Recap of the Third Congressional Hackathon

On Thursday the House held its third Congressional hackathon–and it was an even bigger success than last time. (See our recap of #1 and #2.) The hackathon cemented the bipartisan nature of using technology to open up Congress (with opening speeches by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer); included the participation of many members of Congress, staff from support offices and agencies, and the general public (including civil society and companies); and featured a dozen demos in addition to break-out sessions.

The following are my notes from the day. Highlights in include the various new tools demonstrated and the work of the modern hearings break-out group. 

Nov. 30, 2017


  • Welcome from Steve Dwyer (Rep. Hoyer) and Chris Bien (Rep. McCarthy)
  • Welcome from congressional leadership
  • Quick presentations
  • Break out groups/ subgroups
    • Legislative data and process
    • Public engagement and social media
    • Casework and constituent services
    • Modern hearings, markups, and press conferences
    • Moonshot (can reimagine congress in bold ways)


Steve Dwyer (Hoyer) — this is an event in the Capitol like no other.

Chris Bien (McCarthy) — we are excited to be here; welcome.

Matt Lira (White House)— this is the community we were hoping to inspire when we started this in 2011. Institutional reform is a relay race, with the baton passed from one administration or leadership team to the next.


Steny Hoyer: What happens here has the opportunity to transform Congress, and thus the country, and thereby our democracy for years to come. Offers gracious words about Rep. McCarthy and a shout-out to Eric Cantor. We must make Congress more open and transparent. The more people know the better our democracy will be.

Provides an overview of recent accomplishments:

  • House resume bank has helped improve diversity.
  • Launch of whipwatch, which has 5,000 active users who follow live votes and the release of House floor info.
  • The improvements over the last six years are but a small step in the relentless march of progress.
  • MGT Act expected to be signed into law this week. Would finance major systems upgrades across the federal government.The fund is self-sustaining. Next step: push for full capitalization of this fund.

Rep. McCarthy: I want to see a government that’s effective, efficient, and accountable. Spoke about two projects:, the innovation initiative, and creating a peace corps for technology. Told a great story about where he came from and how he came to be in D.C. Explains how Congress has developed a constituent service tool so that constituents can give their consent to be helped online instead of waiting for a paper release form.


(1) Library of Congress, Steve Dagadakis (colleague Kate Sward, dir. of LC Labs)) — Congressional Data Challenge

LC inviting congress to develop a digital creation that uses congressional data. First prize, $5k, and $1k for best hs entry. Closes April 2018.
Looking for novel ways to use the data. Just needs to use a data set from
Interested in LC Data? Go to
Can enter on the platform
Also need to submit a 2 minute demo, link to cc0 source code.

(2) John Leahy, DotGov Communications

Looking at casework application
Worked with Hoyer’s office as a way for people to request casework from any device
Then it is kicked over to the casework process
The privacy release can be shared with any relevant office/agency
Is fully compliant with privacy act
Had previously built a tool for Committee on Hse Administration  that helps with committee reports
Webapp available for $79/month

(3) Seamus Kraft and Aaron Ogle, OpenGov Foundation, “Article 1”

Calling congress is hard for everyone. It’s a bad experience for staff and the public.
Staff spent tons of time dealing with calls and data entry
480 constituent voicemails automated, 90 seconds each to process; 12.5 hours of staff time saved (took 0.5 hours)
Can automatically transcript the speech to text and put it in the CRM

(4) Kirsten Gullickson, Hse of Reps, “Comparative Print Tool”

Bill tool version comparisons
How do we manage paper and electronic simultaneously
All bills are in XML format
Comparative print (following the Posey Comparative Print Rules under 12(a) and 12(b)
Already have to do Ramseyer (for when bills are reported out of committee, on how would change the law)
Doc-to-doc between different versions of bill language — shows a snippet of comparison. Need to do character by character
For more info see

(5) Peter Burkholder, General Services Administration, Technology Transformation Services, “”

Need a platform to build, test, and run the service (within the federal framework)

(6) Steve Dwyer, House of Representatives, Democratic Whip’s Office, “Whip Watch 2.0”

The updated version of whip watch. iPhone only but will soon be android.
Send vote alerts to all House Dems with vote recommendations — public can see them too.
Whip Watch 1.0 was about working around email, because people don’t check it. All the dem members use it. Also includes job announcements (for free) and a clean calendar.
Whip watch 2.0 — big updates are live voting. Members wanted to know how much time was left in a current vote and doesn’t exist on c-span screens. Ted Henderson said could scrape the c-span feed data. was low resolution and couldn’t work.
The old data was really bad — had trouble screen scaping c-span and also the party. But Steve had an HD version, internal cable channel 31.
So have a coaxial cable going into a laptop, take screen shots, and push out the data.
Also did work on which amendment is happening right now.
About to release all the data on api and github.

(7) Michael Schakow, Made In Order, Inc., “Made In Order app”

Leverages a lot of Steve Dwyer’s work. Founders met a previous incarnation of the hackathon.
Company about building a comprehensive suite of tools for members of Congress. Want to build staff multipliers.
First product, free, launching in January, is a floor vote management app.
Want to end the fire drills ahead of scheduled votes.
In addition to using the open API, gathers it all on one screen. Allow members and staff in an encrypted place to enter staff recommendations, the whip recommendations. Soon will add outside interest groups. Will also have past votes history.

(8) Josh Tauberer,, “Recent    Updates”

Tools have become  a model for PMOs worldwide.
Produced first comprehensive open data for Congress.
Analysis of text incorporation. Now tracking provisions that move from bill to bill. Now can track all the bills that have been enacted or had portions enacted because text has moved from one bill to another.
Now a button to translate into Spanish via google translate, also help with screen readers.
In partnership with CallParty working on a Facebook messenger bot to some users. Let them know when there’s a good opportunity to call congress about something that’s using.
Just launched a new database of congressional misconduct. At — see the new pages on ethics violations, etc.
Reach more than 10m people annually.

(9) Kalpana Ahuja, House of Representatives CAO Web Systems, “Communicating with Congress (CWC)”

The number of congressional communications has gone through the roof. Have a schema to try to intake the info.
(I wasn’t able to take notes because I spoke next).

(10) Daniel Schuman, Congressional Data Coalition, “”

Showed off, a new tool to see all Congressional CRS reports. It has about 10k users each week. Works on your phone and on your desktop (using responsive design). Allows you to see exactly how a report has changed by looking at the different versions and using track changes. The code is available on GitHub and the reports can be downloaded in bulk. This can be a model for other types of document search systems.

(11) Melissa Medina, TourTrackr, “tour trackr app”

Tourtrackr reimagines how tours are processed and digitized.
No offices uses efficient processes to manage tours
Automates email/ itenary for constituent. No more lost constituent requests.
Make sures tours are at the appropriate time.
Creates a management process.
Improves congressional office operations and better tours for constituents.

(12) Robert Reeves, House of Representatives, Office of the Clerk, “World e-Parliament update”

Interparliamentary Union  meeting update
Update on world e-parliament conferences and meetings
Trying to create communications among the parliaments and nations so don’t have to wait every other year to share
World e-parliament surveys — highlights trends in technology about how being used around the world
World e-parliament conference late next year
Center for innovation in parliament — lots of opportunity to share information, code, so can improve each others’ ability to do their jobs. Want to set up a system to do so with minimal costs. IPU will do the communication piece.
May set up regional hubs. Or set up innovations hubs (where a parliament does something particularly well).
Next step: bring to bulk data task force for discussion.


Public engagement and social media

How can we cut down on tedious tasks that have to be dealt with. Why not use chat bots? Help constituents reach solutions a lot faster
District thermometer — how do people in district feel about an issue (public and private facing)

Effective communications: people want to be heard and want to hear from Congress. Nothing better than a good story.

Formalizing a way to do story banks.
Using FB’s civil tools, could set up a polling opportunity where only verified constituents can participate.
If posting a video speech (raw, gif, etc.) should also post the actual text itself. Good for accessibility community, people who like to read texts, and press.
People want to know that their communication has been logged. At the end of each, get a tally of the top 5-10 issues that people have written in on. Maybe offices should make aggregate info public.

Modern hearings, markups, and press conferences

For every committee hearing, markup —> should have a PURL for each event that acts as a living hub for all the docs related to the hearing. Video, bills, amendments, GPO text, CBO reports, youtube video, etc.
Text should be the primary documentation of a hearing, with embedded machine-readable timecodes that link out to video; also with speaker codes that link out to video.
Periscope for stenographers: be able to view the live stenographer’s transcript in real-time, should be live streamed as they type at a hearing. Periscope for text.

Legislative data and process group

May be a lack of education or engagement about the legislative process.
Transcript of members’ campaign speeches and compare against the votes they do on the floor
CBO: putting economic info in terms of trade-offs
Build out “lobbyists in a box”
Improve bill summaries so they are human understandable. Is useful to publish POV summaries.

Casework and constituent services

Should have an API that makes it possible to book the tours.
Maybe this could connect to tourtrackr:


Major theme: trust. Trust in government, trust in constituents, trust that doing the best you can.
Rebuilding Trust in Congress: has to do with how people engage and how data is used. Need to respond in the same method that people reached out to you.
Great intervention: but cannot always express full thoughts in some of these mediums (like twitter). So how do we engage appropriately? Cannot use technology for everything. Some things have to be in person.
Info around Congress be available as a web service/ api. Create—> (1) have an open source repo where people can contribute what the API design looks like, and (2) have a way of tracking the systems that are being built up.
Bringing AI into the bill writing process.
How to deal with turnover/changeover in staff: create a place on GitHub where every Senator/Rep has their own account where people can contribute and help with these problems. As a lower barrier to entry, monthly digital training seminar free to people on the hill. Will commit to doing this — will occur in January if achieve X number of sign-ups. And then a new instructor each month. Will circulate link in wrap-up.


Watch for email with survey.

Next time, why not crowd-source quick pitches to upvote what you want to see on stage?

Also watch out for comprehensive report and a highlights video. Also will be video on c-span.