Why not a paperless Congress?

Congress without paper would improve efficiency, economy and transparency, but a love of paper and the need to develop a secure, standards-based life cycle for legislative paperwork means it won't happen soon, a House panel is told.

Congress is synonymous with paperwork, but a House panel on June 15 heard testimony on the feasibility of electronic creation and delivery of legislative information.

The technology to enable electronic collaboration, creation and distribution of documents exists, witnesses told the House Administration Committee's Oversight Subcommittee, but a love of paper and the need for a standards-based system to support the full life cycle of legislation make it unlikely that Congress will go paperless anytime soon.

Experts agreed that an Extensible Markup Language schema probably is the best choice for an electronic data system, but standards for supporting both congressional workflow and long-term public access while ensuring security and reliability have not been fully developed.


Related coverage:

NIH and drug industry build a bridge to paperless processes


The hearing on “Modernizing Information Delivery in the House” was driven by the rapid adoption of personal mobile technology by House members and their staffs and the need to bring a paper-based process that has changed little from the 18th century to the 21st century.

“We have no choice but to cut long-term costs and adapt to the electronic delivery of information and bring more transparency to the legislative process,” said subcommittee Chairman Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.).

Eighteen years after passage of the Government Printing Office Electronic Information Enhancement Act, the House still spends $1.7 million a year printing introduced bills, 97 percent of which do not become law, he said.

Rep. Michael Honda (D-Calif.), appearing as a witness, said that GPO is not a villain.

“We like to receive information digitally and then print electronic documents, sometimes multiple copies,” he said. And GPO often can do that more economically than consumers. “According to GPO, it costs taxpayers 7 cents for a member’s office to print a single-sided document. GPO can copy or print that same document for 5.5 cents, and if a press were being used, it would cost taxpayers only about 1 cent.”

Honda also pointed out that 68 percent of the GPO cost for producing the daily Federal Register is in the pre-print development of electronic files that are used both for online and print versions of the publication.

Still, adoption of electronic documents offers the promise of reducing congressional workloads, saving money, making information more available and usable, and improving citizen interaction by spurring development of applications for personal devices, said Thomas Bruce, director of the Legal Information Institute at Cornell Law School.

The institute has nearly 20 years of experience in digital legislation, putting the first primary legal information on the Web in 1992, developing an electronic version of the U.S. Code with GPO, and working with the Library of Congress to develop alternate data models to those used in its Thomas legislative database.

Bruce called the results of the work “undramatic but pervasive,” such as including the paragraph and section symbols in the standard symbol set for HTML. He said a long-lived, standards-based system for legislative workflow and preservation should be based on XML.

“Legislative data needs to be created and presented in open, interoperable, machine-readable formats with documented schemas and metadata models,” he said. “In modern practice, XML is the preferred format for this. Page-description formats like PDF fail the test of machine-readability, as well as being far more difficult to work with.”

Kent Cunningham, chief technology adviser for Microsoft’s U.S. public-sector division, also supported Open XML as a way to protect document fidelity throughout the life cycle. He provided illustrations of technology available for collaborative creation of documents, including the Associated Press’s use of SharePoint Server 2010 and Word 2010 in its newsroom.

But he also pointed out that the security required by Congress is not readily available in consumer-grade tools that were not built with security in mind.

“This subcommittee could help modernize information management in the House by developing a single, interoperable platform that accommodates users’ desire to choose their own devices and applications and that also supports institutional and legal requirements for data security and retention,” he said.

Bruce warned against rigid centralization, however.

“No matter the source or force of standardization efforts, internal constituencies can and will remain intransigent in the face of centralization if they believe that it increases burdens and not benefits,” he said. “The best approaches to centralization may, in fact, resemble the South Beach Diet: not the most effective diet science can imagine, but the most effective in practice if only because it is one that people will follow.”

He recommended creating standards and practices based on use cases of stakeholders. “The result is likely to be a highly connected federation of activities, linked by common standards and protocols, operating under the oversight of different administrative entities,” he said.

Cunningham outlined an 18-month effort to improve efficiency with the use of collaboration:

  • Deploy a Web-enabled document collaboration platform to facilitate co-authoring of legislation, reports and other documents that also could automate workflow.
  • Enable ad hoc online workgroups that transcend office, party and committee boundaries.
  • Publish the House Directory in an easily accessed, always up-to-date electronic format to make it easy to find out who is working on a particular issue.
  • Enable presence features to show who is available and how best to reach them.
  • Federate with outside institutions to allow communication with outside experts and stakeholders.

Bruce said the process needs to start with creating standards for the unique congressional environment.

“That will happen most quickly and efficiently if the effort is kicked off by a process of standards development, accompanied by the administrative innovation needed to effectively develop public-private collaborations around the use of legislative data,” he said.

 

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.