Lawmakers Want a Few Good Hackers to Help Bring Congress into the 21st Century


Next week, Hack4Congress will bring together a wide array of participants to help solve challenges that could make Congress function more efficiently.

A program providing mobile access to campaign finance data. A Twitter filter for congressional staffers to more easily keep tabs on the day’s government-related social media buzz. A digital system to track how long it takes congressional offices to respond to letters from their constituents. 

These are only a small sample of the many digital projects members of Congress want teams of civic-minded hackers to tackle at next week’s Hack4Congress D.C. The ideas are meant to solve some of Congress’ most pressing tech challenges.

Just a few weeks ago, Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., sent a letter to the leaders on the Senate Rules and Administration Committee to bring attention to the Senate’s startling lack of technological capability.

Hack4Congress D.C. is expected to bring together techies and nontechies alike to work on an array of projects, all under a single overarching theme: to make Congress more efficient.

Still almost a week out, Hack4Congress has already received more than two dozen submissions of problems and accompanying solutions.

Many of these submissions were sent in by members of Congress themselves.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said members often give their digital presence little thought. 

“Given the scarcity of resources, creating a strong digital presence often falls off of the list of top priorities to the detriment of communication and outreach to constituents and other audiences,” Cornyn stated on the hackathon’s website.

He suggested creating a digital playbook to lay out both best practices and solutions to common challenges for manager a digital presence.

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., suggested creating a tool to help members of Congress wade through information on social media, so they can single out just the material pertinent to their work.

Organized by the OpenGov Foundation and Harvard’s Ash Center, the event kicks off at the Microsoft Innovation and Policy Center on Wednesday evening and finishes Friday.

Teams working on challenges will provide presentations of their project Friday. A few hours later, winners from a handful of categories will be announced. But only the team deemed “best-in-show” will be given the honor of presenting their project directly to members of Congress, according to the event website.

Judges include representatives from the National Democratic Institute and the Center for Urban Science & Progress. They are expected to evaluate projects based on their impact, feasibility, ability to be replicated and accessibility, according to the event’s website.

(Image via f11photo/