Congress App Helps Bring Transparency to What's Happening on Capitol Hill

(Credit: Sunrise Foundation)

App Name: Congress

Available Platforms: iOS, Android

Price: Free

What does this app do?: Day 13 of the government shutdown. National parks and monuments remain closed and many research facilities have largely been shuttered. And while the Democrats and Republicans are negotiating to extend government funding through Jan. 31, the two sides remain deadlocked.

The government shutdown may leave people wondering, "What is happening on Capitol Hill?" Congress, an app released by the Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit non-partisan organization, provides users with the ability to learn about what legislation is transpiring on the congressional floor.

"It is designed to shine light on the government and what is happening on Capitol Hill in real time," Sunlight Foundation spokeswoman Liz Bartolomeo said.

Through the app's activity feed, users can discover the latest bills put forth by our nation's leaders, such as a bill "To amend the Pay Our Military Act." Select the Summary tab to read the full text, see who co-sponsored the bill, and view the most recent activity on it - if it's been voted on and, if so, who voted on it, for example.

But the app does more than just aggregate information the government publishes. Bartolomeo says one of the goals was to make it easy to connect with your local lawmakers and hold them accountable, too. To that end users can select the Legislators button to search lawmakers by state, house or senate, view how they voted on legislation, and connect with them on social media. Once you tap on a specific representative, users can map their office location and call their representative directly.

The app's technology matches the foundation's mission for transparency; Bartolomeo said the foundation believes in open data and uses open source technology and APIs for all of its applications and tools.

Although a previous version of the app called Real Time Congress exists in the iTunes store, Bartolomeo said the Sunlight Foundation wanted to refresh the iOS version to match what Android users already have now.

Some future updates to the app will include push notifications to tell you when a bill is updated, a vote is made on a particular piece of legislation, or if a member of Congress takes action, she said.

Is it easy to download?: This free app downloads quickly and requires no sign-in or registration process so you can start learning about the latest activity on Capitol Hill right away. "With the app," Bartolomeo said, "we like to think we have all of Congress in the palm of your hand."

Should I try it?: Although the government is officially shut down, there is still activity in Congress. Whether you are someone who follows politics closely or not, the app provides users with a wealth of data organized and laid out in an easy-to-use interface. With all of the attention focused on the nation's leaders, now is a great time to read up on and learn about what is happening with this app.

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