymakers gain insights into the underlying causes and politics of issues. It outlines a comprehensible, “no-spin” history of an institution – the legislature – whose policy and “PR” outputs reflect partisan debate and conflict but leave the larger institutional story untold. It also codes and provides abstracts and access to record of the top decision-makers in the other two branches, the governor, and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

We also believe the project can help correct a long-standing imbalance in both scholarship and public understanding. The state role in American public policy is under-studied in universities, under-reported by the news media, and not well understood by the general public. Scholars and the news media have paid far more attention to national and urban public policy, perhaps partly because many state capitals are remote from the central campuses of major universities and major metropolitan news outlets.


Construction of the database was made possible by funding from the Pennsylvania General Assembly, a grant from the Department of Community and Economic Development, and by in-kind contributions by the participating universities, including faculty time and overhead costs. Virtually all project funds have directly supported students at Temple and the other participating universities. The database now is maintained solely by Temple University students and with Temple University funds.

From its inception, the project has benefitted enormously from support provided by senior staff officers of the General Assembly and from assistance provided by many other individuals within state agencies, some of whom are still active and some of whom have assumed other positions in public or private life or have retired. They include:

  • The General Assembly Project Advisory Committee Mark Corrigan secretary of the Senate; Greg Jordan, executive director, and Tom Starke, former executive director, Senate Appropriations Committee [R]; Randy Albright, executive director, Senate Appropriations Committee [D]; Clancy Myer, House Parliamentarian; Steve Tuckey, counsel, and Joe Miller, former director of research, House Republican Caucus; Beryl Kuhr, counsel, and Lisa Fleming, budget analyst, House Appropriations Committee [D].

  • The Chief Clerks: Russell Faber (Senate) and Anthony Barbush (House) and Roger Nick, former chief clerk of the House.

  • Commonwealth Offices, Archivists and Records Center Directors Heidi C. Mays, House archivist; Evelyn Andrews, Senate librarian; Kathy A. Sullivan, executive director, Legislative Data Processing Center; Harry F. Parker, former chief, Division of Archives, Historical and Museum Commission; Caryn J. Carr, former director, State Library of Pennsylvania; Judy Townsend, former assistant director, Public Services Division, State Library; Randall Tenor, library supervisor, State Library; Robert Zech, director, Legislative Reference Bureau; David Hostetter, former executive director, Joint State Government Commission; Michael Gasbarre, executive director, Local Government Commission; Philip Durgin, executive director, Legislative Budget and Finance Committee; Barry L. Denk, executive director, Center for Rural Pennsylvania; Mark H. Bergstrom, executive director, Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing; Steve Miskin, press secretary to the House Majority Leader; Gary Tuma and Chuck Ardo, former press secretaries to Governor Rendell; and ML Wernecke, former policy director, Department of Public Welfare.

  • Others Who Helped Nancy Watson, curator, Thornburgh Archives (the Dick Thornburgh Papers), University of Pittsburgh; James P. Quigel, head of historical collections and labor archives, Penn State University; G. Terry Madonna and Berwood Yost, The Franklin and Marshall College Poll; Christopher Pece, chief, public finance analysis branch, United States Bureau of the Census; and Governing Magazine.

The University Advisory Committee (Faculty Leaders and Advisors) Frank Baumgartner, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and formerly of The Pennsylvania State University Beverly Cigler, Distinguished Professor Emerita of Public Policy and Administration, Public Affairs The Pennsylvania State University-Harrisburg David Y. Miller, University of Pittsburgh Donald F. Kettl, University of Maryland and formerly of the University of Pennsylvania Richard A. Stafford, Carnegie Mellon University Paul Wolfgang, Temple University Megan Mullin, Duke University J. Wesley Leckrone, Widener University and former graduate student, Temple University Justin Gollob, Mesa State University and former graduate student, Temple University David Thornburgh, former executive director, Fels Institute of Government, University of Pennsylvania Mike King, former executive director, Legislative Office for Research Liaison, Pennsylvania House of Representatives.

Project Sites

During the project’s history, students at the universities listed below worked on the project under the supervision of faculty leaders at each site.