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Can Congress be a little more like a tech company? Maybe

Chris Cioffi, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in Political News

WASHINGTON — Congress isn’t Google — but it should start acting more like a tech giant.

That was the message members of the House Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress got from a trio of witnesses Thursday who discussed ways the nearly 250-year-old institution could get with the tech-centric times.

“Like we did with C-SPAN in the ’80s, websites in the ’90s and social media in the early 21st century, we need to adopt modern digital tools to improve functions of Congress,” Stephen Dwyer told the panel.

The adviser to House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer described how Democrats develop and maintain popular apps like Dome Watch and Dome Directory, as well as an internal tool called DemCom available to both Senate and House offices.

The apps, especially Dome Watch, get used by thousands of Hill dwellers and the public alike seeking updates on the hot action happening on the House floor and when votes are being held.

“Sometimes I am surprised by the success of Dome Watch. It isn’t groundbreaking technology,” Dwyer said in prepared remarks. “What makes it stand out is how rare that is inside Congress.”

 

One of the committee’s core missions has been to make the House more open to new ways of communicating and less siloed to reduce duplicated work. During the hearing, lawmakers asked the panelists not only what apps could do for Congress, but what Congress could do to foster a spirit of tech innovation.

“It’s clear there’s a bias against change in this institution,” said Rep. Dean Phillips, a Minnesota Democrat. “Who needs to champion at least deploying technological improvements?”

The answer isn’t straightforward in a place that has 535 separate member offices that function independently. That’s also true for the nonpartisan offices tasked with supporting the institution.

“I think there’s a lot of ideas out there,” Dwyer said. “I think we need to do a better job of collecting them.”

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