Senators turn to electronic assistants
- By William Matthews
- Dec 13, 2000
Senators, who typically turn to aides bearing briefing books and position
papers when they need key facts during hearings and meetings, likely will
rely increasingly on electronic assistants during the upcoming 107th Congress.
The Senate Republican Conference is providing the 50 Republican senators
with wireless intranet service that will make issue briefings, daily schedules,
instructions from the Senate leadership and other information available
at the press of a button on a handheld computer or even a cellular phone.
Instead of hauling around three-ring binders bulging with information — or handing them to an aide to carry — senators will be able to access
information via a personal digital assistant (PDA), said Tim Petty, director
of information resources for the Technology Department of the Senate Republican
It will be "quick and simple" to log in to a Republican intranet and
download information from about three dozen databases that are being set
up. The databases will hold information arranged by topic, such as trade
policy with China, environmental issues or foreign affairs, Petty said.
To make it even simpler, senators will be able to specify the kind of
information they want and it will automatically be sent to them. The system
will automatically pump out information based on senators' committee assignments,
constituent interests and personal preferences, Petty said.
"Once it's set up, the information will come to you. All you will have
to do is push the right button," he said.
Initially, senators and their aides will have to connect to the system
through desktop computers, he said. But the system is expected to go wireless
quickly. Then briefing papers, speeches, daily schedules and announcements
will be accessible from anywhere.
Anywhere, that is, except the Senate floor, where rules based on centuries
of tradition ban the presence of computers and cell phones. However, there
are no prohibitions against using wireless devices in hearing rooms or elsewhere
in the Capitol complex.
The Republicans' service is being set up by AvantGo Inc., a California-based
company that produces software designed to deliver Web-based content via
networks to handheld computers and Internet-enabled phones. AvantGo usually
works with companies that want to deliver business information to their
mobile employees, customers, suppliers or partners.
How will the tradition-encrusted Senate take to this new technology?
"Individually, a lot of senators and staffers are already using PDAs and
wireless devices," Petty said.