The new Congress next year will likely inherit high-stakes standoffs over many complicated issues, from financial credibility to immigration. Our elected leaders must be able to make difficult trade-offs and craft policies that reflect the best expert knowledge.
In its current dysfunctional state, however, Congress cannot have nuanced deliberations or make knowledgeable judgments. One big reason is that it no longer has the capacity to produce unbiased public-interest information.
In the mid-1990s the mechanisms that produced the information and statistics that Congress had relied on to produce bills were virtually disassembled. Under House Speaker Newt Gingrich, many support panels that supplied information and analysis to Congress members were disbanded or curtailed.
As many government agencies have done, Congress outsourced the job to private contractors – in this case, to independent think tanks and policy organizations, which are often ideologically driven. So it is now all too common that the two parties have not only their own opinions but their own facts.
The good news is that some of this congressional dysfunction can be fixed. Congress can use technology to rebuild its capacity to manage information on the public’s behalf.