Let’s hear how senators think things should work BEFORE they know who will be in charge

A Rawlsian Moment in the Senate

Philosopher John Rawls famously proposed a thought experiment for designing a just society. He suggested deciding which rules we would put in place if we had no idea the conditions into which we would be born. This “veil of ignorance,” he suggested, would prompt us to make rules that would be most fair to all, regardless of economic or physical conditions.

Over the past two decades, almost every farewell address on the Senate floor has lamented the decline of the institution — a loss of civility, a concentration of power in leadership, the inability for the minority to offer amendments…


Getting Lost on Capitol Hill is a rite of passage

(This originally appeared on the depreciated POPVOX blog back on May 23, 2011. It was shared so much, we decided to dust it off and republish in honor of the incoming Freshmen. Welcome!)

A member of the original POPVOX team, William Donnell, demonstrates the look that everyone will make at least once when trying to navigate the Rayburn building.

Navigating Capitol Hill is hard. Signs and room numbers don’t always make sense. Tunnels and long marble halls throw off the even the best senses of direction.

The most popular POPVOX blog posts that people (read: Congressional staffers) seem to keep coming back to are those in the Hill 101 category. …


On October 7, former Rep. Katie Hill [D, CA] announced that The Handmaid’s Tale star, Elisabeth Moss, will play Hill in a movie based on her book, “She Will Rise: Becoming a Warrior in the Battle for True Equality.”

Soon after, the official Twitter account of the former congresswoman tweeted a long thread attributed to former staffers with allegations of staff abuse and pointed criticism of Hill.

The former congresswoman then tweeted from her personal/former campaign account that the official account had been “hacked” and had been in the control of the Office of the Clerk. (That’s not likely.)


by: Marci Harris and Ananda Bhatia

A version of this article first appeared in The Fulcrum

Remote work is changing Congressional internships and that’s not all bad news. Remote internships are expanding opportunity and scaling the traditional gulf between DC and the district, though they can be tough for offices — and interns — to navigate. Several organizations are stepping up to provide resources and support to ensure that offices are able to continue their internship programs in these exceptional times.

In a recent webinar on managing successful remote internships in the era of Covid-19, hosted by College to Congress…


Addressing the information needs of a modern legislature

by: Marci Harris, Claire Abernathy, and Kevin M. Esterling
(Excerpt from summary of 2019 draft report to the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress)

Technology makes it possible for policymakers to access better data, better analysis and to hear from a broad swath of individuals, stakeholders and experts — if they choose to do so. The challenge for lawmakers is how to do so in an efficient, balanced way that does not further stall the already gridlocked lawmaking process.

As change fueled by technology impacts every aspect of society, Congress lags in its ability to understand emerging issues, propose…


by: Marci Harris, Claire Abernathy, and Kevin M. Esterling

The chaos surrounding Congress’s switch to remote work in response to the COVID-19 pandemic laid bare weaknesses of Congress’s technical procedures and infrastructure, from its inability to hold hearings by video or to conduct remote voting, to the absence of policies and appropriate technology to enable staff to work from home. As is often the case, necessity has proven to be the mother of invention — the COVID-19 pandemic required Congress to experiment with new technology and procedures, accelerating innovation, toppling past obstacles, and, ultimately, jump-starting modernization efforts.

Congress has long…


Meet the Congressional Committees that are going first (and the staffers making it possible)

Congress is not an easy place for innovation. Success is rarely recognized. Going first is rarely rewarded. Failure is rarely forgiven. One person’s embarrassing moment is another’s campaign ad.

That’s why I have joined several “friends of Congress” — Congressman Brian Baird, Beth Simone Noveck, Daniel Schuman, and lorelei kelly –– over the past few weeks to help “de-risk” new approaches to remote legislative work. We have been studying what other legislatures are doing and holding “mock” hearings (on March 23 and April 16) to kick the proverbial tires.

Lately we are seeing considerable progress within Congress, as several committees…


Retired General David Petraeus, former Members of Congress, UK MP Chi Onwurah, and others discuss how Congress can keep working during the COVID-19 pandemic

On April 16, former members of Congress participated in a “Mock Remote Hearing” exercise to test the viability of online proceedings during the COVID-19 pandemic (following an earlier proceeding on March 23).

The event was co-chaired by Former Rep. Brian Baird [D, WA] and Former Rep. Bob Inglis [R, SC] and co-hosted by: AEI, The Brookings Institution, Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation, Georgetown University, Bipartisan Policy Center, Congressional Management Foundation, Demand Progress, The GovLab at New York University, Lincoln Network, and POPVOX.

Key quotes and links:

Former Rep. Brian Baird [D-WA] served as “chairman” of the Mock Remote Hearing:


On March 24, 2020, a mock remote hearing and markup was held via Zoom “to assess the viability of remote hearings in emergency situations when committees cannot physically convene.”

I co-organized this event with lorelei kelly of the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation at Georgetown and Daniel Schuman of Demand Progress. We were very fortunate to have former Rep. Bob Inglis [R, SC] and the former House Parliamentarian, Charles W. Johnson III as participants. The role-playing hearing and markup session was expertly“chaired” by former Rep. Brian Baird [D, WA]. …


March 12, 2020

Dear [Members]:

As you work to respond to the coronavirus threat on Capitol Hill, we urge you to consider the following:

Prioritize the health and safety of the public, staff, press, and lawmakers: We recognize that there are contradictory pressures to project calm while also modeling appropriate responses, such as the “social distancing” recommended by the Centers for Disease Control. In this vein, we encourage Congress to adopt a “putting on your own mask before assisting others” approach, to take rational steps to limit exposure on the Capitol Campus and within district offices. …

Marci Harris

POPVOX CEO and co-founder. Entrepreneur, lawyer, recovering Congressional staffer. Former Harvard Ash and New America California fellow.

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