Hackers are descending on the District of Columbia with their sights set on Congress, but not to break into the congressional computer system.
Instead, designers, technologists, policy specialists and others will be participating in the third #Hack4Congress event this week, a competition to spur technological innovations to make Congress more transparent and effective. The event is the brainchild of Seamus Kraft, a former staffer for Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., who now works at OpenGov Foundation. Issa also helped promote the event, appearing in a video encouraging people to participate in the hack-a-thon. "Congress needs your help more than ever before. There's a real threat against an open, free and available Internet," Issa said. "You need to be part of getting Congress open in both directions."
On Thursday and Friday, participants will tackle challenges in teams and present their programs to judges. And several lawmakers have joined in by posing challenges for the participants.
Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., who recently encouraged Senate administrators to update Senate technology , suggested the "hackers" create a "Policy Matchmaker."
"I am interested in working across the aisle whenever possible to get things done," Booker wrote in his challenge. "But I don't have a good way to see where my colleagues stand on specific issues, to identify possibilities for collaboration." So he suggested a program to consolidate bills, letters and statements of lawmakers to assess their policy inclinations.
Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune suggested hackers explore how to make materials disseminated at a hearing more accessible to staffers, journalists and the public. The South Dakota Republican also suggested hackers look into developing a "congressional social media interpreter" to aggregate social media data and better gauge public opinion.
The participants will be tackling these and other problems at the hack-a-thon at Google's D.C. headquarters this week. The winners of the D.C. competition, and the winners from Boston and San Francisco, will present their work on May 12 on Capitol Hill in what organizers say will be a "Shark-Tank" event.
But first the D.C. event will kick off with a reception and panel discussion Wednesday night at Microsoft Innovation & Policy Center with panelists such as Rob Pierson, the former director of new media for the House Democratic Caucus.
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