May 13, 2019

Making Congress More Transparent: How and Why It Matters | Takeaways from the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress’s Fourth Hearing

Transparency is at the heart of our democracy, and it’s no secret that most Americans value a transparent government. However, outdated technology, partisanship, and financial interests have often made it more difficult for the public to understand and access what is going on in their own government.  That can change—soon!

As the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress works to reform the institution, it presents an opportunity to revitalize and improve government transparency in a way that most appropriately responds to the public’s need to know, as well as a deliberative process that disincentivizes political theater.

This was the topic of the committee’s fourth hearing on May 10. Four experts, Deputy Clerk for the House Bob Reeves; Demand Progress’ Daniel Schuman; University of Maryland’s Dr. Francis Lee; and founder Dr. Joshua Tauberer provided testimony on the value and challenges of transparency.

Here’s what you need to know about congressional transparency—and how to make it happen:

  1. Technology could help improve transparency and public education.

The legislative process isn’t always easy to comprehend. Congress could leverage technology to make it easier for the public to understand and engage with legislation. Having a format to give feedback, like, as Bob Reeves mentioned in his testimony, would make it possible for Members to get their constituents more involved in the legislative process.

  1. Transparency could benefit the public by helping members of Congress to more effectively do their job.

Transparency could help improve members’ productivity and restore regular order in Congress, according to some of the experts who testified. Having a digital database for amendments, for example —one that is searchable or in an app format—would make it easier for members of Congress to know what they’re voting on before heading to the floor or to a committee vote.

  1. Transparency isn’t all sunshine and rainbows; it also presents many challenges.

Although overall a transparent government is positive, it presents many challenges to confidentiality. A lot of partnerships and agreements happen in private, behind closed doors. Transparency presents a significant challenge to members hoping to build trust out of public view. Demand Progress’ Daniel Schuman made the case that the best form of transparency is one that allows everyone to view actions that take place, have contextual information, and hear all viewpoints, but that still allows privacy when needed.

Congress has taken steps towards transparency in the past—like the creation of the Bulk Data Task Force—but there’s still more to be done. The Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress has an opportunity to expand and enhance the institution’s transparency. In case you missed this hearing on transparency, you can check it out here.

Is Congress Working for You?