A new Republican-led initiative in the House of Representatives seeks to bring “government by the people, for the people” to the 21st Century using Facebook.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) recently introduced Citizen Cosponsor Project as “an innovative way for you to stay in touch with your Member of Congress.” The project is part of an effort by the Office of the Majority Leader and House Republicans to leverage technology to better serve the American people.
To get started, a user connects with the Citizen Cosponsor app on Facebook. Then he or she is able to “co-sponsor” bills and is kept up-to-date on their progress through the legislative process. Additionally, that co-sponsorship is shared with a user’s friends on Facebook.
The project is currently in beta, so only a handful of bipartisan bills are available for co-sponsorship, but Matt Lira, Digital Director for the Majority Leader, notes this is a “first run” and says “the future of the program will be determined by looking at the data.”
Cantor’s team is committed to making sure users’ participation in the Citizen Cosponsor Project translates into a substantive impact in the offline legislative process. “We are going to experiment with several different ways to engage,” Lira said. This will include using the feedback gathered from the project in hearings, markups, and policy discussions.
The Citizen Cosponsor Project is a standout among a number of efforts to modernize Congress. Lira identifies three main tracks for innovation in the House. The first consists of the efforts to build out the infrastructure for the institution and includes initiatives like Docs.House.gov, which provides the text of legislation up for consideration, HouseLive.Gov and new legislative data standards.
Other efforts include initiatives aimed at improving the interaction between Members’ offices and their constituents.
The third track, Lira notes, is the most experimental and is made up of “programs designed to apply emerging technologies to the legislative process in fundamentally new ways” like the Citizen Cosponor Project and YouCut, another Cantor initiative that allows Americans to vote on which programs they would like Congress to cut funding from.
The Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s MADISON project is another example of this type of innovation in the House. MADISON allows a user to markup, edit and comment on legislation within the platform. It’s Congress’ first attempt at crowdsourcing legislation.
Embracing new technology has been the core of House Republicans’ attempts to fulfill their 2010 Pledge to America - “restoring Americans’ trust in the People’s House.” By making the House more transparent, accountable and accessible, initiatives like the Citizen Cosponsor Project will hopefully renew Americans’ confidence that Congress can tackle the challenges our country faces.