Questions and Answers: Your questions, your answers!

Last week I added a new feature to GovTrack called Community Q&A. It was inspired by a question I received by mail (the subject of my last blog post). If one person that has a question actually took the time to email, then there must be hundreds of other questions you all have but haven’t asked.

Now on every bill page there is a box at the top where you can submit questions about the bill, and once it appears other visitors will have the opportunity to answer your question, if they know the answer. In the last week

, has had three questions posed and four answers written back. Questions are moderated for quality, so when submitting please only ask factual questions about the bill, and questions that can’t be answered simply by looking further down on the page!

If you’re a policy wonk, take a look at the bills you know something about to see if there are any questions you can answer. You can also follow the

, which will show you the recent questions asked on all bills on the site, and will take you to right the bill page if you have an answer. Think of it as a civic good deed to help educate your fellow Americans.

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10 Comments

  1. Hi all,

    Is the info submitted to Senators and Representatives by their respective constituents trackable now? If I submit legislative proposal ideas to my congressional rep., and others submit economic ideas, and others submit complaints, are there any records kept by Senators/Reps so I can get a sense of both the message flow to the Congress member and see if there is any change or influence on his/her votes on legislation?

    Do Senators or Reps actually keep tallies or logs of phone calls from constituents stating their positions? Are these logs currently available?

    I’ll wait for response and discussion about these points before I ask about ethics and legal options to encourage/force such transparency for our legislators.

    thanks,
    Greg

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  2. No. If any records are kept, it’s private to the Member of Congress. (I don’t see why it should necessarily be made public. There might be a host of privacy issues.) They seem to often keep tallies of phone calls — to the extent they are interested in basically getting polling information that way. It’s not a matter of record keeping so much as reducing each phone call to a tally mark on a sheet of paper somewhere to gage constituent reactions.

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  3. Reference—Housing and Economic act of 2008

    A lot of emphasis has been given to troubled homeowners with possible relief coming from the government and as it should be. What about the mortgage companies owners and loan officers that have been forced out of their profession with no place to go due to the financial meltdown. Are there funds available that can be provided until a turnaround can be established?

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  4. Hey Josh. This is John Paul. I love your site and commend you for building it. I have a few suggestions.

    1. The area to answer questions is a little clouded. I think that there needs to be a feature to where questions are either: resolved, or unanswered. The resolved ones need to move to the bottom of the page, or to a different page featured on the original page. It would be much easier to answer questions.

    2. If someone leaves a question, and then someone answers it, do they get an email notification, or do they have to check back?

    3. I would like to be added to the blog if you don’t mind! It sounds really cool. I might not always be posting things because of time restraints, but I might do a little every now and then.

    4. How old are you, and why are you interested in politics? In short, why did your team build the website?

    5. I know HTML, and CSS really well. I know a minuscule amount of php, and a some basic javascript as well. It probably wouldn’t be any or much help to you, but if you need any help doing something…

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  5. Hi John. Thanks for the feedback.

    1- That’ll be improved over time.

    2- No. All Q&A submissions are anonymous for the moment, both on the outside and internally. Most users submitting questions or answers are not logged in to a GovTrack account, so I don’t have their email address anyway. But this is something else to improve later on.

    3- Just send me your first post by email (see http://wiki.govtrack.us/index.php/The_Blog for guidelines)!

    4a- I’m 26. Some background on the motivations for the site are here: http://razor.occams.info/pubdocs/2008-01-14%20Civics%20in%20the%20Cloud.pdf. Really I’m not interested in politics, per se. I’m interested in civics. I think civic involvement both in government and in a more general social sense should be greater, and I think providing the technical means that promote that is useful and important.

    4b- Mostly there hasn’t been a team. Just me. Starting this month there has been a team of approximately 3, but I’m still the one primiarly running it.

    5- Join the site mail list (on the Get Involved page), take a look at the site source code and project ideas, and see if you can find something to tinker! You already have ideas for improvements, so it would be great to have you actually making them. 🙂 Most tasks are fairly large, so if you are really interested you’d have to put up with a learning curve and start by playing with small toy changes to the site. Drop me an email or post on the mail list for more.

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  6. I was curious to the significance of using the eye of providence as your logo?
    I personally find it very telling and ironic to the function of this website, and a great choice.

    Also, is there any plans in the future to support state legislatures?

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  7. The eye on the back of the dollar bill was, I think, meant to represent god looking down over the country, and yet the government was designed to not need something looking down from above but only people looking up from below. So I’ve repurposed the eye. It’s us watching Congress.

    There are no plans to include state information because no one has volunteered to work on it, and I’ve reached a certain ceiling to what I can do on my own. It would be nice to have, ideally, though.

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  8. Dear Josh:- seeking if the list of days chosen by Senate to be ” days off”, and one is worked, (in session), are they then paid additional as one is when working a holiday?
    The answer to the question would be great, but please point out my trail.
    Thanhs Felix

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