House Democrats Launch Internal Web Site

Posted July 13, 2009 at 6:40pm

House leaders have launched a new intranet site that allows Democrats to privately discuss policy, post internal documents and keep up to date on House proceedings.

The site — demcom.house.gov — somewhat resembles Facebook in its layout and interactions. Staffers create profiles that list their positions and keep an ongoing feed of their postings.

But all of the site’s content is policy and politics; users can follow bills, check the floor calendar, access talking points and read the latest headlines. They can also discuss specific bills or broader issues and post any pertinent information.

“DemCom follows the Speaker’s commitment to use the latest technology to communicate our message in the most effective way possible,— said Drew Hammill, a spokesman for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). “The interface serves as a one-stop shop for Democratic staff.—

The site has been in development for about two years.

Last Monday, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer’s (D-Md.) office, which is hosting the site, opened it up to all Member offices, and this week leadership aides will begin training staffers on the system.

Hoyer spokeswoman Katie Grant said that by putting all the information in the same place, the Web site will “increase efficiency and help staffers be more effective.—

So far, the site has 600 users. House leaders hope most — if not all — Democratic Members and staffers will use it as a one-stop shop for information from leadership, committees and individual offices.

Staffers currently get everything by e-mail, including talking points, schedules and committee reports. But DemCom allows each leadership office to post newsletters and memos in one place.

The same goes for committee staffs, who fill staffers’ inboxes with large PDFs of reports. With storage famously scarce, staffers often quickly erase such items — only to need them later.

One House committee staffer said the site’s discussion boards will also alleviate the “reply-all— problem, when staffers end up with a chain of e-mails after one person asks a question on an issue.

“I think for me the key thing is the ability to hold a conversation in a discussion forum that doesn’t overload everyone’s inbox,— he said.

Staffers are also excited at the prospect of putting Members’ ideas for a bill in one place.

The site automatically creates a “group— that includes all the information from THOMAS for every new bill. Members and staffers can then post reports or memos on that bill or use the discussion board.

David Williams, chief of staff to Rep. Steve Kagen, said the Wisconsin Democrat might use the site to post his ideas on health care.

“It allows him to post stuff and get feedback,— Williams said. “I think it’s qualitatively different and better when you have a community sounding board.—

The site can only be accessed by Democratic Members and staffers on the Hill and in district offices. Staffers are given access with the same usernames and passwords they use on their work computers. All users can post content, which will be linked to their profiles.