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Federal government

A look inside the sad world of Congressional technology

At the heart of American politics is “a 19th-century institution often using 20th-century technology to respond to 21st-century problems,” according to a new report in Politico.

Home of IT dysfunction? (Photo by Flickr user Kevin Burkett, used under a Creative Commons license)

Outdated Internet Explorer browsing, restrictions on open source applications like Apache Open Office and an inability to properly search one’s own data would hold any modern business back from true efficiency. So why are all these things — and more — commonplace in the United States Congress?
A new report in Politico Magazine (from Baltimore alum Andrew Zaleski) paints a bleak picture of how the delay to embrace updated technology affects how the government functions:

“Coming to the House of Representatives from Silicon Valley is like going in a time machine—the technology that is in use here is deplorable,” [Roger Dean Huffstetler, chief of staff to Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.)] says. “I’ve been here more than 100 days, and I still haven’t gotten an answer about unblocking Evernote.” (The House deputy CIO declined to comment for this article, and the Senate Sergeant at Arms office, which oversees technology in the Senate, declined to comment on the record.)

From the everyday task of answering constituent mail to something as big as writing bills, the technology drain happening at the nation’s capital stems from a pile of issues. And so far it’s been on individual members of Congress and outside groups to drive innovation and change.

“What you’re seeing is this lobotomization in Congress—a huge brain drain,” says Daniel Schuman, co-founder of the Congressional Data Coalition, a collection of nonprofits and interest groups calling for improved public access to bills, committee transcripts and other congressional information. “Congress can no longer afford to hire and retain capable staff to do the type of work they need to do. And technology, because it’s new and doesn’t fit into the traditional model of what they’re doing, is in a particularly precarious position.”

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