We are four friends and former Congressional staffers from both sides of the aisle:

We share an insatiable desire to make Congress work better for the American people, but we can’t do it alone.

With generous support from Google, Microsoft, and the Harvard Kennedy School, Hack4Congress is a "not-just-for-technologists" hackathon aimed at crowd sourcing innovations to fix Congress taking place this Thursday and Friday at Google's HQ in Washington DC.

Please take a minute to check out the #Hack4Congress challenges proposed by many of your own Congressmen and Senators, register, participate, and of course ASK US ANYTHING!

Seamus's proof. Ted's proof! Danielle's proof.

Edit: Hey reddit. Thank you for an incredible AMA sesh! Thanks to Senators Cornyn, Booker and Moran as well as Rep. Jared Polis for thoughtful questions and engagement. We appreciate the opportunity to shed some light on the weird, opaque and outmoded ways Congress really does its job. Keep ‘em coming, and we will keep responding throughout the week!

Register for the hackathon itself on Thursday and Friday if you’re in DC.

If you’re not in D.C., sign up to stay in touch! You can also participate remotely by both proposing Congressional hacking challenges for participants to build and joining the #Hack4Congress Slack channel. Drop us a note to be added to Slack: sayhello at opengovfoundation dot org.

In #Hack4Congress We Trust,

Matt Lira, Danielle Olvieto, Ted Henderson and Seamus Kraft

Comments: 147 • Responses: 75  • Date: 

corybooker36 karma

I sent this letter with Senator McCaskill to my colleagues on the Senate Rules Committee on some of the issues we see:


I’m always looking for more input and ideas. What else can I do? Any ideas for how I can use technology to improve service for my constituents in New Jersey?

Hack4Congress12 karma

Senator Booker, this is a terrific start towards making the Senate more open, more modern and efficient. The recommendations in here would add up to a sea change for the Senate were they to be adopted. A couple of immediate thoughts: have you started getting other Senators behind this? We found in the House, to transform its legislative data from paper-based formats to the awesome place we are today, a large coalition of bipartisan support is crucial. (There are some other Dem and GOP Senators involved with #Hack4Congress I suspect could be interested in working with you...Thune and Cornyn come to immediate mind.) Another thought: can you hold hearings on this issue? Beyond building a team of other Senators behind these modernization efforts, drawing public and press scrutiny on the scope of the challenges posed in your letter would be of enormous help. More on your second question in a moment. Thank you for getting engaged and for your leadership! - Seamus K

udayd8 karma

Senator Booker, I really like the thought of making data available as XML. I would also recommend that, should you be able to make progress on this, you explore how to implement this with developers like those working with #Hack4Congress. Personally, I like a well-documented API that outputs data in JSON format. As a civic application developer, I appreciate getting just the data I need in JSON, which the reduces overall size of the data and allows my application(s) to parse and output data quickly.

Anyway, thank you for pushing your colleagues to modernize how information is shared with the public.

Hack4Congress4 karma

<3 JSON. I hope we can push the Architect of the Capitol to make a public JSON API with the new vote alert system they are building. There is no good excuse not to. -Ted

Hack4Congress4 karma

Thanks for keeping the civic tech community informed of the challenges you are facing in Congress, Mr. Booker. I would also point out that as a Senator, you are in a great position to encourage the Secretary of the Senate and the Architect of the Capitol to make their data open and machine readable. For instance, we've heard the AoC is planning to update the voting clocks that Capitol Bells uses to make vote alerts public to users across the country, but they haven't committed to publicly exposing this new system's API. There's a big risk there that they will actually be CLOSING OFF data that is and should be public with this improvement project. -Ted

Hack4Congress3 karma

Also, is Senator McCaskill coming to #Hack4Congress and posting challenges?!? - Seamus

Hack4Congress2 karma

On getting New Jersey constituents more involved and receiving better service, have you engaged with them on specific legislation? Crowdsourcing your work - from bills to letters - with a tool like Madison would make a big difference as it would give your constituents an easy, direct voice in what you do on their behalf...and it would make it easier for your staff to see, listen to and respond to constituents. Another idea is a constituent service service a la 311 that cities are using to harness mobile and modern communications tech to improve casework. Would love to discuss more at #Hack4Congress if you’re open to it. Looking forward to seeing you there! - Seamus K

Hack4Congress2 karma

Thanks for engaging on Reddit, Senator Booker! In addition to what Seamus suggested, I would recommend using the convening power of being a Senator to bring innovators together to explore this issue; once people see the possibilities, momentum builds quickly. Also, my fellow Harvard fellow Chris Quinn says hi! - Matt

Hack4Congress2 karma

Senator Booker--another great way you could engage with your constituents is to host a #Hack4Congress Newark event. I'm certain New Jerseyans would have a lot of amazing ideas and would come up with brilliant products that better integrate technology in the Senate, your district offices and your DC office. Thanks again for engaging with us! -Danielle

jaredpolis26 karma

As a member of Congress, I just want to let you know how much I appreciate #hack4congress

We are very limited in our internal resources and you all can really help our democracy work better and be more responsive!

My question is, how can we build upon this initial event to make permanent change and take it to the next level?

Also, in what way can we express appreciation to those who complete some of the tasks submitted?

Hack4Congress10 karma

Thank you for your participation, Congressman Polis! We would like to see #Hack4Congress develop into national movement. How would you feel about helping us plan a #Hack4Congress event in Denver? Denver is one of America's largest tech hubs, so we need to get the word out to all those hackers that there are countless opportunities to make an impact hacking Congress. -Ted

jaredpolis4 karma

Well I was thinking more Boulder or Fort Collins.... But I guess Denver will do in a pinch ;)

Hack4Congress7 karma

How about the first ever ski-hack-4-congress from the gondolas at Vail? They've all got wifi access already, and it's in your district. Should be easy, right? -Ted

Hack4Congress5 karma

Thanks for engaging on Reddit, Rep. Polis! For many Americans, this kind of innovative approach to making Congress work better is something they’re passionate about. Open the doors and find ways for their enthusiasm, experiences and skills to have an impact. Also, on a local Boulder issue, please encourage Illegal Pete’s to become a national chain. - Matt

Hack4Congress3 karma

Thanks Jared! In my opinion, one way of taking it to the next level would be to engage with your colleagues in both caucuses to show them what a difference some of these hacks can make. Hopefully with enough momentum Leadership, the Architect of the Capitol, the Clerk and others will move forward on implementing some of these amazing ideas that would really streamline processes in the House. In response to expressing your appreciation, stop by #Hack4Congress Thursday and Friday! -Danielle

Hack4Congress2 karma

Thanks Congressman Polis. First off, the winners of the first three #Hack4Congress events are coming back to Capitol Hill on May 12th for a “Shark Tank-style” final pitch session. Would love to have you and your staff join. Feedback from the pros like you will help get the projects to the next level. In my opinion, though, the permanent change we are seeking comes down to changing the culture of Congress. That involves rules, procedures and “how business gets done” changes...going from “Hey, I posted a bill for public comment in Madison!” to “All legislation and official documents like letters should be open for public comment in one place for X days before action.” We’ve made that possible...now it is time for the people who write the House and Senate rules to adopt what we’ve built (open source and free of charge). And we will give each participating Member like you a way to thank and engage directly with the folks who have submitted challenges and participated after the fact. But the best way would be to come by Thursday and Friday and thank everyone yourself. Bring some Congressmember friends, too! - Seamus K

jaredpolis5 karma

That's the day of my 40th birthday!

Hack4Congress3 karma

And it's two days before I turn 30! We are grizzled civic tech veterans. - Seamus

Hack4Congress2 karma

Joint birthday party? -Ted

Satansanta9415 karma

What is something that the people should be made aware of? What can we do to support your work?

Hack4Congress24 karma

The biggest thing people should know about #Hack4Congress is that the problems holding back Congress from being more efficient, effective and open with tech are real and frustrating as heck...but solvable and there are good people inside Congress AND outside like me and you who are working on them. Just look at the problems being posted by people like Senator John Thune or Congressman Jared Polis from Colorado: overhauling how Congressional hearings work with modern techonlogy so that citizens can engage and participate remotely and not have to show up in D.C. and take days off of work, or making Congressional websites more accessible, understandable and user-friendly with modern design. These are problems that are slowing down our democracy and preventing citizens from really understanding what Congress is doing and how their elected officials represent them.

I spent 4 years working on these issues in Congress, and now two at The OpenGov Foundation It’s hard, but when people come together from inside AND outside government, we can really hack Congress for the better.

Seamus K

Hack4Congress9 karma

It would be awesome to have your support for #Hack4Congress. The best thing you can do is propose challenges for people to work on Thursday and Friday, then if you can, join in if you’re in the D.C. area or participate remotely via Slack. Here’s the link to register if you can join us in person, and if you want to participate remotely, just email us at sayhello at opengovfoundation dot org and we’ll get you added to the channel. Thanks for the question! - Danielle O

SpacemanSlob14 karma

Given the partisan rancor in the recent past, what makes you believe that a quorum of the 538 members of Congress want a more streamlined and efficient process?

Hack4Congress11 karma

Many Members of Congress are as frustrated by the broken process as the public-at-large; they see the infrastructure limitations up close everyday. Especially for those who’ve been recently elected, stepping into Congress can be like stepping backwards in time, as many of the processes are still based on out-of-date technology and assumptions. Regardless of your political ideology, this fundamental disconnect with modern society is a significant drag on Congressional effectiveness. - Matt

SpacemanSlob2 karma

While I don't disagree with what you've stated, I question the assumption that "effectiveness" is what all elected officials strive for

AeroHil3 karma

i think the effectiveness can be educated over time. But the first thing to change is to get members of congress to embrace change, rather than stick to the systematic, outdated processes.

Hack4Congress1 karma

Great point, AeroHil!

senjohncornyn10 karma

One of the primary challenges facing us as elected officials is maintaining effective communication channels with the people we have a fiduciary duty to represent. Those communication channels are continuously changing and growing as technology advances. What is one of your favorite tools for facilitating multilateral conversations with large audiences?

Hack4Congress5 karma

Thanks for engaging Senator! While there are many great platforms out there; my current personal favorites are Quora, Reddit and Madison. - Matt

Hack4Congress2 karma

Thank you for the question, Senator Cornyn. I think the communication tools currently available are woefully incapable of facilitating conversations at the scale necessary to provide constituents with legitimate representation. This is a problem we are working on at my company, Capitol Bells, Inc., by enabling constituents to better share their political positions with each other and compare themselves to their representatives. More importantly this is a challenge we need thousands more people to be working on, and one that I hope receives a lot of attention at Hack4Congress. How can Congress function as a democracy without knowing the will of the people? -Ted

whoopiepie127 karma

It looks like a few challenges have been submitted by Members of Congress. Which one is the most important?

Hack4Congress3 karma

I don't think there is a challenge that is more or less important. The challenges submitted by Members and their staff exemplify the need to hack Congress and no one challenge is better than another. My favorite challenge is one submitted by a staffer in Rep. DeFazio's office about streamlining the tour process for staffers. Thousands of families visit DC every year Member offices organize and provide tours of the Capitol or the White House, which can often be the most exciting part, but there really is no system for staffers to track and manage the requests from their constituents. This may not solve all the dysfunction in Congress, but it can efficiency can go a long way! -Danielle

JerryMoran6 karma

How can Congress better harness technology to improve the operation and value of Congressional hearings on Capitol Hill?

Hack4Congress5 karma

Thank you, Senator Moran. As each new era of communications has emerged, Congress has updated how it conducts legislative business to match the times; these changes have been more than cosmetic, but have included many substantive reforms. This is more than good messaging, it has been essential to Congress’ ability to build and maintain public support for major policy reforms. One need only look at the physical changes to a modern hearing room to see how integrated television became to daily business. The digital age is the ultimate opportunity to build a Congress that listens, engages and gets results for the American public. As a Senator, you have the ability to bring the best minds together to explore how to do this and what new approaches to try; from my perspective, that would be a great first step. Thanks for engaging on Reddit! - Matt

Plasticdonkey5 karma

For the former Hill staffers: How do you convince Congress to spend funds on recruiting, training and keeping talented staff like yourselves and giving them the technology they need to better serve the lawmaking process and their constituencies?

Hack4Congress3 karma

That's a terrific question. Personally, I had to leave Congress to take our work with Madison to any semblance of the next level...literally, there was no money and no staff time to continue it beyond the hacked together spaghetti code we had (and that worked, but like a science project works...once and with one's fingers crossed). Realistically, I don't think we are quite there yet with Congress. We are barely there with the Executive Branch and their nascent programs like 18F, the US Digital Service and the Presidential Innovation Fellowship. But I do know there's a Congressional Innovation Fellowship in the works (on a white board/white paper somewhere). This is one of the long-term goals of #Hack4Congress, that is, proving that what you suggest is really, truly, dearly needed....yesterday. Thanks, plasticdonkey. - Seamus

imafastcar5 karma

How are you posting this right now? Won't they know what you're doing?

Hack4Congress9 karma

More than a dozen Members of Congress certainly know what we are doing, and they are supportive, but I think it would be great to get the word out to every single one of them that we're here to hack Congress for the better. -Ted

dschuma4 karma

Hey folks, I've spent a lot of time working with three of you, and I wonder what you think are the best approaches to fostering inside-outside collaboration between outside hackers, insider coders, and the broader community of folks who care about public access to the workings of Congress?

Hack4Congress3 karma

Hi dschuma! The best approach I’ve found is simply showing up (in person and offline), and demonstrating that you give a damn and are really interested in making Congress work better. That may sound deceptively straight-forward, but it’s what works in the House and the Senate. What the Congressional Data Coalition, for example, has done to shed light on the state of Congressional legislative data is a model for everyone to follow. Instead of playing “gotcha,” the people inside government - in the House Clerk’s office, or in Speaker Boehner’s leadership office, for example - who had a stake in making the House and Senate work better and had the problem of not knowing exactly how to modernize legislative information from paper-based formats to open data formats sat down again and again and again over a period of a couple of years with people like us outside of government who could help. This kind of collaboration takes trust and time, but you gotta start somewhere. That’s what #Hack4Congress is all about. Thank you! - Seamus K

Hack4Congress3 karma

What’s up dschuma? My approach has been seated in the philosophy of “monkey-see monkey-do.” I haven’t been interested in waiting around for the insider coders to get the green light to do what they want and need to do; as you know we could be waiting for years for that. Since there is so much we can do from the outside “without their permission”, we can build useful tools the legislative branch should be building themselves, and hopefully inspire them to take action. However, are you are also aware, we can’t do everything without official cooperation. There is a lot of data and information services that have been kept under lock and key that need to be made public, like live vote tallies. Imagine all the fun ways we could use that data? -Ted

Hack4Congress2 karma

As a community, we need to more purposefully cultivate internal change agents; while politics always introduces an element of uncertainty, we should continually focus on building the next generation of leaders interested in modernizing Congressional institutions - both at the Member and staff level. Keeping in mind that this kind of reform, and the opportunity it creates, is infectious; many of the most ardent supporters of these kinds of reforms were once ambivalent or opposed to them. Reforming Congress is a marathon, not a sprint; or more accurately, a series of sprints occurring around each major transition. Cultivating and preparing the community to seize those moments is key. - Matt

learath4 karma

Which lobbyists do you and your representatives work for?

Hack4Congress7 karma

The ones who Congressmen know the best, see the most, and whom get them the most campaign money. That's my very cynical answer, but it is definitley more complicated than that. There is tons of information out there trying to get to the eyes and ears of these guys, but Members of Congress are understaffed, have terrible access to technology, and are very limited in how they filter out the junk. So what do they end up doing? They take the path of least resistance, the place where all their friends, colleagues, leadership, and campaign money tell them to go. It sucks, and that is #Hack4Congress's goal to inspire more hackers to look at these issues is so important. -Ted

TTTT273 karma

I still don't understand what you are trying to accomplish or asking us to do or how "hacking congress" would be a good idea.

Could you give me an elevator-speech length description of what you are trying to accomplish? Is this about promoting a specific agenda or issue, or about helping Congress itself run better? If the latter, how do you define "running better"? Passing more laws? Better constituent service? Or something else entirely?


Hack4Congress2 karma

Hi TTTT27, thanks for your comment. #Hack4Congress isn't promoting a specific agenda or issue. That said, #Hack4Congress is open ended. The four of us hack Congress because it's what we are passionate about, and we see it as a growing public movement. We want to crowd source the "challenges" Congress faces from lawmakers and citizens alike, and draw in people from all backgrounds to think outside the box to build solutions to those challenges. So, how do you define "running better?" -Ted

OoohMamaJohnnyBravo7 karma

What exactly does "hack congress" mean? Are you hacking computers in Congress? Why do you use so many buzzwords like this is some sort of bullshit marketing conference?

Hack4Congress2 karma

Thanks for the question. Hacking Congress in this instance does not mean hacking computer in Congress. That would not go well for anyone. And point taken on the buzzwords. What #Hack4Congress is all about is a) surfacing the real and actual problems that are preventing Congress from entering the 21st Century with how the institution works, how you access your legislature, and how they serve you as a constituent. b) Introducing Congress to the whole world of civic hacking. Most members and staff have 0 idea what civic hacking, open source software, open data, etc actually is and how it can improve the work they and their colleagues do. c) Jump starting projects that can live on far past the hackathon. Showing Congress that everyday people came together and made progress on solving an actual congressional problem constitutes a sea change. We’re proving that “it’s too hard,” or “I don’t know how to do any different” is no longer acceptable when it comes to how Congress operates. Thanks. - Seamus K

Hack4Congress2 karma

If you've got a minute, check out what people built in Cambridge at the first Hack4Congress to give you an head of what I'm talking about. - Seamus

CerealPlayer3 karma

This is an amazing initiative, and much needed, thank you! Was there a specific moment where you realized that the system wasn't working, and that you needed to do something to change it, or was it more of a gradual realization?

Hack4Congress4 karma

Hey CP, it was a gradual realization for me. Naively I thought the dysfunction related to science and energy issues on the Hill was a function of ignorance and propaganda, and that my background in engineering and climate science could be put to work bringing rational thought to the debate. It took only a few months as a full-time congressional staffer to realize that the problems were much more systemic. The problem wasn't unique to scientific issues; the corruption and dysfunction in Congress is preventing us from addressing essentially every public issue. That's when I came to the conclusion that we need to hack Congress itself if we want to hack any individual issue areas. -Ted

Hack4Congress4 karma

For me, it was more of a gradual realization. Watching my boss and our office become frustrated with simple things like introducing legislation, communicating with constituents effectively, and just modernizing our office, I realized that technology could really make an impact in our day to day work as well as Congress as a whole. I love and appreciate the institution that is Congress, but I also love the way that technology can disrupt that institution and make it better. And I love that this is an issue we can all get behind, regardless of ideals or political affiliation. -Danielle

Hack4Congress3 karma

At first, I exclusively approached the use of technology as primarily a strategic tool, to be used to improve communications or achieve a political objective. Three distinct experiences expanded my perspective and I ultimately determined that leveraging it to modernize institutions was a much more important opportunity. At the 2010 Personal Democracy Forum, I witnessed a speech by then-CTO of the US Aneesh Chopra on rethinking government; for me, it was a lightbulb moment that opened the door to the possibilities of this kind of reform. After that, my experiences working in the House Minority Whip’s office on a few special projects generated a significant public response demonstrated to me that these kinds of reforms could work within Congress - not just the government-at-large. Lastly, the bipartisan work we undertook as we established our new Majority proved that this kind of progress can be made and that it can be made together - even in the most polarized, partisan environments. There are many reasons to be cynical about Congress today, this area is not one of them; there is a real opportunity to change the institution, but they need the kind of expertise that Redditors bring to the table to get it right. - Matt

OperationDepuzzle2 karma

Why can Congress piss away billions of dollars on bullshit, but they can't pay a dedicated team to deal with their technology issues? Why should a large number of people want to donate their time and talent to something that is unlikely to be adopted, in order to benefit a group of people who work against our interests?

Hack4Congress7 karma

As a taxpayer and citizen, it’s frustrating when I see stories of bridges to nowhere or Downtown Abbey-decorated offices and yet Congressional hiring/infrastructure investments like a dedicated tech team don’t get addressed. Makes me mad as hell, actually. But that’s why I am working hard on filling that resource (time, money, staff) gap with #Hack4Congress and at non-profit The OpenGov Foundation I help to run. I was on Capitol Hill for four years, and I can’t tell you how many times I saw an office buy yet another new printer but not invest in a staffer who can properly use the Internet to help modernize how that office functions. Really, it’s the same dynamic as America’s bridges and roads. Both that infrastructure and the tech/information infrastructure of Congress is crumbling. Right now under our government’s current spending and budget issues, I don’t see anything close to an Apollo Program moment for Congressional technology coming any time soon, just like I don’t see a coast-to-coast overhaul of our highways coming in the near term. So it’s not going to get done and it will get worse unless people who are paying attention like you and me step up and do what we can right now. What comes out of the civic technology world can help Congress - and the federal government as a whole - do way more with the same staff and budget resources they have today. It’s not a silver bullet solution, but it is a start. Thank you for asking this question...it’s at the heart of everything we are doing. - Seamus

krues8dr3 karma

Why can Congress piss away billions of dollars on bullshit, but they can't pay a dedicated team to deal with their technology issues?

To be fair, the executive branch has created two funded organizations to this effect, in the form of 18F and USDS. Both have been rather successful in the brief time they've been around (about a year)

Hack4Congress3 karma

Yeah, it would be great if the legislative branch could follow suit. -Ted

Hack4Congress3 karma

Personally, I feel that Congress should make smart investments towards upgrading the tools and infrastructure they use to build relationships with the American public. As Todd Park demonstrated in the Executive, when combined with smart process reforms, you can actually make these investments AND save money. But we should do both, not just the latter. Why? Because Congress - particularly the House of Representatives - is designed to be responsive to the public’s needs. Congress hides behind the excuse of overload, while reducing the number of people dedicated to fostering meaningful public engagement; as a citizen, you should not accept overload as an answer. It is the institution’s job to stay current with the times and to build new experiences that are capable of effectively engaging the public. There are good people, both inside and outside of the institution, but they need a culture more supportive of experimentation and innovation - as citizens, you should demand it. Given what technology makes possible today, in the words of Clay Shirky, “There's no such thing as information overload — only filter failure.” If you want a more responsive legislative process, then this kind of reform should be among your top priorities. - Matt

ballbag19882 karma

Does it bother you that more of the American population is concerned with some guy eating vegan, than they are about how their country works?

Hack4Congress2 karma

Well, more of the reddit-American population...and no. Government - even hacking Congress - won't ever be able to beat out most of what's on the Internet. Watch out for the folks who think Congress wins in a Congress vs Kitten Pics/Vegan Man contest! - Seamus

Hack4Congress1 karma

Choosing to eat vegan can be an impactful lifestyle choice with many co-benefits including the potential to prevent animal suffering and abuse. However, it is concerning that Reddit finds Ru Paul's Drag Race to be so enthralling. -Ted

Yazahn2 karma

Is Hack4Congress purely deliberative or should techies bring a laptop with them as well?

Hack4Congress2 karma

Hi there. Bring a laptop, for sure! There will be a lot of coding, designing and data science going on. It's not just for technologists. To get a sense of how much laptop time might go on, check out the projects from Cambridge and the projects from San Francisco. Looking forward to seeing you there! - Seamus

GAB1042 karma

I'm not sure what you mean by "disrupt Congress," because it looks pretty disrupted to me already.

But one thing that would change it for the better is to change the rules of procedure. There are too many that can be used unfairly. For example, Boehner used one to prevent anyone except him or his designee from introducing an amendment to some bill, I can't remember which. How is that even allowed?

Also, the Senate's rules about filibusters. You should actually have to filibuster to be able to halt progress in the Senate. And you sure as heck shouldn't be able to do it anonymously.

I also think it should be easier to force bills to the floor for a vote. Right now, Boehner is adhering to a majority-of-the-majority rule. So unless most of the Republicans agree on something, it won't get to a vote, even if a minority of Republicans and a majority of Democrats would pass it in a full vote. This is thwarting the whole point of a representative government.

Also, we need some way to make gerrymandering harder to do. Maybe all House of Representatives voting districts should be drawn by bipartisan committees of retired politicians.

I don't know if that's what you're going for, but those things would certainly help.

Hack4Congress1 karma

It is disrupted, by not in the good way for sure. The amount of time and energy and money wasted day-to-day in Congress on “disruptions” that few - if any - people need to deal with at their job is mind blowing. Rules restrictions, outmoded customs and the like are a big part of it. Making the Congress work better definitely means bringing the rules and procedures into the 21st Century, too. These are perfect ideas to work on for #Hack4Congress. It’s not just for technologists for exactly this reason: so many of the things holding Congress back are definitely not going to be solved by a killer app or some new data format. Would you be willing to propose these as challenges for people to work on? Here’s the form to submit challenges. Great question. - Seamus K

GAB1043 karma

What can anyone outside Congress do about these rules? The members of Congress make these rules, and the members could change them. For political reasons, they prefer not to. Please tell me more about what a "hack" in this area would look like, aside from getting candidates elected based on their commitment to change stupid rules of procedure. (Which hardly anyone in the electorate even knows about, and which few people will understand as being relevant.)

Hack4Congress3 karma

The Rules within Congress change, for the better, all the time; particularly around the need to improve the institution's interactions with the public. A "hack" in this area can take two forms; first, envisioning what a modern rules environment looks like and, second building tools with the data that is currently available to demonstrate the potential gains to be made in this area. - Matt

Hack4Congress3 karma

Few people who work inside of Congress think that people like you on the outside know about or care about the institution’s rules...or the impact those often out-dated rules have on everything else downstream. Believe it or not, even if and when people inside of Congress know that you care and that the rules need work, they do not know what the impacts are or really where to start. So I think a “hack” in this area - one that would immediately have a positive effect - would be to take the House and Senate rules and procedures, drop them into a collaborative editing/markup tool like our Madison platform or Hackpad or similar, and start tearing the rules apart with the impacts of the rules. For example, even though the House of Reps has done a ton to bring legislating into the 21st Century, the Senate has yet to do so (though one of our #Hack4Congress Member participants, Senator Cory Booker, has been working on catching the Senate rules up). You would do an incredible service to making Congress work better by doing this quasi-versioning of the House and Senate rules to kick start the good legislative data stuff from the House getting implemented across the Capitol in the upper chamber. What do you think? - Seamus

canadian_intransit2 karma

Do you guys see "hacking Congress" as a growing public movement, or is it still relegated to tech/DC?

Hack4Congress2 karma

I’ve been to packed auditoriums in San Francisco, Cambridge and New York on this topic. For the first time, according to Gallup, the public’s number one problem is government itself. The demand is there; Hacking Congress is a key part of the answer. - Matt

Hack4Congress2 karma

It’s starting to take off with the public, but it comes in ebbs and flows. For example, we hacked open the legislative process around SOPA and PIPA and got hundreds of thousands of people to engage with legislation - many for the first time - and thousands to crowdsource improvements Congressional legislation with Madison 1.0. That was a massive example of the public “hacking Congress,” and it spurred on the creation of The OpenGov Foundation and ultimately #Hack4Congress. On a day-to-day basis, there is significant interest. The question is how to plug people in. That’s one of the goals of #Hack4Congress - from the first weekend in Cambridge to San Francisco last month and now DC coming up at the end of this week. Personally, I believe every time someone engages with a Member of Congress on Twitter they both are hacking Congress. We can do a ton more, but it’s getting there. - Seamus

Hack4Congress2 karma

Absolutely. I met a number of people who stated that hacking government and finding policies that made their local governments more efficient was their passion. At the San Francisco #Hack4Congress, we had a number of participants who left wanting to reach out to their state and local governments to do something similar and engage with citizens to improve their municipalities and make them more productive with technology. -Danielle

forenzyks2 karma

As someone who works with municipal officials around the nation, how can cities address the issues Congress won't? How can municipal officials put pressure on Congress to act?

Hack4Congress3 karma

Thanks for the question. We do the same (most of our work at The OpenGov Foundation is at the local level), and it’s incredible to see how cities are leading where sometimes Congress can’t or won’t. First thing would be to link up with an incredible group of public officials, staff, civic techies and citizens working to achieve the same things you are: The Free Law Founders. The dirty (not so) secret is that the challenges our national legislature is facing as far as openness, technology and information overload are magnified at the city level. If cities are doing it, and doing it in an open source way, there is absolutely 0 reason Congress can’t do it, too. Shoot us a note if you’d like to learn more offline: sayhello at opengovfoundation dot org. - Seamus

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Put another way, if the Council of the District of Columbia - a mere stones throw from Congress - can successfully open up its legislative process with a tool like Madison, shouldn't Congress be able to? Showing them how to do it from a local level is a tremendously successful approach, I think. What do you think? - Seamus

joneSee2 karma

I'm not seeing specific problems/projects. Can you name some?

Hack4Congress3 karma

One from Congressman Beto O'Rourke is on "Tracking the Source of Campaign Finance". Another one from Rep. DeFazio is "Bring Congressional Tour Requests into the 21st Century" so that far less hassle and time and resources are wasted when you're trying to come to visit your legislature. Both of these are ripe for civic hacking and for jump-starting at Hack4Congress. I can't wait to see what people build on them. Thanks! - Danielle

Hack4Congress2 karma

Thanks joneSee. There’s a whole bunch posted here and more will be going up between now and Thursday AM when the hackathon gets rolling. - Seamus

joneSee2 karma

There they are! As someone with fresh eyes on your primary public data (website), your navigation ... instructions unclear. Jump to wordpress while your page count is low.

Hack4Congress2 karma

You can also check out some of the solutions from the Boston and San Francisco #Hack4Congress events as well. -Danielle

Hack4Congress2 karma

Great feedback, and thank you for putting eyes on it and sharing joneSee. We will. - Seamus K

Eternally651 karma

What would you say to those people who think that the current gridlock is a good thing, in that it keeps Congress from causing more havoc by passing more laws?

Hack4Congress3 karma

I would never say that gridlock is a good thing. Congress needs to be a smart body that takes time to make good decisions. Inefficiency is much worse than slow progress. -Danielle

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To me this is really a question of representation. You don't want Congress to pass laws, then your representative should be voting against passing laws. Your congressman should not be able to manipulate inefficiencies in the system to stop the vast majority of other congressmen from representing their own constituents though. -Ted

window51 karma

Do you support efforts by citizens to make the government smaller, less intrusive in individual's lives? The thinking being, the less money the government has to spend the less lobbying and influence peddling that will go on. For example, allow people to opt out of the Obama care regulations and buy and sell health insurance on terms they are agreeable with. Or allow people to opt out of social security as long as they put their money into an individual retirement account they cannot touch until retirement.

Hack4Congress2 karma

Creating a Congress where citizens are more in control, understand what is happening and how that affects them and their lives, families and businesses is what #Hack4Congress is all about, just like we’re working to create a culture where our elected officials and staff and the U.S. House and Senate have the tools to do their jobs, to listen to us and keep us informed. On the specific policies that are before Congress, that is up to you and your Congressman and Senators BUT we want to make it as easy as humanly possible for you to share your views with your elected officials, and for it to actually get through to them, with it being just as easy for them to engage in a conversation with you. Thanks for the question. - Seamus

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Hack4Congress does not stand for one set of policies over another. #Hack4Congress is about giving elected officials and staff the tools to the listen and be accountable after being elected. We’re aiming to help citizens bring their best ideas to their elected officials. -Danielle

joneSee0 karma

pfft. Casual. REDDIT STANDARD IS ALL CAPS. You probably knew that and didn't want to be visibly shouting.

[yes, I am cynically commenting because it slightly increases the visibility of your comment--which is a statement of a very fine principle. Function and agenda are very different beasts.]

Hack4Congress2 karma

Danielle did this on accident, and couldn't figure out how to change it. We figured the formatting should stick. -Ted

Hack4Congress2 karma

Amen. Thanks for the questions, too. - Seamus

usmarine9111 karma

I'm all for supporting anyone who works against corruption and taking advantage of others. I'm really interested in Paul and Cruz, could this be a mistake? And, is the DC corruption as bad as conspiracy theorists believe? Is there a way to get people to understand how bad it really is?

Hack4Congress2 karma

I’m all for that, too. Holding government accountable and empowering citizens like you to do the same is what will stop corruption and taking advantage of others. Don’t have a horse in the race yet, but I would encourage you to watch what every candidate has to say about citizen engagement, about open government, about transparency and making their administration more user-friendly, accessible and understandable. That’s crucial. - Seamus K

Hack4Congress2 karma

On DC corruption, I’ve been watching it all unfold up close and personally for almost 8 years now. Some of it is as bad as you read in the news, some of it is far worse, but the untold story is how many good people work inside government every day and are fantastic public servants. I think the best way for people to understand how bad it is in some places (and how good it is most places) is engaging in events like #Hack4Congress where you interact with the daily problems facing government, and interact with the “good guys” working to protect our taxpayer dollars and our rights as Americans. - Seamus K

vicktor31 karma

How do you deal with anonymous trolls on cloakroom?

Hack4Congress2 karma

We haven't had trouble with trolls yet. It's been a relatively civil community as far as social networks go. I think it helps that Cloakroom is a community of adult professionals who are used to working under public scrutiny, and I also think it help that users can develop anonymous identities and build a following if they want by allowing them to create and delete aliases at will. Trolling isn't being rewarded, and cyber bullying won't be tolerated. -Ted

vicktor32 karma

What about rumors? Do you find that those circulate more or less within cloakroom than the actual Hill?

Hack4Congress1 karma

There are definitely inside jokes within Cloakroom. For instance Doug Hughes, became an instant star after his gyrocopter stunt and a couple users started to assume his persona and host their own AMA. Most of the rumors so far have been related to larger issues circulating around the Hill. Our community's activity should accurately reflect real life on the Hill. -Ted

thelogicbox1 karma

It seems like one of the biggest issues in both houses is bringing legislation to a vote. What could we do from a technology standpoint to increase votes on legislation?

I think one possible solution would be an app that would let congressmen essentially use a private version of reddit, where committees would have specific subreddits and bills or specific provisions could be threads. The goal would be to build consensus as bills are being drafted (they could upvote/downvote on threads/comments).

Hack4Congress4 karma

thelogicbox--that’s a great question and a great solution--are you attending #Hack4Congress this week in DC? If not, you should! In the House, the Speaker of the House is responsible for what legislation heads to the Floor for a vote and a lot of that is based on whether or not they think the bill has enough votes to pass. Members of Congress definitely put pressure on the Speaker for what bills like they’d like to see on the floor, so I do think your idea of an app similar to reddit could be very helpful. Bills with more up votes could head to the floor faster and members could suggest edits and changes within the thread.

thelogicbox1 karma

I would very much like to if it were on the weekend, but I spend my weekdays at my day job trying to make improvements within the Executive Branch/Department of Defense. I will keep a lookout for weekend events with you--hopefully soon!

Hack4Congress1 karma

Ah, dang. Next time! Keep up the good work over there and we'll do the same on the other end of Penn Ave. - Seamus

Hack4Congress3 karma

It might not be apparent at this point, but it's funny to me because this is essentially where we are trying to go with our app Cloakroom. Currently, users are using the app mostly to discuss work and life on the Hill in general, commenting and upvoting on the best content, but our goal is to slowly move them toward exactly the model you have eloquently written out for us. -Ted

thelogicbox2 karma

Wow that's a very cool idea. Nice job getting recognized by TechCrunch! That makes me want to spoof my location just to check out some of the comments! (I'll won't, but I want to)

Hack4Congress1 karma

Thanks! I'd wager the legislative and policymaking processes in your local gov't or state gov't could use some opening with Madison, too. What do you think? - Seamus

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I think it would be pretty cool to loop constituents back into these conversations too in order to make sure their priorities are heard and discussed. -Ted

Hack4Congress2 karma

Also what we're working on with legislation and collaborative online drafting with Madison. Here's the repo on Github if you want to check out the project and status. Would love your feedback! - Seamus

thelogicbox1 karma

Just starred it. Is there a working build hosted anywhere?

Hack4Congress1 karma

Boom. Here you go. Whole new 1.8 version is in the final approaches, so you'll be getting a brand new UI/UX and new features over the coming two weeks. Stay tuned! - Seamus

thelogicbox2 karma

final approaches, so you'll be getting a brand new UI/UX and new features over the coming two weeks. Stay tuned! - Seamus

Looking good already!

Hack4Congress1 karma

Why, thank you. Credit goes to The OpenGov Foundation's incredible dev team (Chris Birk & Bill Hunt and front-end design guru John Athayde. It's coming along but there's a lot more Madison can do, and should do. Would love your input as we move forward. - Seamus

two551 karma

Does your organization have anything to say with regards to the greatest time suck our elected officials are involved in; that is, fundraising? The amount of time spent raising money, talking about raising money, planning to raise money, etc. dwarfs the time spent doing actual work. Do you see a role for technology to play there?

Hack4Congress2 karma

Thanks Two55. In my opinion, fixing campaign finance reform is a hugely important undertaking. Members spend a lot of time raising money and it certainly detracts from actual legislative work. We've seen a few teams organize around campaign finance reform and they've developed solutions that drive citizen engagement and transparency. Without legislation to reform the system or a device that publicly tracks and displays how Members spend his/her time, this is a tricky problem to solve! Rep. Beto O'Rourke challenged #Hack4CongressDC participants to find a solution that tracks campaign donations in real time... a great first step!

craftylad1 karma

So given that soft balls are being thrown by members of congress do you really want questions or just the press time from this?

Hack4Congress2 karma

Hi there. Questions please. Fire away! - Seamus

Sonmi-4520 karma

Which one of you is the FBI mole put in place to monitor your activities?

Seriously, how are you not being investigated? The mention of hacking and Congress together must terrify a lot of powerful people regardless of your intentions.

Or do you simply assume that you're all on a watch list now?

Hack4Congress1 karma

Every American is being monitored by our national security agencies now, so it's not like there is anything we can do to stay off their lists. -Ted

Sonmi-4520 karma

I'm surprised by that rather obtuse response - there's no list with everyone's name on it. There's a difference between "average Americans" and bulk data gathering on the one hand, and directed surveillance on specific targets - targets like journalists and potential force multipliers like hackers, on the other.

Your group isn't average Americans - you're politically active and interfacing directly with Congressional members. If you don't think that puts you in a special category, what does that say about your ability to view your goals in realistic terms??


Clandestine services take anything labeled "hacking" very seriously.

Hack4Congress2 karma

You make a fair point. The difference is between civic hacking and nefarious hacking, or even white hat work. It's our mission to stay focused on the former. And thank you for the questions and follow up. Hope you'll keep an eye on Hack4Congress.org over the coming few days and weeks. Take care. - seamus