Articles From February 2011
25 Women-Run Startups to Watch in Fast Company
I'm excited to share with you our newest feature on POPVOX! Organizations can now upload documents to their POPVOX profile page.
As we demo'ed and tested POPVOX with Congressional staffers, one of their most common comments was that they wished they had a centralized location for organizations to upload their issue-related documents. That way, when a staffer is looking for organizations that are supporting a specific bill, she would be able to access an organization's position statements, press releases and reports in a single mouse-click.
As one senior House committee staffer explained:
Given the fast pace on the Hill and the volumes of email staffers receive every day, it can be very hard to find quickly a given organizationʼs position on a matter. Searching websites can take time, emails get buried or deleted. I would love to see a central repository of letters written by outside groups on a given bill or issue; that is, one location where I knew I could easily see who has weighed in—both for and against. Not only would such a feature save me substantial time in finding a groupʼs position, but I could see the views of others that I might not have thought to look for, but whose input would be valuable to me.
How Organizations Can Upload Their Position Documents
Organizations can easily upload their documents on POPVOX directly from their profile page. From there, scroll down to your organization's "legislative agenda" and click on the option that says "Upload Document" (next to the icon with the document and up-arrow).
Next, you will be given the option to upload a press release, report, letter of support, coalition letter or any other document. Click on what you'd like to upload and then complete the boxes, beginning with the "document title."
Then, cut and paste the document text into the next box. Providing the document's text directly, rather than relying only on a PDF attachment is strategic: it means one less click for Congressional staffers to access your information. (And we all know that sometimes PDFs can take a while to download!) In addition, if your document is already up on your organization's website, you can also provide a link to it in the third box.
And lastly, hit "upload" -- and you're all set. You may upload one document of each type (press release, report, letter, etc) for each bill for which your organization has a position.
And after you upload, don't forget to repeat the other bills on your legislative agenda.
As always, we'd love your feedback on this new feature. Please let me know if you found this process simple or challenging, and how we can make POPVOX even more useful for your organization.
(Actually it's just the Budget, due February 14.)
Here's a primer for those following along at home.
Budget and Appropriations are not the same thing.
The federal budget is "what we plan to do." Appropriations are "what we are going to pay for." Or, as Wikipedia explains , "The budget resolution serves as a blueprint for the actual appropriation process, and provides Congress with some control over the appropriations process. No new spending authority, however, is provided until appropriation bills are enacted."
The 2011 Continuing (Appropriations) Resolution Expires March 4
Congress did not pass a 2011 budget in 2010. Instead, it operated under a series of "continuing resolutions," (CRs) which maintain spending at existing levels, with no new programs allowed. The latest continuing resolution expires on March 4, 2011. So, before then, Congress must pass an appropriations bill for 2011 or another CR to keep the federal government operating past March 4.
On Friday, February 11, House Republicans released their plan for 2011 , which touts $100 billion in cost savings . That number is complicated because it compares the plan to the proposed 2011 Obama budget (which was never enacted) rather than to current spending levels. You can weigh in on the House proposal, HR 1 , on POPVOX.
The President Introduces his (Proposed) Budget on February 14
At the same time that this Appropriations discussion about the CR for 2011 is taking place, Congress will also be debating The 2012 Budget.
On Monday, February 14, Obama sends his budget to Capitol Hill. The President's Budget is an outline, a proposal, a "this is how I would do it if I didn't have to go through Congress," version. The Budget will be made available online and literally "delivered" to the offices on Capitol Hill, where Congressional aides will begin scouring the language in preparation for the Budget hearings of the week. Administration officials will appear before the Committees of jurisdiction and answer questions about the proposed budget.
The schedule for Capitol Hill Budget Hearings is as follows:
Feb. 15 Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner testifies before the House Ways and Means Committee Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testifies before the Senate Finance Committee White House budget director Jacob Lew testifies before the Senate Budget Committee
Feb. 16 Energy Secretary Stephen Chu testifies before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testifies before the House Ways and Means Committee White House budget director Jacob Lew testifies before the House Ways and Means Committee Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner testifies before the Senate Finance Committee
Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner testifies before the Senate Budget Committee
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano testifies before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee
Congress will not vote on the President's budget (except in the highly unlikely case that House or Senate Leadership decide to bring it to a vote.) Instead, the Budget Committees in both chambers will release their own proposed budgets for eventual votes, usually in April.
The Debt Ceiling
April may turn out to be a contentious month not only because Congress will be voting on the 2012 budget, but because they will also have to consider raising the "debt ceiling," the Treasury Department's borrowing limit. Treasury Secretary Geithner recently notified Congress that the limit would be reached around April 5 to May 31.
DC Startup POPVOX Delivers Your Message to Congress in Tech Cocktail
At many points, the team discussed that POPVOX has a strong business imperative to get privacy right. Civic engagement is different than many other online activities. It requires a neutral, trusted platform. At several points in our discussions, we found ourselves asking, “if we don’t do this, who will?”
The policy is not boilerplate. We asked experts and debated clauses and pared down where we could while staying within the confines of what our lawyers advised. With the legalese structure in place, we will continue to seek input, refine the policy and make improvements when we find a better approach.
A few days ago, I posted the question “ what are privacy best practices for start-ups? ” on Quora , a question-and-answer site that has become a place for discussion for the tech/startup world. I also joined a weekly Tuesday " Privacy Chat " on Twitter, hosted by @CenDemTech (The Center for Democracy & Technology ) and @PrivacyCamp , in which interested participants discuss several privacy-related questions by following the #privchat hashtag. I am grateful to the participants in that chat and Quora contributors, and wanted to respond to some points that came up directly. Points made via twitter are in italics below:
POPVOX is a platform for civic engagement that must address two potentially contradictory data needs: (1) The need to provide users with a safe, trusted environment for providing input on legislation - input that can sometimes be quite personal or private, and (2) The need to provide very specific, personally identifiable data to Congress, to ensure that constituents’ input is weighed appropriately.
POPVOX only works if we balance these two requirements appropriately. Here is how we address them:
1. You can use the site without creating an account. You can access bill information, comments, position papers from organizations.
2. In order to take a position on a bill or leave a comment, you must create an account. You may create a new, name/password login; we also allow the option of using Google, Twitter or LinkedIn OAuth. The information is shared in the following ways:
- Your real name, email, & physical address are shared in an email to your legislator . (This is an “only as much data as we need” issue: your legislator requires it in order to process your message.)
- Your screen name, Congressional district, and comment are publicly available on POPVOX. The public nature of your comment is the key to the effectiveness of POPVOX - to show real-life, curated examples of what people really think about legislation. If you do not want your comment to be public, just choose to support or oppose without leaving a comment, and email your legislator outside of the POPVOX platform.
- If you come to POPVOX via a link from an advocacy organization and you opt to share your information with that organization (via a check box identifying the option and the Organization’s name under the “take action” button) your name, email, and zip code will be shared with that organization.
@alexanderhanff #privchat also you have to be approachable. if a potential or existing customers wants to talk about privacy don't just send them to PPSee above or find me on Twitter @marcidale .
@NovakKevin #privchat: do your homework upfront before running off in developmentHomework never done... we will continue to refine.
@jdp23 Fair Information Practices. get feedback from experts and consumers! treat it as a business priority.#privchatYes! It is a key business priority for POPVOX. It is in our business plan and a part of our "pitch." We will continue to solicit feedback and this is an open invitation.
@GetAbine Collect only the data that's absolutely necessary, & be clear & open about that with customers.#privchatWe think we have struck the right balance on this with the policy described above. Let us know if you agree.
@PogoWasRight If you're gutsy, run your PP by privacy advocates to see what questions or concerns we have while reading your policy. #privchat(We asked a lot of others too.)
@GetAbine Dedicate your startup to privacy protection & never sway in your vision. Don't sell out. Don't be evil.#privchatYes! You help make this possible when you support businesses that respect privacy. Help us show our investors -- and investors in other startups -- that this is a viable business model.
@alexanderhanff Haha, well what about lawyers who ARE privacy advocates? We exist; I'm one of them.#privchatThis lawyer salutes you and we would love your input on our existing policies and how they could be improved.
@alexanderhanff #privchat once established, don't stop, have regular #privacy audits and reviews the same as you do for other areas of your businessThis is a great suggestion that we intend to implement on a regular basis.
@WarrenEHart don't be a weasel. Tell me up front if you're going to use my name / comments in ads to my friendsYour screen name and comments can be shared by anyone who finds them interesting to help bring attention to the issue you weighed in on. POPVOX works because comments on bills are public, and searchable, and shared... and taken into account by media and decision-makers. And please always call us out if we ever cross into "weasel" territory.
#privchat Net of discussion: HTTPS = "just do it"We did!The input continues to come in and with your help, we will continue to learn, refine, and work to make POPVOX a leader in online privacy.
(For media inquiries, please contact Marci Harris, POPVOX’s CEO, at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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