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Apps open window on legislative transparency

A new tool developed by House Office of the Clerk will show how legislation changes as it makes its way from introduction to full passage.

The markup history tool was one of the many applications showcased at the recent Congressional Hackathon, where agencies, citizens and tech groups pitched ideas for improving ctizens' access to government.

The House Office of the Clerk Senior Systems Analyst Kirsten Gullickson said the tool for posting comparisons of how new bills will change existing law has been built, and "our staff is ready to go Jan. 1."

A track-changes history that shows how legislation is changed over time, much like Microsoft and Google products show revisions to text documents, has long been pushed by transparency advocates. Gullickson noted, however, that the House Clerk's tool "is different than a Microsoft Word comparison because, particularly if you get multiple pages in the comparison, that tool will compare the entire document" rather than section-by-section or character-by-character.

"We can build really smart tools" now that bills are posted online in XML format, she added.

The OpenGov Foundation pitched and demoed its Article One tool, a tech solution to improve constituents' experiences in calling members of Congress while reducing the workload of staffers.

OpenGov Foundation Executive Director Seamus Kraft said the tool saved the staff of Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), whose office used it over the Thanksgiving holiday, about 12 hours that would have otherwise been spent on manual work.

Stephen Dwyer, a senior advisor to House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), announced his office plans to release "Whip Watch 2.0," an updated version of a mobile app that allows the public to track the breakdowns on legislative votes as they happen.

Josh Tauberer, founder of the open data legislation and voting record tracking website govtrack.us, said his site now monitors legislative provisions over time, including those included into omnibus bills. Tauberer also said his site has added a Facebook messenger bot, as well as a section to track congressional misconduct.

Other pitches at the hackathon were made by teams from the Library of Congress, the Technology Transformation Service's cloud.gov platform within the General Service Administration, as well as various third-party legislative transparency advocates.

This article was first posted to FCW, a sibling site to GCN.

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a staff writer covering civilian agencies, workforce issues, health IT, open data and innovation.

Prior to joining FCW, Gunter reported for the C-Ville Weekly in Charlottesville, Va., and served as a college sports beat writer for the South Boston (Va.) News and Record. He started at FCW as an editorial fellow before joining the team full-time as a reporter.

Gunter is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where his emphases were English, history and media studies.

Click here for previous articles by Gunter, or connect with him on Twitter: @WChaseGunter

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