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Dec 23, 2008
Yesterday, we wrote about a topic which may have struck you as being of fairly marginal interest to a limited number of people—the problems citizens and congressional representatives are finding in sharing communications back and forth in the age of the Internet and instant and easy communication. However, we believe these are issues of enormous importance to the future ability of progressives to press their agenda.

The gist of the problem is that representatives and senators are being inundated with communications, many of which are solicited, aggregated, and communicated to Congress by special interest advocacy groups. Congressional staffers now spend an inordinate amount of time managing and responding to these communications.

Technology is the answer here, and rather than rely upon the disparate six or eight commercial products which now dot the Washington landscape, we believe the parties involved—citizen and advocacy groups and congressional offices—should cooperate to produce an open source software solution that would satisfy 95 percent of the players involved. We believe the following are among the requirements and features of such a product:

  • The system would cost between $25 and $30 million to develop and would take from two to four years;
  • The resulting collection of software applications, which would run on Macintosh, Windows, and Linux operating systems, would be free to all parties.
  • Although the “open source” software would be available to any developer to enhance, official enhancement releases would be managed by the World Wide Web Consortium or similar standards-setting body in much the same way the W3 manage HTML and CSS updates.
  • Standardized back-end database procedures would nevertheless allow for a continuing rich variety of front-end web designs and applications.
  • The software would allow for the production, management, and automation of two-way communication via email, postal mail, fax, Instant Messaging, voice, and other emerging media.
  • The system would be built with open source tools where appropriate.
  • The system would result in at least a 50 percent savings in staffers’ involvement with constituent communications.
Having been involved with computers, software, and programming since the early 1980s, we know this system can be built along the lines, and within the constraints, noted above. We could manage such a development effort ourself, and so could many others.

The level of constituent communications will continue to grow at a very fast pace, particularly that which is initiated and managed by advocacy groups. Those groups and congressional offices must harness tools to cope with these communications. They deserve the same level of acknowledgement and influence as more traditional one-to-one communications. The only way to accomplish this, and to avoid a continuing struggle amidst a Babel of conflicting standards and procedures, is for the parties to work together to forge a solid system that answers all their requirements.

It can be done. It must be done.
tags: Working Together | Congress

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