The House took steps last year to post bills online for three days prior to voting in PDF and XML format. If Congress truly wanted transparency and feedback from experts and average citizens on the draft legislation, they should add comment boards for each bill. Either at the bottom of the bill or at the end of each section of a large bill, a comment board similar to those on most news sites and blogs is easy to setup.
It would allow experts in the field, think tanks, and average citizens to identify issues, and impacts to the draft legislation. They could identify language written by special interest groups that may not be in the best interest of the general public. They can analyze complex regulations and legislation to identify any second order impacts or unintended consequences. Others could offer responses to the comments posted, engaging in a public debate of the bills. Thumbs up/down buttons can promote the most valued comments on the bill to separate the intelligent comments from the noise. A similar voting system could show the public’s support or opposition to the bill. Registering for the site would be required to comment and professional organizations could have “verified accounts” established.
Congressional staffers based on the feedback provided could identify amendments to the bill or advise their members on whether or not to vote for the bill. There are many established sites that offer some of these features for a particular issue or industry, but we need a single, authoritative site managed by the Office of the Clerk.
Posting the bills online for review is a great first step in providing transparency. The next step is providing an online platform for feedback. By truly opening up the data and comments Congress could leverage the benefits of crowdsourcing to modernize our legislative process.
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