How Congress can improve productivity by looking to the rest of the world

Beth Noveck and Dane Gambrell at the Hill: “…While an important first step in helping to resume operations, Congress needs to follow the lead of those many legislatures around the world who have changed their laws and rules and are using technology to continue to legislate, conduct oversight and even innovate. 

Though efforts to restart by adopting proxy voting are a step in the right direction, they do not go far enough to create what Georgetown University’s Lorelei Kelly calls the “modern and safe digital infrastructure for the world’s most powerful national legislature.” 

Congress has all but shut down since March. While the Senate formally “re-opened” on May 4, the chamber is operating under restrictive new guidelines, with hearings largely closed to the public and lawmakers advised to bring only a skeleton crew to run their offices. Considering that the average age of a senator is 63 and the average age of a Member of the House is 58, this caution comes as no surprise.

Yet when we take into account that parliaments around the world from New Zealand to the Maldives are holding committee meetings, running plenary sessions, voting and even engaging the public in the lawmaking process online, we should be asking Congress to do more faster. 

Instead, bitter partisan wrangling — with Republicans accusing Democrats of taking advantage of social distancing to launch a power grab and Democrats accusing Republicans of failing to exercise oversight — is delaying the adoption of long available and easy to use technologies. More than a left-right issue, moving online is a top-down issue with leadership of both parties using the crisis to consolidate power.

Working online

The Parliament of the United Kingdom, for example, is one of dozens of legislatures turning to online video conferencing tools such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Cisco Web Meetings and Google Hangouts to do plenary or committee meetings. After 800 years, lawmakers in the House of Commons convened the first-ever “virtual Parliament” at the end of April. In this hybrid approach, some MPs were present in the legislative chamber while most joined remotely using Zoom…(More)”.