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The Technology 202

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.

Lawmakers want to make it easier for constituents to track requests online

The Technology 202

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.

Happy Friday! Sorry to disappoint all you Swifties, but today’s newsletter features a different Taylor. (I’m sure you’ll shake it off.)

A quick programming note: The Technology 202 will be off on Monday but back Tuesday.

Below: An American candidate is elected to lead the ITU, and Facebook parent Meta announces its first major budget cuts since the company was founded in 2004. First:

Lawmakers want to make it easier for constituents to track requests online

If you have ever requested a tour of Congress or that a flag be flown over the Capitol and not heard back for months, you’re likely not alone.

According to former House aide Taylor Swift, Congress has long lacked a systematic way of updating members of the public about their requests, often frustrating voters. 

“There has not been a transparent digital process for constituents to know where their request is in the request portal,” said Swift, a policy adviser for the left-leaning advocacy group Demand Progress who worked for the House Democratic Caucus. 

That’s one of the slate of hurdles lawmakers on the panel spearheading efforts to modernize Congress are hoping to topple.

The House Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress on Thursday approved its latest batch of recommendations, focusing on constituent engagement. Among them, it called for creating a “more efficient process for tracking and managing constituent flag requests,” which lawmakers can grant individuals to commemorate events, holidays or birthdays. The result, Swift said, could look familiar to consumers.

“Basically, the idea is to create something similar to a Domino's or Pizza Hut pizza tracker so that a constituent can go online or call the office and know exactly where that flag is in the delivery process,” said Swift, who worked with the panel as an aide. 

It’s one of nearly 200 bipartisan recommendations issued by the committee so far that, if implemented, could help constituents feel heard by lawmakers and boost transparency in government, according to Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.), who chairs the panel.

“Some of the recommendations we passed today were in the service of providing more information to our constituents, and some of them were about … enabling our constituents to provide more information to us,” he told me.

But the fact that Congress is playing catch-up with what one publication described in 2008 as a “revolutionary technology” for the food-service industry is telling. 

“The flag issue is a microcosm for how Congress for the past several decades has been stuck in the 20th century, even though we are well into 21st century technology,” Swift said. 

Many of those technological shortcomings were laid bare at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, when lawmakers and staff had to navigate operating fully remote for extended periods. But the issue wasn’t new to lawmakers in Washington. 

To that end, the House in 2019 set up the modernization committee with the express mandate of getting Congress up to speed technically on an array of fronts, from streamlining administrative processes, to improving human resource functions for staff, to boosting public transparency. 

Some of the panel’s recent recommendations have been more forward-looking, including making sure that tools developed on Capitol Hill are open-source by default. 

Doing so could help local, state and foreign governments build off tools created in Congress and vice versa, said a senior committee aide, who was not authorized to speak on the record.

The panel also proposed developing a system to make it easier for offices to share anonymized data about issues constituents are dealing with. That could make Congress more responsive to their needs, Kilmer said. “I think that's a big deal because our constituents depend on the federal government working for them,” he said.

It remains an open question how many of the panel’s recommendations, which are nonbinding, will be picked up, or how long that could take.

According to the panel’s own tracker, only 37 of its 195 recommendations have been fully implemented to date, while another 87 have been partially implemented. 

“It's going to be a decade down the road until we can really take stock and see the success of this work just because of the nature of the recommendations they're making,” Swift said.

“I think the institution's getting better, and a lot of the recommendations that we have made have been in the service of trying to make things better,” Kilmer said.

After operating for four years, the select committee will sunset this Congress. That means that lawmakers will need to figure out who, if anyone, will pick up the baton.

The senior committee aide said the panel is likely to recommend before the end of the year that the House set up a permanent subcommittee tasked with leading modernization efforts, possibly to be augmented by a separate select panel on a periodic basis.

Our top tabs

U.S. candidate wins election to lead U.N. telecommunications agency

Doreen Bogdan-Martin received more than 80 percent of votes for the International Telecommunication Union’s secretary general position. She’ll be the first woman to lead the ITU, which works on worldwide telecommunications standards. U.S. officials said the election was critical for setting emerging technical standards, which will have sweeping implications on economic development and internet access around the world. 

Bogdan-Martin ran against Rashid Ismailov, a former Russian deputy minister of telecommunications and mass communications who worked at Chinese telecom giant Huawei. U.S. officials have worried that China and Russia have sought to broaden the scope of the ITU’s work. 

A European official was elected to another top position at the ITU. Tomas Lamanauskas, a Lithuanian diplomat, was elected deputy secretary general of the ITU. Lamanauskas, who was endorsed by all 27 members of the European Union, defeated candidates from South Korea and Samoa.

Tech industry groups ask appeals court to stay ruling on Texas social media law

NetChoice and the Computer & Communications Industry Association want the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit to “preserve the status quo” until the Supreme Court reviews Texas’s social media law, Protocol’s Issie Lapowsky reports. The unopposed motion comes around two weeks after the 5th Circuit upheld the Texas law, which prohibits firms from removing posts based on a person’s political ideology.

The 5th Circuit’s ruling diverged from a decision by the 11th Circuit, which blocked a Florida social media bill this year. Florida’s attorney general last week asked the Supreme Court to take up the case and determine whether the First Amendment bars states from forcing platforms to host speech they don’t want to host.

Meta announces hiring freeze and budget cuts

Meta chief executive Mark Zuckerberg told employees that the company will reduce most of its teams’ budgets, freeze hiring, reorganize its teams and reduce its head count, Bloomberg News’s Kurt Wagner reports. The changes mark the first major budget cut since Facebook was founded in 2004. They come as the tech industry sees some signs of a slowing economy. 

“I had hoped the economy would have more clearly stabilized by now,” Zuckerberg said. “But from what we're seeing, it doesn't yet seem like it has, so we want to plan somewhat conservatively.” The company will be “somewhat smaller” by the end of next year, Zuckerberg said. A Meta spokesperson declined to comment to Bloomberg News.

Rant and rave

Reporters discussed a batch of Tesla chief executive Elon Musk's text messages that were filed in court in Delaware. Writer Mathew Ingram:

A couple other texts drew reporter Kate Clark's attention:

Here's how reporter Cecilia Kang summed it up:

Inside the industry

Who could run Twitter? Musk’s friends had a few ideas (The Information)

Hill happenings

House passes antitrust bill that hikes M&A fees as larger efforts targeting tech have stalled (CNBC)

Workforce report

Top Apple executive is leaving after making crude remarks in TikTok video (Bloomberg News)

Uber fighting bill that would nix #MeToo nondisclosure pacts (Bloomberg Law)

Privacy monitor

People search websites create privacy nightmares for abortion rights advocates (CyberScoop)

Trending

Ex-eBay execs heading to prison for harassing couple behind newsletter (Reuters)

Daybook

  • Tarun Chhabra, the National Security Council’s senior director for technology and national security, discusses the Chips and Science Act at a Brookings Institution event today at 9 a.m.

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