People go up to Capitol Hill all the time to talk, but the ideas or perspectives that truly move are the ones pushed by people that are in touch with the up-to-the-minute pulse of Congress' workings and use that information to their advantage. It's not often pretty, but it's how it works.
Lobbyists have shelled out big bucks for years to get access to this type of real-time information on Congress, and it's a divide that helped "them" be more powerful than "us." Information is power after all - which is why groups like the Sunlight Foundation have been working to put that information into anyone's hands all the time...
And today, there's a breakthrough.
Sunlight Labs new Real Time Congress App for the iPhone gives users access to instantaneous in-the-know information in the palm of your hand. By pulling together RSS and XML feeds from the party policy committees, leadership offices, news outlets, bill texts and the alphabet soup of analysts (Think CBO, OMB, CRS et al.), the coders at the Labs have created a rich and valuable user experience for anyone who is interested in what is happening in Congress.
My colleague Brad Bauman, a former congressional communications director, probably wrote about it best.
Forgive my enthusiasm for this new app, but it really is something special and elegant. Forget the fact that the platform will be expanded and new data sources will be added and the app will be expanded. I know that I am channeling my inner Don Draper here when I say that this new app brings me home again, and by home, I mean the Longworth House Office Building.
The Real Time Congress application for iPhone will keep journalists, Hill staffers, bloggers and interested citizens up to date on what is happening in Congress, in real-time. Its ease of use and sleek design promise that end users will continue to go back to the app for unfiltered information on Congress so they can make their own informed decisions on what is happening in the Capitol.
While this first iteration of Real Time is, as Brad notes, going to be most useful for Hill staffers, journalists, and bloggers - the "interested citizens" part of that quote is also particularly important.
There are tools and technologies available to us today that couldn't even be fathomed a decade ago, and it's imperative that we harness those tools to change the way citizens collect information about their government - and consequently how we are able to use that information to engage with our government in new, more effective ways.
Real Time Congress for the iPhone - and its sister "Congress" for the Android - are early examples of how powerful mobile applications can be in shifting the traditional balance of power back to where our Founding Founders intended it: In our hands.