Written by Edgar Vazquez, Civic Voice Intern and Lorelei Kelly, Beeck Center for Social Innovation
This geographic visualization represents which districts the House Members of the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress represent.
The Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress (“FixCongress Committee”) was established by H.Res. 6 on January 4, 2019. It’s tasks include to investigate, study, make findings, hold public hearings, and develop recommendations to make Congress more effective, efficient, and transparent on behalf of the American people. The Select Committee is one of the only truly bipartisan committees in Congress, with an equal number of Republican and Democratic members. This map shows the hometown locations of the Members who sit on this committee.
The U.S. House of Representatives is often called “the Peoples’ House” because it’s considered the closest to the American public. Members of the House and Senate are elected by voting constituents within their specific congressional districts and their fundamental duty is to represent the needs of their constituents in Washington, DC. Because of this, Representatives and Senators spend time both in the nation’s capital and back home in states and districts across the USA. This article is focused on the House because the Senate does not yet have an institutional headquarters for modernization.
We think the House of Representatives should be the most diverse market for ideas in government. With 441 representatives and 900+ district offices, our most democratic branch of government is a formidable reservoir of civic potential. We created this geographic visualization of the members on the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress to facilitate civic engagement in communities across the United States. This interactive map allows for the reader to engage with data on the twelve members of the committee. It provides information on who they are, the districts they represent, and the contact information of their offices. We believe data is and will continue to be a cornerstone of modern government, integral to understanding community concerns. Further, we believe that data must become more accessible to the American public in an interactive and understandable format. Transparency has long been a democratic value and today’s modern tools hold the potential to increase accountability and ultimately improve how Congress serves the American people.
Why the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress?
Created at the beginning of the 116th Congress in 2019, the Committee was tasked with researching and presenting solutions to update, improve and reinforce the legislative branch. With a wide range of issues to start with, the Committee’s ultimate goal is to create a more effective body of government by making use of digital assets like data and technology. Although it might seem obvious that a competitive modern governing system exists to serve democracy, Congress is a decade behind other vital sectors in US society, including education, finance and business. Moreover, this FixCongress Committee is not the first tasked with improving the legislative branch. Reforming Congress has an extensive, complicated and often difficult history.
For example, in 1993, the 103rd Congress created the “Joint Committee on the Organization of Congress” (JCOC) with the objective to explore reformation of the legislative branch. Despite months of diligent effort, it fell short when the House and Senate did not issue joint recommendations. The bills produced did not receive floor consideration in either chamber. Lessons learned from this former JCOC were extensively examined when creating today’s Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress. Now, 28 years later, with unprecedented technology and data tools available the opportunity to improve the legislative branch is a historic possibility -- one that is being worked on through the FixCongress Committee.
The Open Environmental Data Project is striving to make sure the current reform efforts in Congress meet with success. It is our intent to both encourage and practice new engagement methods, especially those that build legitimacy in democratic government for tackling environmental issues. Civic sharing on behalf of climate resilience and environmental justice initiatives require foundational scientific knowledge for informed civic discourse and problem solving. For example, more information than ever is now available about House committees and the subjects they cover. Our goal is to increase the use of digital tools that support and complement communication between Congress and constituents.
This geographic visualization provides an example of digital civics and hopefully inspires action when readers discover their own proximity to a congressional Modernization Committee member. In order for these institutional reformers to succeed, they will need support across the USA. The geographic visualization demonstrates a method to visualize civic capacity in Congress at a local level. The Modernization Committee’s mission is to build the internal, institutional upgrades that encourage this kind of public, explanatory mapping tool. Modernizing democracy is a two-way street, both constituents and representatives have vital roles. This map is a visual demonstration of this mutual relationship.
Establishing credible, local engagement models or tools is a process that nurtures healthy and positive interactions between constituents and representatives. Over time, these interactions will not only create a deeper, richer knowledge base for policy, but also build trust. This locally sourced communication pathway will demonstrate community-based input as a norm. At long last, our elected leaders in Congress have taken institutional action. They have acknowledged the lack of tools for constituents to provide regular, credible feedback and to discover and establish possible relationships with those in power. The Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress Map is a tool that both illustrates and explains the vital potential for civic engagement with government. It promotes a modern form of self-determination by educating constituents about the geographic locus of representative power on a topic vital to the success of America’s future. It gives the reader an opportunity to understand what their representatives are collectively working towards. This sort of “big picture” situational awareness for common goods should be a guiding principle for modern civics. Further, with an increase in government-constituent engagement, the ability to produce comprehensive change becomes more viable.