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Modernizing Congress: Bringing Government into the 21st Century

Organizer: Code for America

Despite incredible advances in data, technology, and innovation in governments, the legislative branch of our federal system continues to struggle to compete in the modern era. Remote hearings and the debate over proxy voting due to Covid-19 distancing measures are some of the latest reminders of this, but all is not lost!

TechCongress is surging to create additional tech support during the Covid-19 crisis. Meanwhile, it is on its fifth round of placing Congressional Innovation Fellows in committee and member offices to provide advice on tech systems and policy to lawmakers. Calls to revive the Office of Technology Assessment have strong bipartisan support to ensure more technical talent joins the legislative branch. The new technology staff at the Government Accountability Office have already proved their worth during our current emergency. In fall 2019, the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation at Georgetown University published Modernizing Congress: Bringing Democracy into the 21st Century with a series of recommendations — from digital infrastructure to capacity building — to better include civic voice in the legislative and deliberative process. Join Beeck Center Fellow and report author Lorelei Kelly for a virtual conversation and learn about:

  • Existing efforts to modernize Congress, including a recent civic voice pilot project, a Social Security Benefits Calculator app co-created with Code for Boston in the district of Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA)
  • How to incorporate constituent, volunteer, and new talent into the legislative process
  • Recommendations for implementing long-term solutions and processes
Location: Webinar
Alex Wong/Getty Images

"We will deal with the social distancing issue without fundamentally changing Senate rules," said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Congress won't legislate from a distance during coronavirus crisis

As negotiations on a coronavirus economic stimulus package that could top $1 trillion intensified Wednesday, there was early bipartisan leadership agreement on this much:

When the bill is ready for a vote, the senators and House members will cast their ballots in person at the Capitol — just as they've always done for 231 years.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has joined Speaker Nancy Pelosi in flatly rejecting the idea that democracy is best served during a pandemic by permitting the legislative branch to disappear from Washington, with lawmakers permitted to legislate with extreme social distancing — including voting for or against legislation by phone or online.

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Samuel Corum/Getty Images

The real and virtual Speaker Nancy Pelosi at the Capitol last week. She's resisted talk of Congress leaving Washington for the rest of the pandemic, let alone legislating online.

Don't allow Congress to work from home, even during the coronavirus

Hawkings is the founding editor-in-chief of The Fulcrum and previously spent three decades as a reporter and editor focused on the culture, policymaking and politics of Congress.

We were thrilled and, to be honest, flattered when Daniel Schuman of Demand Progress and Marci Harris of Popvox Inc. asked us to rush to publish their opinion piece Wednesday night, urging Congress not to go home before enacting special legislation allowing the House and Senate to convene in cyberspace until the coronavirus threat has passed.

Their shared expertise on the legislative branch is unimpeachable, their intention is obviously well-meaning and constructive, and their case is on the verge of being persuasive. That's why we published the op ed!

But in the end their argument is trumped by another that's even more compelling than the need for rapid efficiency in the face of a pandemic: The already beleaguered institution of Congress would be more harmed than helped by such a move.

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