The Senate gets handy

The Senate gets handy

Republican leaders create network for handhelds


For the Republican half of the Senate, personal digital assistants are supplanting bulky briefing binders.

Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, said he believes that handheld devices, which give information 'at the touch of a stylus,' will save his GOP colleagues both money and time.

Handhelds will let Senate Republicans share information at the touch of a button, Sen. Rick Santorum says.
Last fall, the conference tested a mobile enterprise application that distributes documents and schedules to handheld computers, said Tim Petty, director of information resources for the conference's Information Technology Department.

The application, AvantGo Enterprise from AvantGo Inc. of Hayward, Calif., now runs on the Senate Republicans' intranet, which connects Washington and home state offices to the GOP leadership.
The intranet gets heavy use for hearing schedules, policy documents, legislation and proposed amendments, Petty said. Senate Democrats have their own intranet.

AvantGo Enterprise functions much the same way as the company's original, commercial service, through which PDA users can sign up for many free channels'Web sites stripped of their graphics for small-screen display. AvantGo uploads the channels or refreshes the content whenever PDAs synchronize with online PCs.

But with the Enterprise version of AvantGo, the GOP conference can restrict access by assigning secure accounts to Senate Republicans, Petty said.

Multiple platforms

Conference staff members chose AvantGo Enterprise because it can communicate with multiple handheld platforms, Petty said. Many Capitol Hill staff members already have bought handheld devices for personal and professional use, but not all the handhelds have wireless capability.

Although more and more handhelds have wireless connectivity, the GOP conference chose not to implement AvantGo Enterprise's wireless functions in the pilot, Petty said. Participants must upload documents through cradle-to-PC synchronization.

Sen. Rick Santorum synchronizes his Palm VII with his desktop PC whenever he returns to his Russell Senate Office Building suite.
'It's a great tool because you just post [the content], and people come and get it,' Petty said.
If participants need documents in a hurry and can't get to a PDA cradle, they can beam them to each other via their handhelds' infrared ports.

Also available for downloading to PDAs are the Senate's recess packets. When the Senate goes into recess, it's traditional for senators to take home summaries of actions taken in the preceding days or weeks.

Paper recess packets now cost about $1,800 per recess to produce, Santorum said. With handheld devices, senators can pick up the documents electronically, saving on printing costs and briefcase bulk.

Santorum started his second Senate term in January, when he was also tapped to lead the GOP conference. His Web site outlines his position on a variety of technology topics, from telecommuting to network security, and he has a Web page for debunking common
e-mail rumors about the federal government.

Santorum said his schedule changes constantly, sometimes hourly, so he synchronizes his Palm VII with his desktop PC every time he goes to his office. He also plans to get a second Palm cradle for home use during congressional recesses.

Seven members of Santorum's staff also use handhelds. The senator said the devices help his staff keep up with his schedule.

Santorum said he is one of 11 GOP senators now using the AvantGo Enterprise application to keep up with appointments and policy papers.

AvantGo Enterprise runs on the GOP conference's intranet server, a Compaq ProLiant 3000 with Microsoft Windows NT. A Microsoft SQL Server 7.0 database stores the documents.

The Republican Policy Committee's site archives legislative notices and policy papers back to 1997, but the AvantGo Enterprise project probably will focus on the papers of the 107th Congress because they are the most likely to be needed in a hurry, Petty said.

The Democratic Technology and Communications Committee also has looked at mobile systems but has not yet made a decision about adopting them, said Brian Barrie, the committee's webmaster.

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