Lawmakers look to modernize Congress, but OTA revival isn't high on the list

A new House committee focused on modernizing technology and processes in the legislative branch heard input from more than 30 lawmakers on updating Congress.

US Congress House side Shutterstock photo ID: 156615524 By mdgn editorial use only
 

The House Select Committee on Modernization held its debut hearing on March 12. The panel is charged with developing recommendations on improving legislative technology, communications, business processes, human resources and more.

"Our committee's mandate is broad," said Chairman Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.), adding that lawmakers will examine issues ranging from staff compensation to transparency to the deployment and use of technologies.

More than 30 lawmakers testified on their priorities. Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said that he was working on a bill with top Republican Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to introduce a congressional digital service modeled on the U.S. Digital Service.

"The idea is to assemble a group who can create new systems and online tools. We must also find a secure way to adopt within Congress the latest industry-leading cloud software tools. American businesses are seeing rapid gains in efficiency and usability through adoption of these tools, and we must not allow government to fall behind," Hoyer said.

Members were broadly consistent: The legislative branch needs to adopt new technologies, prioritize cybersecurity, be more transparent and boost staff pay to attract and retain talented employees.

Rep. Bill Foster (D-Ill.), for example, used his time to push for the restoration of funding for the Office of Technology Assessment, the Congressional office that provided scientific and technological advice to lawmakers from 1972 to 1995 until it was a casualty of Republican cost cutting.

However, an OTA revival isn't a top priority of the panel.

Kilmer told FCW after the hearing that "I think it's a little early right now" to push for bringing back the OTA. "We intend to have at least a couple hearings specifically on the subject of technology, looking at how do you have the onboarding of innovation."

Kilmer said that the top priorities included legislative transparency, technology, cybersecurity, as well as staffing recruitment, retention and diversity.

"When this committee was established, it laid out a number of issues that were probably on point in terms of being able to deliver for the American people," he said. "The other thing that was resonant was just the number of people who testified about the dysfunction of the budget and appropriations process and how that rogers up everything else in this process."

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