Congressional staffers, information technology specialists, Web developers and activists gathered in the Capitol Visitor Center Friday for the second congressional hackathon.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., hosted the event to brainstorm and develop ways to use technology to help Congress function more effectively and efficiently. “Most important, greater efficiency through technology has the potential to help rebuild Americans’ trust in government, something that is at an historic low," Hoyer told the group gathered in the CVC hearing room. "And all of us ought to be concerned about it."
The event is the brainchild of two of Hoyer and McCarthy's staffers. Hoyer's digital director Stephen Dwyer teamed up with Matt Lira, who at the time worked for then-Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., to host the first congressional hackathon in 2011. Dwyer and Lira, who is now one of McCarthy's senior advisers, teamed up again to host the second event of its kind at the Capitol.
Dwyer told CQ Roll Call that he and Lira had been meaning to put together another event after the first one produced a number of recommendations , and spurred action, including the creation of a legislative branch bulk data task force. They started planning the hackathon this past summer, and once again were thrilled by the attendance from a cross section of staffers, specialists and activists.
"Fostering this community was probably the best thing to come out of it,” Dwyer said. He said 250 people rsvp'd for Friday's event.
Throughout the day, people attended breakout sessions covering five areas: legislative workforce and legislative data; constituent casework; public engagement with constituents and the media; modernizing hearings, and a "moonshot" group for other ideas.
At the end of the hackathon, the group leaders will present the best ideas from each session to the entire group. At the last hackathon, the session came away with three major recommendations, which included better access to bulk legislative data, improving committee videos, and improving dialogues with developers.
As the "hackers" worked to develop more recommendations on Friday, they have one goal in mind: help government work better. McCarthy said he wants government to be efficient, effective and accountable and told the group, "All those are achievable through technology.”
The organizers emphasized the event is about improving government, and particularly Congress, as an institution, regardless of political affiliation. Lira and Dwyer dedicated the event to the late White House staffer Jake Brewer , 34, who died in September after a cycling accident.
Brewer worked as a senior adviser for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and, as Lira noted, was a friend to many in the room Friday morning.
"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.”