Evolving Technologies in the Legislative Process: A Case Study on The Comparative Print Suite in the U.S. House of Representatives
Written on December, 2023
Parliament modernisation projects like the Comparative Print Suite in the U.S. House of Representatives require great persistence and skill in gathering the necessary talent and support across many areas to bring a new vision to life. Thanks to Mr. Wade Ballou, the Legislative Counsel of the U.S. House of Representatives, to Mr. Kevin McCumber, the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives, and Ms. Kirsten Gullickson, the Director of the Systems Analysis and Quality Assurance Team for the Office of the Clerk, of the U.S. House of Representatives, for championing the Comparative Print Suite and providing steady vision, expertise and leadership throughout its development.
The digital transformation of legislative drafting, while promising, also presents a host of challenges. These span from technical complexities, such as the transition from traditional paper-based systems to digital platforms, particularly XML-based systems, to ensuring accuracy, consistency, and legal compliance in the automated drafting process. Also, the integration of new and emerging technologies requires careful selection and adaptation to meet the unique demands of legislative drafting.
At the same time, data security and integrity need to be thoroughly maintained to protect the sensitive nature of legislative documents. Moreover, collaboration among drafters, often across different organisations or jurisdictions, must be facilitated in this new digital environment. The challenge of managing these various factors necessitates a comprehensive and strategic approach to the digital transformation process.
The landscape of legislative processes is being transformed by technological advancements, with the U.S. House of Representatives at the forefront of these changes. One notable initiative is the development of an innovative software solution , known as the Comparative Print Suite. The project was developed in response to a change in the House Rules for the 115th Congress, in the House Resolution 5, section 2(s), which added clause 12 to House Rule XXI. Clause 12 required an easily searchable comparative print at additional steps in the legislative process. The Comparative Print Suite was designed to be an on demand system for use by House staff throughout the legislative process. This project was developed in partnership between the U.S. House of Representatives and Xcential Legislative Technologies.
“The Comparative Print Suite is a transformative platform for greater transparency and accuracy in lawmaking. With the click of a button, users will be able to clearly see, as never before, how legislative language changes through the process and the impact of that language on existing law. This is a huge change from the painstaking and lengthy manual ways of before. The Xcential team was honoured to be able to take on the challenge of developing the Comparative Print Suite technology in partnership with the House Clerk’s Office and the Office of Legislative Counsel” - according to Mr. Mark Stodder, President of Xcential Legislative Technologies.
In the context of this project, three specific types of comparative analyses have been identified, each with unique applications. The first facilitates a comparison between two iterations of a bill, resolution, or amendment, thus enabling users to pinpoint changes in document versions accurately. This feature could considerably enhance the tracking and understanding of the development of legislative documents.
The second type of comparative analysis provides an in-depth examination of proposed changes to existing law, whether codified or non-codified. By comparing current laws with proposed amendments contained within new legislative documents, users are afforded a deeper understanding of potential impacts and implications of the proposed changes.
The third analysis, known as amendment impact, involves comparing a bill or resolution with its proposed modifications. This functionality will significantly improve the transparency and scrutiny of amendment processes, offering clarity on how modifications could shape the initial proposals.
Continual engagement with stakeholders and end-users forms a critical part of the development process of this project. Both the Clerk of the House and the House Legislative Counsel have been actively fostering dialogue and feedback channels through individual conversations, status update meetings, and system demonstrations.
"One of my hopes with this tool is that the ability to verify changes in documents and proposed changes in law will result in improved negotiations and better collaboration throughout the legislative process" - according to Mr. Wade Ballou, the Legislative Counsel of the U.S. House of Representatives.
According to an interview with NextGov, Rep. Derek Kilmer, former Chairperson from the U.S. House of Representatives underscored the potential of the "Comparative Print Suite," explaining that it's a tool designed to refine legislative operations. This platform empowers members and their staff “to see how a bill would impact current law, as well as to see how different versions of bills compare, which is currently a really painstaking and far less transparent process.” The existing approach, he emphasised, is considerably more labour-intensive and opaque.
The Comparative Print Suite presents a groundbreaking move towards leveraging technology to enhance legislative processes. By offering precise, efficient, and versatile tools for analysing legislative documents, the project has potential to transform the way laws are drafted, debated, and amended. This case study illustrates the immense potential of integrating technology in legislative processes and sets a valuable precedent for similar initiatives in the future.