Second Congressional Hackathon a Great Success

On Friday, the House of Representatives held its second Congressional Hackathon, co-hosted by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer.InHackWeTrust flag

The major, unstated purpose of the hackathon was to bring people together to sustain the effort to modernize technology in congress. The hackathon did exactly that, gathering congressional staff, legislative support staff, and members of the public to build those relationships in a constructive atmosphere. It was an incredible success.

Members of Congress, staff from both parties and both chambers, non-partisan support staff, representatives of America’s great technology companies, small businesses, civic activists, and civic hackers all converged on the U.S. Capitol to share information and get to know one another. Only through cooperation can anything get done in Congress, and there was enough collaborative spirit to increase the momentum of modernization efforts.

In addition to the collaborative projects, news was made.

  • The next meeting of the Bulk Data Task Force was announced for the week of December 14. The Task Force is a working group focused on publishing legislative information in structured formats—so everyone can use that data and build apps off of it.
  • The Rules of the House of Representatives will soon be published in XML, something I have long requested and gone so far as to publish my own unofficial non-PDF version
  • Summaries of floor activities are now available online in RSS/XML.
  • Most importantly for many, information about bills—the bill status schema—will be rolling out soon, allowing people to programmatically describe what is happening to legislation.

I cannot speak to all the projects undertaken at the hackathon, but it appears that the good folks from Quorum have built a tool to convert pre-introduction legislation from PDF into plain text. This will make it possible for staff to easily mark-up text, to co-draft with other offices or members of the public, and to track changes between drafts. Follow the links for more information on project ideas, data sources, and completed projects.

Video of the hackathon will be available at some point, but there is a short promotional video available now. Alex Howard of Huffington Post caught the essence of the event in his article, and Roll Call’s Bridget Bowman has a great recap of what happened. The OpenGov Foundation’s Seamus Kraft wrote about his experiences attending here. And my recap of the last hackathon four years ago is here.

It is clear to me that there is deepening interest inside the Senate to engage in similar modernizations efforts as the House. What’s necessary for it to take off is increasing connections between the key players in different senatorial offices. The changeover in leadership at the Library of Congress also is helping to focus attention on technology and civic democracy.

Here’s to the third Congressional Hackathon and the great work of those inside Congress to make it modern, open, and accountable. Like we said four years ago, #InHackWeTrust.