In #HackWeTrust — Sunlight Labs at the 2015 Congressional Hackathon

Members of Sunlight Labs at the 2015 Congressional Hackathon.

The Sunlight Labs team ventured to the Second Congressional Hackathon last Friday at the U.S. Capitol to work with over 200 programmers, policy experts, congressional staffers and legislators on a number of technical challenges our government faces in its efforts to function more efficiently and transparently. The bipartisan event was hosted by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md.

In his opening remarks, Hoyer praised the technological progress of Congress and attributed the successes to bipartisan support and the people both inside and outside of government, including the Library of Congress and advocacy organizations. “Modernizing government technology is an ongoing project, and it is one that we must pursue with greater urgency,” he said. “Making government more efficient, effective, transparent and responsive starts with making sure those who serve in government are better connected — digitally — to those we serve.”

The first Congressional Hackathon four years ago was an overwhelming success that produced a number of concrete recommendations and drove such action as the creation of a legislative branch bulk data task force. Building off these prior successes, we were able to concentrate at this second event on further problems such as how to manage access to all the newly available data, mapping relationships between data across multiple sources and departments, security of transferring sensitive data, improving constituent communication and how to create better systems to maintain institutional knowledge within congressional offices.

An exciting piece of news was also announced at the event that will affect our Congress API project: The Office of the Clerk announced in the coming months that bill data will be released in a machine-readable format, meaning those seeking this data won’t need to scrape Thomas any longer. The current scrapers reside in the @unitedstates organization on GitHub in the congress repository. This change will make importing data into our API significantly easier, faster and less taxing on every computer system involved in the process. We hope to see more data released by the government in machine-readable and open formats in the future.

Hoyer’s Digital Director Stephen Dwyer and McCarthy’s Senior Advisor Matt Lira dedicated the event to the memory of former Sunlighter and opengov champion Jake Brewer, who sadly died in September after a cycling accident. “It’s traditional to honor people with a moment of silence. But in his case, I think we want to honor him with a moment of action,” Lira said. “Because this event is the exact kind of spirit, drawing from all the communities we have, working together for government and for the people it represents.”

We’d like to extend our thanks to McCarthy and Hoyer for sponsoring this amazing event, as well as Dwyer and Lira for organizing it. It was truly an amazing and productive event. We hope to see more of them in the future.

Check out the recap video, produced by McCarthy’s office, for more highlights: