Congress

Confused by Congress’ bills? Maybe AI can help

House clerk is working on an ‘artificial intelligence engine’ that will compare legislation

The Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress, led by Reps. Derek Kilmer and Tom Graves, got an AI preview on Friday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

As lawmakers grapple with how to shape legislation dealing with artificial intelligence, the clerk of the House is developing an AI tool to automate the process of analyzing differences between bills, amendments and current laws.

That’s according to Robert F. Reeves, the deputy clerk of the House, who on Friday told the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress that his office is working on an “artificial intelligence engine” that may be ready as soon as next year.

The idea, Reeves said, is to offer members and staff a tool that would accurately compare legislative text. He said it’s already available to Office of Legislative Counsel staffers, who then must check the accuracy with human intelligence. It’s about 90 percent there, he told the panel.

The bipartisan, one-year modernization committee, chaired by Democratic Rep. Derek Kilmer, is charged with offering big-scope recommendations for making Congress more tech-savvy and better functioning. The panel can’t offer legislation, but it’s seen no shortage of tips from colleagues.

During Friday’s hearing, the panel looked broadly at transparency in the legislative process and whether and how technology facilitates or stymies deal-making on Capitol Hill.

The AI project in the clerk’s office stems from House rules for the 115th Congress that called for more tools to help lawmakers, staff and the public understand legislative changes. It is part of the “Posey Comparative Print” rules, after Republican Rep. Bill Posey, Reeves noted.

The modernization panel’s vice chairman, Rep. Tom Graves, said after the Friday hearing that such technology could help lawmakers avoid unintended consequences when moving legislation.

A bill, or an amendment, can include one line that says “strike this,” the Georgia Republican noted, “and it could be striking 100 pages of current law, but you don’t know what they are.”

“Many members come out of the general assemblies in the states, and the technology that’s being utilized in the states is remarkable for comparative language perspectives, being able to see how does a proposed law or an amendment interface or fit within existing law. And that’s something we don’t have access to here as members of Congress,” Graves said.

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