Congress' experiment with digital democracy

A new congressional World Wide Web site promises to turn citizens into "electronic lobbyists" by letting anyone with Internet access participate in discussions that will shape legislation on electronic government.

Sens. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) and Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.) unveiled the site Thursday. Called the e-Government Project, the site deals solely with issues related to electronic government. But Lieberman said if it proves useful, other sites might be created to permit public participation in decision-making on other issues.

The site offers information and invites discussion on more than 40 e-government issues. It provides a brief discussion of each issue, outlines possible legislation or asks whether government action is needed. It provides electronic forms for sending comments and suggestions on the subject to the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee.

"This is an experiment in interactive legislation," Lieberman said. "We are extending an unprecedented invitation to any interested citizen to participate openly and interactively in the process of writing legislation."

The e-Government Project "is the first time we have had this kind of interactivity" between Congress and the public, said Thompson, who is chairman of the Governmental Affairs Committee. "This presents us with the opportunity to get some substantive ideas at a time when we need them."

There is no longer any question whether e-government will become a reality — it's going to happen, Lieberman said. The unanswered questions are, "How will it occur? What form will it take? How effective will it be?"

Through suggestions and discussion on the Internet "digital citizens" can help Congress determine the answers, he said.

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