The Little Things We Take For Granted


So, Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer announced that they were going to place the final health care bill online for 72 hours prior to consideration yesterday. Where did they decide to do this? Twitter. And no one raises a hackle at all. It’s just accepted that this is a valid announcement of an important transparency policy. What better way to demonstrate how far Congress has come in terms of social media use and transparency than to have the Speaker of the House announce a transparency policy on a widely-used social media site.

It wasn’t too long ago that lawmakers weren’t even allowed to officially use Twitter, let alone any social media site, to communicate with everyone else. The Sunlight Foundation was at the forefront of changing that policy starting in 2007 and culminating in rules changes in 2008. John Wonderlich summed this all up way back when:

In May of 2007, the Sunlight Foundation released the Open House Project report, which included an entire chapter on the issue of Franking Reform.  That chapter, prepared by David All and Paul Blumental, has guided our advocacy and discussions of web use restrictions since then.

Those discussions simmered until earlier this summer, when tensions between Members of the Franking Commission  briefly escalated (the part of the Committee on House Administration that handles Web restrictions).  This summer’s discussion caught some media attention, and unsettled some web-savvy Representatives, and ultimately engaged both parties’ leaders in the House.

The Sunlight Foundation capitalized on the chaos, creating the first twitter-based petition in the site, which amassed twitter-based signatures, and displayed vigorous support for updated rules from online communities across the political spectrum.

While House officials maneuvered publicly, the Senate passed similar reforms with a bit less fanfare.  As recently as last week, agreement looked unlikely from the House committee, with Roll Call reporting that an attempt at negotiations ended in “an emotionally charged hearing and a breakdown in negotiations.”

That’s why we were suprised and delighted to get word from the Committee on House Administration that a new agreement had been reached.  This measure wasn’t just a slight rewrite, however.  The new guidelines represent an enormous change, one which has new media staff from both parties glowing.

And now we just take for granted that serious policies are announced over Twitter. Personally, I think that is awesome.