HouseNet, the internal website used by House staffers to fulfill necessary administrative functions for their respective Congressional offices, is getting a major face-lift.
A “clearing house” of information, instructions, forms and paperwork that helps office managers add personnel do payroll and distribute transit benefits, among other things, the Intranet site dates back to 1995.
It’s had three redesigns and upgrades since that time, with the last occurring in 2007, and while the site is still functional, it relies on navigational systems that feel antiquated compared with the technology Web-savvy users are accustomed to today. In the next month or two, HouseNet will be reborn in another, more modern incarnation.
“There are people who have been here for many, many years and may be used to using a different tool,” said Dan Weiser, spokesman for the Office of Chief Administrative Officer, which oversaw the HouseNet redesign. “It might be an adjustment even though we believe this is an easier and more powerful tool.”
The biggest difference, Weiser said, is that the new site is “user friendly.” Unlike the current site, where users have to sometimes click through half a dozen pages to find the form they’re looking for, the new HouseNet will offer a more intuitive layout.
To let users experiment with the new site and ease into the transition, the upgraded HouseNet will be available in “beta” form alongside the existing webpage for the next few weeks.
“When I became the office manager in January, we had to open up a new district office, and I was completely lost,” said Kaitlin Beck, office manager and scheduler for Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, who has had a chance to peruse the new HouseNet. “One of the biggest things I’ve noticed with the new site is there is something that literally says, ‘Are you opening a district office?’ And then every form you would ever need is in one single drop box.
“Before you had to go to ‘Financial’ to find out what financially you needed to do,” Beck continued, “and to ‘Personnel’ to find out what you needed to do. Now it’s grouped better for the [user].”
Beck, who says she has used HouseNet on “a daily basis” since coming to Capitol Hill two years ago, was not among members of the Congressional community who were sought out for input on what a redesign for the internal website should look like.
According to Weiser, a variety of “stakeholders” were consulted over the course of a year to collaborate on what a new intranet site should look like, and the redesign was executed using entirely in-house money, resources and manpower.
Though the upgrade appears on the surface to be simply a matter of convenience, it will actually make the operations of Congress significantly more efficient, the stakeholders say, especially when it comes to cutting down on all the time it used to take to find certain information.
Among those to laud the redesign by the office overseen by CAO Dan Strodel is Rep. Candice S. Miller, R-Mich., chairwoman of the Committee on House Administration. The panel has, since Republicans took control of the chamber in 2011, prioritized using technology and the Internet generally to help streamline operations.
“I comment Mr. Strodel and his staff for their work on this site and their continued commitment to serving the House community,” Miller said in a statement to CQ Roll Call. “Shrinking budgets demand that the House operate efficiently. This redesign helps accomplish that goal by improving access to administrative documents and information.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.