Senators push chamber for access to ’21st-century’ tech

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A pair of Senate Democrats are campaigning to change chamber rules that impede the use of modern digital tools.

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, along with Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, wrote a letter to the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration late last week recommending rule changes that “would help update Senate services to 21st-century technology and better connect members with their constituents, while also saving taxpayer dollars,” the letter states.

Booker and McCaskill address seven technologies and best practices in their letter that they hope will blossom with a few rule changes.

“New technology is changing the way we all live and work, and we have exciting opportunities to harness new tools in the Senate to improve our work with constituents,” the senators wrote. “Pursuant to our shared commitment to exemplary public service, we are writing to bring to your attention several opportunities we have identified to update the Rules of the Senate pertaining to new technology. These opportunities include proposals developed to allow for innovation, consistent with best practices in the private sector. Our aim is to remove unnecessary barriers to technological creativity while best serving constituents and saving taxpayer resources.”

The senators advise the committee in the letter to establish new technology guidance rather than adapting to antiquated offline policies. Through such an update to the rules, they hope to modernize the way senators use email newsletters, which the letter says “should not be treated as simply an electronic extension of paper mail,” and third-party news and social media analytics.

Likewise, Booker and McCaskill urge the Rules Committee to reconsider technical restrictions that hamper accountability and transparency, and to continue down the path of bulk data publishing. Currently, the Senate publishes bulk legislation information in machine-readable format, but the senators are lobbying to advance that with tools like a Senate equivalent of Docs.House.gov, an accessible repository of pending House of Representatives legislation and scheduled meetings. (Contradictory to his advocacy, though, Booker published this letter to his website as a non-machine-readable PDF.)

Finally, the pair point to several technologies the Senate should consider to save taxpayers money. Despite a growing ubiquity of cloud use around government, the Senate still relies on individual servers to host its data. The senators say a move to the cloud could save money and improve security.

“[O]utside the Senate, virtual cloud-based server environments are industry standard — they are less expensive, more secure, and more reliable,” Booker and McCaskill wrote. “Virtual cloud-based server environments host some of the most sensitive information in the world because they are less vulnerable to many security threats than individual single-box servers.”

They also hope the Rules Committee will consider opening the Senate to using modern content management systems like WordPress, which “are powerful, secure, and easy to use — but are unfortunately blocked from use in the Senate,” the letter states.

Read the letter in its entirety below.

RULES COMMITTEE – Tech Letter by Senator Cory Booker

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Applications & Software, Claire McCaskill, Cloud, Congress, Cory Booker, Government IT News, Innovation, open source, Senate, Tech
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