Archaic rules are holding the Senate back from making better use of digital communication technologies, write Sens. Cory Booker and Claire McCaskill, in a letter to the Senate Rules and Administration Committee.

“Our aim is to remove unnecessary barriers to technological creativity while best serving constituents and saving taxpayer resources,” they wrote.

Here are four recommendations they’re seeking:

1.  Email Overhaul

One would expect the Senate’s rules to adapt to different modes of communication through the years – hand-written letters, telegrams, phone calls, emails, texts, smart phones – but that’s not the case.

The senators want to change the rules by “simplifying and streamlining the process for new technology product vendors to become approved.”

Specifically, the authors seek to make mass email newsletters and surveys distinct from paper correspondence for the same purpose, and to revise rules limiting “images and language.”  “We recommend writing entirely new guidelines to fit the unique uses of email as a communications tool.”

2.  Data Collection

The two senators ask that third-party tools be allowed to collect and track social media website traffic data. Current rules prohibit them from collecting that data and measuring their effectiveness as communications tools.

They also pressed to have the Senate publish legislative updates, amendments and hearing transcripts in machine-readable XML format, rather than as PDFs and creating a Senate data site to

“The burst of civic-minded innovation that would accompany bulk data publishing would make information more accessible to observers, introducing new accountability, public accessibility and transparency to the work of the Senate,” they wrote.

Booker and McCaskill argue that “third-party programmers – such as journalists or entrepreneurs – could build innovative tools” that would expose more legislation and information to public scrutiny.

3.  Move to the Cloud

The letter recommends migrating constituent data to the cloud, rather than keeping it on individual servers for each Senate office.

Cloud computing would eliminate data centers and be “less expensive, more secure, and more reliable,” as well as “less vulnerable to many security threats than individual single-box servers.”

4.  Write it on WordPress

“Tools such as WordPress…are unfortunately blocked from use in the Senate,” Booker and McCaskill complained.

Such content management systems “are powerful and secure,” they argued, and the committee “the most widely used, stable and secure web-based content management solutions with deliberate haste.”

While most senators have sleeker websites than those in the House, a standardized platform would be beneficial for both aesthetic and security concerns.

Sens. Booker and McCaskill’s offices did not respond for comment.

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MeriTalk Staff