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House Holding Wonk-a-thon on Public Access to Congressional Info This Wednesday

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This Wednesday, the House of Representatives will host an unprecedented public meeting from 3:30-7:30 to discuss how the public can get better access to congressional information. While the event is called the "Congressional Facebook Hackathon," what will take place is much broader than the name suggests. Wednesday will present an opportunity for technologists and policy wonks to talk about and collaborate on improving how congressional information is made available to the public. It has important bipartisan hosts, Reps. Eric Cantor and Steny Hoyer, who deserve significant credit for coming together on this important transparency issue.

The event will start with short opening presentations by the House of Representatives on its open data initiatives and Facebook on its latest platform updates. Afterward, participants will break out into discussion groups, focusing on legislative data/workflow, constituent correspondence, casework, and press/ public relations. Of course, there will be sufficient flexibility for the conversation to follow the interests of the participants.

There have been several previous collaborative efforts by members of the transparency community to outline how the House of Representatives can be more open and accountable, of which an enduring touchstone is the Open House Project Report, issued in May 2007. It's recommendation remain relevant today:

  • Legislation Database—publish legislative data in structured formats
  • Preserving Congressional Information—protect congressional information through archiving and distribution
  • Congressional Committees—recognize committees as a public resource by making committee information available online
  • Congressional Research Service—share non-partisan research beyond Congress
  • Member Web-Use Restrictions—permit members to take full advantage of internet resources
  • Citizen Journalism Access—grant House access to non-traditional journalists
  • The Office of the Clerk of the House—serve as a source for digital disclosure information
  • The Congressional Record—maintain the veracity of a historical document
  • Congressional Video—create open video access to House proceedings
  • Coordinating Web Standards—commit to technology reform as an administrative priority
These issues are still outstanding. We have yet to see bulk access to THOMAS or public access to CRS reports, important legislative and ethics documents are still unavailable in digital format, many committee hearings still are not online, and so on. There has been some progress, however, including a written directive from the House leadership pledging to do more and an important Committee on House Administration hearing that hints at progress-to-come. But there is a need for more, which is being recognized by the event's hosts.

If you have not RSVP'd, there's still time. We hope that this will be the kick-off to a much broader discussion. If you want to get a head start, join in the conversation on our Open House Project listserv.