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A Congress.gov Interview with Fred Simonton, Information Technology Specialist

This week’s interview is with Fred Simonton, an information technology specialist in the Office of the Chief Information Officer.

fred-simonton-in-custodia-legis-interviewDescribe your background.

Born in Vermont, I grew up in Hawaii, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and New York, surrounded by and participating in the arts with a decided preference for music and drawing. In my college years I aimed to broaden my understanding of the world beginning with the business program at SUNY Albany. After taking two years off to play reggae music and teach skiing around the Lake Tahoe area, I completed a BSBA in Ski Resort Management at Sierra Nevada College on the north shore of the lake. The emergence of the internet as a business conduit proved a natural fit for immersive problem solving, strategy, and design.

How would you describe your job to other people?

As a graphic/experience designer I thrive on the mix of left and right brain approaches to solving novel challenges. I create detailed documentation defining the look and behavior of web interfaces based on research and collaboration with a diverse team of subject matter experts, legislative professionals, and content curators. Photoshop and Illustrator are much more than tools, they’ve become extensions of my thought processes — but it is still hard to beat a pencil and paper when chasing down ideas.

What is your role in the development of Congress.gov?

My initial participation was the animation and audio engineering of the Legislative Process scripts written by Valerie Heitshusen. Over the last two years I have worked closely with many people across the Library of Congress to produce an Advanced Legislation Search form that continues to evolve. In the meantime, I have taken a lead role in unifying the design and user interface across Congress.gov.

What is your favorite feature of Congress.gov?

The Advanced Legislation Search sure makes an impression. The sheer magnitude of challenges we faced in producing it leaves me chuckling now that I have some distance from this experience. Our research became morbidly amusing when we realized we were probably integrating some of the most challenging interface peculiarities we’ll ever see. There were just no precedents to refer to as we confronted the singular complexity of the data in the U.S. legislative process.

What is the most interesting fact you’ve learned about the legislative process while working on Congress.gov?

I was somewhat surprised by how integral the Library’s Congressional Research Service is to the legislative process and the effectiveness of its participants. I feel like many of our citizens do not realize what it takes to navigate such an immense process.

What’s something most of your co-workers do not know about you?

Other than some fishing trips to Canada in the 80s, I had never traveled outside the U.S. until I met my wife. She put a passport in my hand, and in the 7 years since we met, we’ve traveled to three continents, eaten lots of amazing food, and explored the hidden gems of cities and islands around the world, from Bangkok and Seoul to Buenos Aires and Barcelona. Exploring so many different cultures and locales has had a huge impact on my design, empathy, and focus.

The Congress.gov Top 16 in 2016

This has been an exciting year working on Congress.gov.  In April we announced that THOMAS would be retired on July 5, which is when we officially pulled the plug.  Congress.gov matured over the year with new advanced ways to search the system and a variety of email alerts for tracking what is happening in Congress. We […]

Congress.gov Homepage Highlights, Alerts, and More Enhancements

This has been an exciting and successful year for Congress.gov.  We accomplished a major milestone when we retired THOMAS in July.  Over the course of 2016, we completed a number of enhancements to Congress.gov.  In April we expanded quick search to include the Congressional Record, Committee Reports, Nominations, Treaty Documents, and Communications. In May we launched several new RSS feeds and […]

Records & Research on the House of Representatives History, Art & Archives Website

The following is a guest post by Alison M. Trulock, an archival specialist in the Office of Art and Archives within the Office of the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives. In October 2016, the Clerk’s Office of the U.S. House of Representatives launched Records Search on the History, Art & Archives website. The website is a […]

Appropriation Charts in Congress.gov

I have always liked the month of September.  It seems a time of new beginnings, the old back to school excitement and energy, more temperate weather (e.g., “a season of mists and mellow fruitfulness“).  But here in the nation’s capital, September is also a month of endings.  The end of September marks the end of […]

Recess Revisions: Congress.gov Clean-up and Enhancements

Washington, D.C. can get quite miserable during the summer heat. Rather than sweating outside, we like to channel our frustration with the weather by updating Congress.gov and sharing related news during the August recess. This continues a tradition that started with THOMAS back in 2010; and continued with our sharing popular items in 2011; introducing Congress.gov in […]

How to Contact Your Representative or Senator: A Beginner’s Guide

This post is coauthored by Barbara Bavis, instructional librarian, and Robert Brammer, senior legal reference specialist The First Amendment to the United States Constitution states: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people […]

Time to Say Goodbye to THOMAS

A version of the following article originally appeared in the July 1, 2016, edition of Library of Congress staff newsletter, The Gazette. THOMAS, which launched with great fanfare on January 5, 1995, twenty-one and a half years ago, is nearing its retirement on July 5, 2016.  Back when it launched, then-Librarian of Congress James H. […]

New Report Looks at Campaign Finance Laws in Seven Countries

There is frequent discussion and debate about U.S. campaign finance laws and the increasing amounts spent by candidates running for the U.S. Congress. Certain aspects of campaign finance regulation have been the subject of judicial review by the Supreme Court. How do other countries approach the complex task of regulating campaign contributions and spending? This […]