Hill hackathon tackles transparency, efficiency

The Congressional Hackathon included pitches from tech groups to improve citizens' access to government, including the House Clerk's Office's plans to begin redlining and markup history of legislation by Jan. 1.

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The Congressional Hackathon included pitches from tech groups to improve citizens' access to government, including the House Office of the Clerk's plans to begin posting the redlining and markup history of legislation by Jan. 1.

At the third Congressional Hackathon Nov. 30, House Office of the Clerk Senior Systems Analyst Kirsten Gullickson said the tool for posting comparisons of how new bills will change existing law has been built, and "our staff is ready to go Jan. 1."

A track-changes history to show how legislation is changed over time, much like Microsoft and Google products show revisions to text documents, has long been pushed by transparency advocates. Gullickson noted, however, that the House Clerk's tool "is different than a Microsoft Word comparison because, particularly if you get multiple pages in the comparison, that tool will compare the entire document" rather than section-by-section or character-by-character.

"We can build really smart tools" now that bills are posted online in XML format, she added.

Also at the hackathon, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and member of the White House Office of American Innovation and former McCarthy aide Matt Lira emphasized the importance of tech in promoting bipartisanship in the name of government efficiency and institutional reform.

McCarthy called Congress's passage of the Modernizing Government Technology Act, included in the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, "one of the most essential things that will happen in the short time here."

The OpenGov Foundation pitched and demoed its Article One tool, a tech solution to improve constituents' experiences in calling members of Congress while reducing the workload of staffers.

OpenGov Foundation Executive Director Seamus Kraft said the tool saved the staff of Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), whose office used it over the Thanksgiving holiday, about 12 hours that would have otherwise been spent on manual work.

Stephen Dwyer, a senior advisor to Hoyer, announced his office plans to release "Whip Watch 2.0," an updated version of a mobile app that allows the public to track the breakdowns on legislative votes as they happen.

Josh Tauberer, founder of the open data legislation and voting record tracking website govtrack.us, said his site now monitors legislative provisions over time, including those included into omnibus bills. Tauberer also said his site has added a Facebook messenger bot, as well as a section to track congressional misconduct.

Other pitches at the hackathon were made by teams including the Library of Congress, the Technology Transformation Service's cloud.gov platform within the General Service Administration, as well as various third-party legislative transparency advocates.

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