Hackers would have an easier time trying to help Congress join the 21st century if they could get a halfway decent WiFi signal in the Capitol.
At a #Hack4Congress event on Tuesday where tech innovators pitched ideas for making government easier to navigate and more transparent, the slow signal froze a demo, prompting Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) to quip, "This is an area with a need for great improvement."
Put on by OpenGov Foundation, a nonprofit co-founded by Issa aimed at increasing government transparency, and Harvard University's Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, #Hack4Congress aimed to tap into the innovative powers of the tech world to help make Congress a more tolerable place.
"If you only take what you're spoon-fed from your government, ultimately, it will all be about good things or bad things expressed in the best possible way, and not about the truth the American people need," Issa said.
The event was the culmination of several months of local hackathons throughout the country, and gave three winning teams from San Francisco, Boston, and Washington, D.C. the opportunity to pitch lawmakers their solutions to government problems.
Issa blasted the Obama administration for purposely making it difficult for Americans to figure out what their government is doing.
"Government likes to give you, particularly the executive branch, likes to give you PDFs and webpages," the chair of the Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet told Fusion at #Hack4Congress. "They want to give you what they want to give you. With all due respect to the executive branch, and even to the House and the Senate, that's propaganda."
The San Francisco team developed CDash, a tool to let lawmakers and their staffers collect, analyze, and share data all in one place.
The D.C. group tackled the challenge of coalition building by creating a database that lets users see what lawmakers care about, how they've voted and who might be worth reaching out to with a new proposal or bill.
And the Boston cohort created a tool to help make lawmakers' meetings with constituents more productive and less frustrating by creating a platform to set up meetings, share documents, and show tutorials about how to pitch a member of Congress.
Rep. Susan Brooks (R-IN) praised the proposals and said technology can help "restore confidence in Congress" by creating "transparency and accountability."
"All of them were so unique and had such different applications," she told Fusion after the presentations, noting that "innovation is coming very much from the private sector with technology."
The prize for winning was getting to pitch lawmakers, so there's no guarantee the designs will actually be used within the halls of Congress anytime soon.
Brooks, the co-chair of the Women's High-Tech Coalition, a nonprofit aimed at increasing the influence of women in both the private and public sectors, pointed out that the teams all included more men than women, but said she hopes these types of events will encourage more young women to pursue tech careers.
"I do think we have to start at younger ages with girls and make sure that we are encouraging them to consider degrees in technology fields," she said. "But I also think the tech sector needs to continue to recruit women."
Issa said he hoped the event would help encourage the "prying open of government," something he said the United States needs "if we're going to get the confidence of the American people back."
Emily DeRuy is a Washington, D.C.-based associate editor, covering education, reproductive rights, and inequality. A San Francisco native, she enjoys Giants baseball and misses Philz terribly.
Geneva Sands is a Washington, D.C.-based producer/editor focused on national affairs and politics. Egg creams, Raleigh and pie are three of her favorite things.