Congressional Hackathon 5.0: September 14, 2023

The Speaker of the House, Minority Leader of the House, and the CAO co-hosted Congressional Hackathon 5.0 on September 14, 2023. There’s video from part 1 and part 2 of the event, a summary video, and the official report has just been released. The following is our recap of the event.

According to the official announcement, “this event will bring together a bipartisan group of Members of Congress, Congressional staff, Legislative Branch agency staff, open government and transparency advocates, civic hackers, and developers from digital companies to explore the role of digital platforms in the legislative process. Discussions will range from data transparency, to constituent services, public correspondence, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, committee hearings, and the broader legislative process.”

The first hour featured brief remarks from Speaker McCarthy and Chief Administrative Officer Catherine Szpindor as well as updates on digital and data efforts within the legislative branch. Afterward, participants broke out into groups to brainstorm and explore new ideas on how to leverage legislative technology to improve the legislative branch. At the end, the groups reconvened and presented their findings. You can read a write up of the event in Roll Call.


Speaker McCarthy:

Speaker McCarthy’s remarks centered around the themes of bipartisan collaboration, embracing technology and innovation, improving government efficiency and responsiveness, and encouraging public engagement and continuous improvement in government processes. He made the following key points:

  • Bipartisan Effort and Improvement of Government: McCarthy emphasized the bipartisan nature of efforts to improve government efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability. He mentions predecessors Steny Hoyer and Eric Cantor, and the current Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries, highlighting the continuity and collaboration across party lines.
  • Utilization of Technology and AI: McCarthy is enthusiastic about the potential of technology, especially AI, to transform government operations. He cites a pilot program using AI to combat forest fires and suggests using AI to process and utilize government data more effectively for public benefit.
  • Government Responsiveness and Efficiency: He stressed the need for government services to be more responsive and efficient. As an example, he refers to the implementation of e-signatures in government processes, which has streamlined assistance to constituents.
  • Public Participation and Feedback: McCarthy encouraged public engagement and feedback in government processes. He suggested creating apps for various government services, drawing an analogy to private-sector service models like Uber or Lyft. These apps would allow for rating services and could improve efficiency and customer satisfaction.
  • Continuous Improvement and Embracing Opportunities: The Speaker repeatedly mentioned the theme of constant improvement and viewing challenges as opportunities. He advocated for an approach that continually seeks to make government operations more efficient and accountable.
  • Positive Perspective and Utilization of Strengths: McCarthy urged a focus on strengths and opportunities rather than just weaknesses. He mentions the SWOT analysis method (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) as a framework for this approach.
  • Inspirational and Innovative Thinking: He encouraged innovative thinking and being a “disruptor” in government processes, using Elon Musk as an example of someone who questions established methods and thinks outside the box.
  • Call for Collaboration and Ideas: McCarthy ended his remarks by thanking the audience for their participation, challenging them to think creatively, and expressing his desire for ongoing collaboration and idea generation beyond the event.

Chief Administrative Officer Catherine Szpindor:

CAO Szpindor expressed her enthusiasm and appreciation for the Hackathon event, noting a background in IT spanning 45 years. Szpindor highlighted a presentation on casework that resonated with her and seemed relevant to everyone working in Member offices and the House.

Of particular note is that the participation of the CAO as a co-host means there is a non-political co-sponsor of the event, which will help it last even as the political leaders change..

Former House Democratic Leader Steny Hoyer:

Former Leader Hoyer was unable to attend in person but provided the following remarks. He focused on acknowledging the ongoing effort and collaboration in the hackathon series, its impact on modernizing and improving congressional processes, and expressing gratitude towards all participants for their contributions to enhancing the functioning of Congress.

He highlighted the event’s history and its progress in various areas:

  • Legacy and Partnership: Hoyer mentioned the hackathon’s initiation in 2011, which he co-founded with then Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor. He appreciated Speaker McCarthy for continuing this effort and recognized the partnership in hosting these events over the past decade.
  • Institutionalization and Sponsorship: He expressed pride in the institutionalization of the hackathons as recommended by the Modernization Committee, noting this was the first time the House Chief Administrator’s Office was hosting.
  • Achievements of Previous Hackathons: Hoyer outlined the significant progress made in previous events and forthcoming collaborations, ranging from opening legislative data for public use, enabling the creation of apps using congressional data, improving public interactions with federal agencies, to standardizing congressional videos and working towards modernizing the flag order system.
  • Diverse Community and Shared Goals: He emphasized the diverse community involved in the hackathons, including members of Congress, staff, academics, consultants, advocates, developers, press, and entrepreneurs. He appreciated that participants attend not for commercial or political gains but to advance the institution of Congress.

Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries:

Leader Jeffries was scheduled to attend. He issued a statement: “I am delighted to co-host the Congressional Hackathon this year, which has inspired technological innovation both within and outside Congress over the past 12 years.”


Here’s a brief summary of the lightning presentations. Watch the video for more.

1. Tools for casework capacity, presented by Anne Meeker of POPVOX Foundation, described a variety of casework prototype tools under development to ease the burdens for caseworkers. She described in particular a tool that allows for the extraction of useful data from casework intake form, automatically drafts correspondence to agencies and constituents, and suggests next steps for the caseworker. It would allow for significant standardization of casework data and significant staff time savings.

2. Committee deconflict tool, presented by Craig Butler of the House Digital Service and Joe from the CAO. The internal facing tool is a shared calendar for congressional committees. It allows them to indicate when they plan on holding a meeting or hearing and also alerts as to how many members of the committee have a time conflict for the meeting. It allows for more efficient scheduling of proceedings that decreases member attendance conflicts. Next step is to create an all-staff version of this tool.

3. Legis1. Matthew Chervenak from the Sunwater Institute presented on Legis1, a new legislative information system available to the public that provides significant contextualized information about the lawmaking process, lobbyists, and congressional witnesses. This includes significant capabilities to compare one office against another; a wizard to prepare an idea for presentation to legislative counsel; and built a database of witnesses before congress over the last 20 years and perform analytics on the witnesses to help offices better select witnesses for hearings.

4. The Capitol Differ from Lars Schönander at the Foundation for American Innovation. The website allows users to see how the text of the House rules has changed over time.

5. Comparative Print Suite, discussed by Ari Hershowitz of Govable. A tool developed by the House Clerk in partnership with the Office of Legislative Counsel that allows users to compare two bills to see what has changed between the legislation. It also allows for users to see how a proposed amendment would change a bill and how a proposed bill would change the law. The plan is to roll this tool out House-wide by the end of the year and to make it available to the Senate and elsewhere inside the Legislative branch, as appropriate. Ari is working on a text generator that’s in control by drafters of legislation to help them draft that text.

6. Presentation on cybersecurity, urging people to move on from using passwords to other forms of authentication inside the House, such as facial recognition. There’s a workaround for contractors who don’t receive a Houe device.

7. Verified Staff Directory. Presented by Jason Lemons and Ashley Julyan at Prolegis, this tool allows staff to verify themselves and update their information on Prolegis’ staff directory. It also allows users to build a customized list of contacts. (Also bringing on FY24 Appropriations data.)

8. Staff with Superpowers. Georgetown’s Lorelei Kelly discussed how to better improve constituent communications and engagement. She discussed the MIT Media Lab’s constructive communication center, efforts to bring more voices into the lawmaking process, and MIT’s use of Fora, which turns voice in meetings into data.

9. E-Cosponsor. The House Clerk’s Andy Doyle presented an internal tool that supports the automated addition of co-sponsors to legislation. Previously, the Clerk had to rekey 150,000 co-sponsors per Congress, a need that is now significantly reduced. As one fills out the co-sponsor form, it looks up names, automatically validates information, then generates a PDF that has data behind it. Behind the form is an API that anyone in the House can use to generate complete and valid data about members, which can be re-used for other purposes.

10. Texting town halls. Ashley Julyan of the AEJ group presented on creating texting town halls, where constituents can ask questions via text, including submitting questions in advance. Users can respond constituent by constituent.

11. Bill summaries. Dylan Irlbeck, a tech policy fellow with the Senate Finance Committee who is also a software engineer suggested using an LLM to draft bill summaries for and having CRS analysts review and approve. This would allow for the generation of different kinds of summaries – section by section, focus on outcomes, etc. – and would also address the problem that can be very slow to provide bill summaries, with backlogs of many months.

12. WeVote Project. Andy Curran, founder of the WeVote project presented a new civic network set to launch in 2024 that will have hyper focused forums.

13. AI-powered constituent representation. Michael Thorning presented on behalf of the Society Library concerning the use of AI to scale representation and deliberation. The Society Library is intended to gather and summarize all points of view on an issue to map the debate and create briefing documents.

14. Leadership Lips app. The House CAO’s Steve Dwyer and John Bilinski presented an internal web app that helps leadership offices maintain email lists of the major staff positions across their party. The app lets staffers update their own info, giving each office the ability to identify which staffers fill which roles. The app was launched to Democratic staff in July and is in heavy use by those offices and it’s available to be rolled out to Republican offices. Anyone can update information; for verification, it generates emails to the chief of staff and LD. The app was built on the low code platform. The platform supports eforms, house room reservations, leadership lists. New apps in development include addressing flags, service academy, and payroll and benefits’ new hire portal.

15. PolicyEngine. Max Ghenis discussed Policy Engine, a website built upon FOSS to help people understand, craft, and analyze public policy


The following are my summaries of the reports from the working groups.


  • Create a bug bounty program that has a formal portal for reporting bugs and a certification that vendors/developers have fixed it

Constituent Services

  • Have a universal tagging system across all CRMs
  • Establish an advisory office to help orchestrate a baseline of usability features across CRMs and enforce interoperability. This office can also help advise offices on which tool to pick.
  • Establish a central location for CRM training materials

Constituent Communications

  • Propose to centralize communications on members’ website that pulls in communications from newsletters, tweets, speeches etc.
  • Address how offices interact with each other at the data level
  • Address the rise of mistrust in the government

Artificial Intelligence

  • Establish an AI for the appropriations approps process to make that process more transparent. Use the AI to extract spending numbers from the bills; use LLM to track the provenance of various proposals included in committee reports —
  • Look to use of AI in earmark process

Modern Committees

  • Have professionals compile questions from committees of jurisdiction to be answered by the public/experts, and then the public responses to those committees. This is modeled after the UK’s POST system
  • Establish a “previous question” repository that shows every single question asked by any member on a particular issue.
  • Explore creation of listening sessions that are not public events that are focused on surfacing ideas, situational ideas, and expert content. The outcome would be a publicly shared document with information in a standardized format.
  • Committee schedules need to be fixed. 7 days notice for a hearing is not sufficient. Is it possible to gamify the schedule to create a House-wide calendar that least inconveniences members. Also track attendance – are members there, and for how long?

Legislative Data

  • Bill disaggregation – what are some of the smaller bills that individual lawmakers pushed for that aren’t easily identifiable? Can we establish better data standards for amendments, better tracking of legislative ideas through the process, and capture votes and related data?
  • Data standardization – what virtualizations can we build out for outcomes of legislation, such as actual versus expected policy results, counterfactuals, etc. Can we create, centralize, and standardize legislative data into a data repository?
  • User Interface / “fantasy policy” platform – Can we effectively forecast policy as it’s created? Do a/b testing on proposals? Establish a platform for clause-based analysis? What would impact forecasting sit on top of… maybe a peer reviewed database that academics and public + private data assets could power.
  • Staff directory – how do we find staff who are looking for particular policy issues?

This was the 5th Congressional Hackathon since 2011.

For information on previous hackathons:

For the fourth hackathon, we published a list of project ideas.