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“Members of the public are coming to expect a little input, responsiveness and real-time feedback in every other part of their lives,” Harris said, explaining that this mentality extends to interactions with their elected officials as well. And, according to Harris, that input is well-received. “[Members of Congress] don’t care what the whole Internet has to say,” she said, “but they do care what their constituents have to say.”
For Harris, technologies such as the MarkUp app that allow for more efficiency and more communication between Members of Congress and their constituents are steps in the right direction.
“It’s less about saving trees and more about making the data available,” she said.
She explained that one of the major obstacles to improving technology on the Hill is the partisan nature of the institution.
“I think what you have to watch for is the inherent way that the chambers act in a partisan way,” she said, explaining that these tools are typically developed by each caucus independently, and each caucus has an incentive to keep the information-sharing technologies to itself.
Harris — who was a tax, trade and health counsel to Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) — said that while working in Congress, she attempted to build the kinds of platforms that POPVOX now hosts.
Ultimately, she had to venture out on her own because “I couldn’t find the appropriate place for something like that to happen inside Congress,” she said.
Others are working from the inside.
Lira explained that the recent technological changes are being made at a structural level — such as through the Clerk of the House’s office — which means they are more likely to stick around when control of the House changes hands in the future.
The Clerk’s new website, for example, is more likely to be a permanent addition because the documents are being hosted by the Clerk rather than by an individual Member’s office. “It means that people will always be able to get access to the raw information [and] legislative text,” he said.
Lira also said Members are opening up to using these new tools on a regular basis. “Younger Members on both sides of the aisle are really open to using iPads,” he said. “Some insist on it.”