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Congress Inches Toward Paperless Solutions

Desire for Transparency And Efficiency, Coupled With Cost Reduction, Fuel Urge to Drop Paper

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) is one of the advocates for using technology to increase transparency and reduce costs.

Every day, Members get thick volumes of the Congressional Record delivered to their offices. Marked-up paper copies of amendments still circulate in committee. 

But some lawmakers, staff and outside entrepreneurs are daring to imagine a Congress where all communication is done electronically, all documents live on iPads and the only scrap paper lying around fell out of a reporter’s notebook.

“We must continue to explore ways to cut long-term spending, eliminate unnecessary printing and adapt to the electronic delivery of information,” Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.), chairman of the House Administration Subcommittee on Oversight, which has jurisdiction over House information resources, said last summer. “It’s time that the House information delivery processes transition into the 21st century.”

Of course, it’s already the 21st century, and the paper is still flying pretty fully around the Capitol.

Matt Lira, director of new media for Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), is confident the transition to paperless is coming but doesn’t have a schedule. “Once [the technology] is proven and vetted, and people are comfortable with it, then we can get into discussions about a timeline for it,” he said, explaining that the transition will likely be driven by Members themselves.

In the meantime, Congress is taking steps in that direction. Last month, the Clerk of the House unveiled a new website that contains PDF and XML formats of legislation to be considered by the House. 

The website, which was commissioned by the House Administration Committee, marks the first time all bills to be considered by the House are available to Members, their staff and the public in searchable formats in one centralized place online. 

Also last month, the Library of Congress and the Government Printing Office collaborated to produce a Congressional Record app, which allows users to access the Congressional Record — which averages about 156 pages daily — on their iPads.

Other steps have been taken outside the Capitol. One private company, POPVOX, is creating mobile apps that allow Members of Congress to access documents, record their thoughts and gauge constituent opinion.

Last November, POPVOX released the MarkUp app, which allows users to search, read and annotate legislation. Members of Congress, for whom the app was primarily designed, can use it to view in real time the opinions being entered into POPVOX by their constituents. Ideally, Members will be able to reference constituent comments during discussions on the floor, POPVOX CEO and co-founder Marci Harris said.

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