What does it mean for a legislative house to be digital-ready?

Read the written version of a Q&A between the former Vice President of the Brazilian Senate House, the Chairman of the House Committee on Rules in the US House of Representatives and the representative of Fiscal Note

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📌 This text is the result of the transcription of the panelist’s participation in Bússola Tech’s event


Parliament modernisation efforts are essential for a more effective institution that delivers better laws, better oversight of the executive branch, and better representation. The legislative digital transformation should be respectful with the legislative institution tradition and internal balance of power, preserving its core values but improving daily processes for the betterment of Members, Public servants, and our societies.


With that, we’re happy to share with you all the written version of a Q&A between the Congressmen, the former Vice President of the Brazilian Senate House, – The Right Honorable Senator Antônio Anastasia, the Chairman of the House Committee on Rules in the US House of Representatives, The Right Honorable Congressman James McGovern and Tim Hwang, the CEO of Fiscal Note. 



Tim Hwang: 


I will focus my comments around transparency and the involvement of the public in the legislative institutions. Particularly for media organisations, we certainly use a lot of advanced technologies to better understand the information that legislative bodies publish about their activities on a day-to-day basis. For instance, our teams at FiscalNote, Congressional Quarterly and Roll Call still have to spend an enormous amount of time on low technology mechanisms to get additional information about the policy-making process. 


Knowing this and how other non-government agencies track on a real-time basis what’s going on in government, what do you believe is the best way to harness technology or other mechanisms to really better inform the public, the media, and the world about the actual activities that legislators are taking to advance legislation and to govern on a day-to-day or week-to-week basis? 


James McGovern: 


That’s a great question and organisations like FiscalNote, Congressional Quarterly and Roll Call are important in terms of highlighting what Congress does, providing information to the public about what it is going on. I think it’s vital to our democracy and we need to find ways to make that information more accessible to not only media organisations, but to the American public.


Look, I just lived through a terrible ordeal on January 6, where we had an insurrection based on a lie. I am more committed than ever to make sure that accurate information is being disseminated to the public, and that includes what happens in Congress and what we do legislatively, because it impacts people’s lives. I know that the Committee on Modernisation and the House Committee on Administration are looking at this very question to try to figure out ways to make all that we do more transparent and accessible. It shouldn’t take Sherlock Holmes to figure out what happened in a committee meeting or to have access to a particular briefing. I think one thing we’re trying to do is to have committees post what’s going on their websites and this helps organisations be able to get that information. We also need to educate our committees and our members about the importance of making sure that information about what we’re doing is more easily accessible. I think it’s an important question and I think at a time when we all should be concerned about the facts, and I differentiate that from opinions.


We need to do a better job. I don’t have the exact formula of how it’s all going to be solved, but there are some things that we can do to make information more accessible and then there are some things that will require a system-wide approach, and I’m committed to that. In the Rules Committee, we have asked members, for example, to put all their amendments to make it easier for people to have access to that. 


Antonio Anastasia: 


In addition to efficiency, we must also have more transparency in the Legislative Branch, because we are representatives of society and the people. Transparency is essential. In the Brazilian case, which seems to me to be unique, we have an open television channel in the Senate, as well as in the House of Representatives. In other words, all the activities of the Federal Senate are broadcasted live, at the moment they happen and to anyone who wants to view the channel. On many occasions, in fact, the audience of this channel is higher than in private broadcasts, especially when we have conflicts that are widely watched and debated by Brazilian society, so this facilitates access to information.


We also have a radio station that broadcasts the debates, as well as on the internet, in the official website from the Senate and those of the parties and the parliamentarians. As Congressman McGovern said, and very well, the importance of facts is an obsession in the case of the Brazilian Senate because unfortunately, in Brazil, as well as around the world, the fake news disease has become a real plague. We have to fight it with transparency, with good information and this great communication structure that the Brazilian Congress has with the open television channels, with the radio, with their own press and with digital channels.


I believe that it is able, as a whole, to correctly inform what is happening, so the citizen who wants to be well-informed can just turn on the television and watch what is happening in the debates in real-time, in the committees, and in the plenary. Now, what we have to do, and that’s where the great difficulty lies, is to fight fake news with true information in relation to this lie or that deviation. Often, we don’t have the speed to “nip this evil in the bud” due to social networks, but there is a huge effort and I fully agree with Rep. McGovern’s answer. 


Tim Hwang: 


From our perspective, the importance of transparency is from sort of three contexts. First is from the kind of robustness of democracy and the accountability that comes from the information that’s published by our legislative and regulatory bodies.


The second is the interactions that government agencies have with each other, certainly between the legislative bodies, the regulatory bodies, the judicial bodies, that rely on the predictability of the process and information that’s happening between different agencies. The third, which is kind of what we’ve seen very recently, is the interaction between public agencies and our capital markets. Government institutions certainly get much more engaged around regulations, particularly in cutting-edge industries. The predictability of our capital markets, whether it’s the public equity stock markets, or our private equity markets, are extremely reliant on real-time information to provide that level of predictability for innovators and growth for companies.


We certainly appreciate all the efforts that have been going on behind the scenes and despite the many challenges that we’ve seen with Covid-19, I think this is certainly one area that can really be a bright area of development for all governments around the world.

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