AI Could Help Congress Schedule and Find Unexpected Consensus, Expert Says

traffic_analyzer/Getty Images

Members of the House Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress discussed how artificial intelligence and machine learning could help improve policy outcomes.

House lawmakers charged with improving the policymaking process held a hearing on Thursday to discuss some innovative proposals for modernizing Congress, including the potential benefits of using artificial intelligence and machine learning to streamline congressional schedules and committee calendars.

Established at the start of the 116th Congress in 2019, the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress is tasked with identifying and recommending steps that can be taken to modernize congressional operations. While the committee has primarily focused its work on more feasible legislative reforms, Chairman Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., said that discussing larger, more unorthodox approaches to improving Congress has been one of the panel’s priorities since its inception. 

“In addition to focusing on what seems doable, we need to think big,” Kilmer said. “We should be open to creative problem-solving and to considering ideas that fall outside of our comfort zones.” 

One of these big ideas focused on the potential impact of AI on the legislative process. Joe Mariani, who leads the government and emerging technology research program for Deloitte's Center for Government Insights, said that AI could transform Congress by allowing lawmakers to assess the impact of existing legislation and identify previously unknown patterns, while also giving them a tool to test out and predict the impact of different policy proposals. 

By simulating some of the complex issues that Congress deals with on a daily basis, Mariani said lawmakers could improve the quality of policy debates by more effectively identifying unspoken values and assumptions, while also uncovering the unique drivers of specific problems and determining which legislative approaches would be the most effective. 

“Ultimately, these simulations can help members agree on what they disagree on,” Mariani said. “In fact, there’s even evidence that just experimenting with these models alone can help drive consensus on emotionally charged issues.” 

Vice Chairman William Timmons, R-S.C., said incorporating AI and machine learning into the legislative process “is a big idea we should prepare for,” adding that lawmakers should continue working to “ensure Congress is at the forefront of technology in civic spaces.”

Timmons expressed particular interest in using AI to help solve some of the difficulties with congressional and committee schedules, which he said can be difficult to adhere to because of the myriad of votes, committee and subcommittee hearings, constituent meetings, and other events that often overlap. Timmons noted that the 435 members of Congress serve on an average of 5.4 subcommittees and committees, with these meetings and hearings often occurring during the same timeframe on the same days.

Mariani told Timmons that using AI would help to solve those scheduling issues, while also giving committee chairs and the majority leader of the House the ability to create several optimal models when planning hearings or scheduling votes.

Beyond using AI and machine learning in the legislative process, some of the other innovative ideas for improving Congress that were discussed during the hearing included: increasing the number of representatives in the House, extending the length of House terms, simplifying the legislative process and investing in social and civil infrastructure to help rebuild public trust in government institutions. 

The Modernization Committee, which has passed 171 recommendations for improving Congress since 2019, is planning to meet in mid-September to vote on a final batch of proposals before the end of the year. According to a committee staffer, some of these recommendations will include the use of more open source coding and steps to reduce the barriers that tech startups face when engaging with Congress.