U.S. House of Representatives Democrats Adopt New Tools to Enable More Citizen Interactions

By Peter Bernstein July 19, 2012

With all of the talk about the potential transformative impact of online capabilities concerning people and their governments (the Netizens to Government (N2G) megatrend I highlighted in a recent posting), there now seems to be a battle of citizen engagement brewing in the U.S. House of Representatives. 

First there was the introduction back in March of this year by Majority Leader Eric Cantor (VA-07), of Citizen Cosponsor, a Facebook-based application that lets people follow legislation that interests them and voice their opinions. Not to be outdone, House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer (MD) announced that House Democrats are now using open tools on POPVOX.com that enable citizens and organizations to publically weigh in on specific legislation before Congress. So much for non-partisanship which both efforts say they embrace.

To whip (you will pardon the expression) up enthusiasm, Representative Hoyer issued as statement about the why and wherefore of this effort. “When a citizen or organization takes a position publically on a bill, that position will be displayed to House Democrats and their staff.”

As the statement notes, Hoyer’s office manages DemCom, the official intranet for House Democratic staff. It has been around four years and is used by over 2,000 House Democratic staffers. DemCom hosts all internal documents within the Democratic Caucus including “Dear Colleague” Member letters, Leadership fact sheets and talking points, all organized by specific legislation.

Effective immediately, DemCom will dynamically pull all organization position papers on POPVOX, including the 3,700 position letters currently on the site, as well as those added in the future. In addition, DemCom now prominently displays the current public sentiment as registered on POPVOX for all bills currently before Congress.

Below is a screenshot of some of what DemCom now displays for each bill. 

Note: I have included the most interesting part which is the real-time sentiment chart only because the good people who are supposedly so tech savvy up the Hill did not supply an image that could be reproduced. Because of the size as capable as my snipping tool is it was incapable of capturing everything the Congressman put out for sharing. If you want the entire screenshot click here.

I guess all of the information from these various sites are useful, but the real question is to whom. As a U.S. citizen and appreciator of the value of using technology to improve interactions between government and those it serves, I have been a big fan of things like Data.gov and the “We the People” efforts by the executive branch of government. They are in fact as well as intent nonpartisan ways that make government more transparent, accessible and in theory accountable.  Dueling efforts by both sides of the aisle in the House to measure “sentiment” and support, seems a bit more problematic. In fact, it seems like the converted talking to the convinced. While I hate to sound like a curmudgeon, this may be good for the partisans and professional politicians but it is hard to see what is really in it for the average citizen. For me, I’ll stick to watching C-SPAN and find out about legislation via an online resource I have grown to trust, THOMAS, the legislative information service of the Library of Congress, which by the way all Congressmen and their staffs rely on.   

Edited by Rachel Ramsey
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