How do Members of Congress get things done? You might guess that they write a bill and then work hard to get it signed into law. But you'd be wrong.
Bills are what get signed into law. But letter writing is the way things really get done in the legislative branch.
Letters-- typed on paper, printed, signed and then mailed-- are how Members build awareness, exert influence and exercise oversight on issues.
A tumblr post I wrote back in October last year describes how Members of Congress do this (and here are some relevant recent examples). Creating a portal that captures and tracks the letters the Members of Congress send-- a Congress.gov for policymaking letters-- was my first foray into how technology could be used to modernize the legislative branch. I worked on the project through the NYU GovLab Solving Public Problems with Technology course which was led by former US Deputy Chief Technology Officer Beth Noveck. We called it Legisletters, and NYU ultimately built a Beta site, which scrapes and aggregates the existing letters that Members post to their own websites and makes them open and searchable. The Beta is a great start to the project and NYU has been looking for additional funding to expand it and add functionality.
Legisletters is my origin story-- the first project that sparked my drive to work on Tech Congress full time. Because Tech Congress is not only a technology fellowship-- it's about building a 21st Century Congress writ large. Tools like Legisletters are an important part of the work.