Modernizing the House of Representatives: Adaptations during the pandemic

Published in May, 2021

On May 13th, 2020, the Honorable House of Representatives of the Argentine Nation (HCDN, by its Spanish acronym) held its first remote session ever. The approval of protocols for its remote operation was a milestone. The main actors of the political ecosystem —legislators, political leaders, House authorities, and technical teams— overcame pre-existing differences and agreed on how to legislate during the mandatory and preventive lockdown, between March and November 2020. They agreed that the Congress should actively participate in public policy making and monitoring during the health emergency.

Since then, 18 hybrid sessions have been held and 1787 bills, 1853 draft resolutions, and 966 draft declarations have been introduced by e-mail. During the 138th session, which lasted from March 1st, 2020 to February 28th, 2021, 70 bills were passed. To this end, an IT system was developed to introduce bills and to sign committee reports remotely with digital signature (Parliamentary Document Management System, GPD, by its Spanish acronym), as well as a digital platform to hold sessions, committee meetings, and voting on a remote basis. Recognition technology based on biometric data was also introduced to identify representatives.

In this document we analyze the process of technology adoption and implementation, on the basis of the legitimacy, integrity, accessibility, and transparency of the legislative process, as well as its impact on the lawmaking, scrutiny, and representation tasks. The introduction of technology in the HCDN may offer an opportunity to rethink legislative work from a comprehensive viewpoint and to pursue reforms to modernize its management. In the future, the key will be to preserve that which can improve and promote greater participation of Congress in public policy making and scrutiny, and to enhance its relationship with citizens.

To this end, we recommend publishing updated information regarding the use and operation of new work methodologies. We also suggest moving towards a consensus-based reform of the HCDN Rules in order to establish the circumstances under which remote work will be allowed. In case a hybrid methodology is maintained, we recommend integrating virtual with in-person participation in order to enhance the integrity of the whole process.

As regards accessibility, we recommend adopting a gender perspective in every aspect of digital transformation as well as evaluating the infrastructure and technological resources of users to guarantee access to the necessary equipment to work remotely. We also recommend incorporating an initial training process for new members after each election and continuous training for all users. Finally, promoting and escalating the use of tools such as the digital signature and the GPD will facilitate the traceability and agility of legislative formalities, and reduce paper use.

Associated publications

“Virtual sessions: a milestone for the Argentine House of Representatives”, a summary that outlines the process by which technology was incorporated in order to carry out legislative work remotely. It also shows the results the HCDN obtained during 2020 and makes some recommendations on how to continue with the modernization of the House of Representatives.


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