Dem lawmakers urge a more tech-savvy Senate

Dem lawmakers urge a more tech-savvy Senate

A pair of Democrats is calling on the Senate to revamp rules governing lawmakers’ use of technology. 

Sens. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerThis Tax Day, let's talk about why we need real tax reform The Hill's Coronavirus Report: California backtracks on reopening as cases soar nationwide; SoapBox CEO David Simnick says nimble firms can work around supply chain chokepoints to access supplies for sanitizers and hygienic materials In politics, as in baseball, it ain't over till it's over MORE (N.J.) and Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillDemocratic-linked group runs ads in Kansas GOP Senate primary Trump mocked for low attendance at rally Missouri county issues travel advisory for Lake of the Ozarks after Memorial Day parties MORE (Mo.) sent a letter to the Senate Rules Committee on Wednesday, pressing to make it easier to approve new vendors, adopt cloud-based technology and publish legislative information in simple, universal formatting, among other things. 

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“Our aim is to remove unnecessary barriers to technological creativity while best serving constituents and saving taxpayer resources,” they wrote in a letter to Chairman Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and ranking Democrat Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.). 

They asked the committee to rewrite rules that deal with lawmakers’ use of bulk emails to constituents. The current rules, they say, were written before the use of electronic communication and do not always translate. 

They want more access to vendors and new rules that govern the language and images that can be used in the emails. Separately, they want the Senate to pre-approve a number of already popular content management systems, like WordPress. 

A number of outside technology observers have lamented in the past that the federal government’s lengthy vendor and procurement process has sometimes prevented it from taking advantage of the most up-to-date technology. 

To bring the Senate rules in line with the House, they also want to be able to use their franking privileges — traditionally used to send letters through the mail without charge — to buy online ads to promote events and constituent services. 

The senators also want more authority to track their social media statistics with the help of outside companies — a particular interest to Booker, who is likely the most prolific Twitter user in the chamber. 

They also want the Senate to set up a website that tracks the running action on the Senate floor and to publish bills, amendments, testimony and transcripts in XML formatting, which would make it easier for outsiders to analyze the information in bulk. 

Some reforms could save tax dollars, the senators say, as well as bring the chamber into the 21st century. 

The Senate currently stores constituent information gathered by senators on individual servers. The letter calls for the Senate to move that information to the cloud. They argue the courts, the Treasury, the Defense Department and other agencies have already made the move. 

“These agencies have accomplished secure private data storage through use of encryption technology and regular security audits — the Senate could do the same,” they wrote in the letter.