FaceTime with members of Congress? It may not be that far off.
At the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, the communications staff is experimenting with a host of digital platforms and projects, from a sleek YouTube channel to one-on-one interactions with Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa. Overseeing the effort is a Chicago Bears fanatic with a penchant for extreme sports.
"One of Mr. Shuster's goals when he became chairman "¦ was to look beyond Washington, D.C., because transportation affects all Americans, whether they know it or not," said Jim Billimoria, the committee's communications director.
As part of the effort, the committee recently introduced a suave blue-and-gray emblem that looks like it belongs on the nose of a fighter jet. Just the fact that the panel refers to its insignia as a "logo" is an indication of its attention to branding. One of the more unorthodox ideas Billimoria is considering is "crowdsourcing legislation," which would allow the general public to comment on pending bills.
In the month to come, the committee will unveil a new website, spruce up its Facebook page and introduce new Twitter and Facebook handles. The emphasis will be on infographics, video, and interactive tools. "The purpose is not just to display policy and issues, but to engage the audience with dates and history," Billimoria said.
The 33-year-old was raised in Palatine, Ill., northwest of Chicago, and received a bachelor's degree in finance from the University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign). Upon graduating, he "packed up two suitcases" and headed to Washington, where his first job was a press assistant for then-Rep. Deborah Pryce, R-Ohio. Asked why he chose not to pursue a career in finance, Billimoria replied, "Just because you're good at something doesn't mean you want to do it for the rest of your life."
In the years that followed, he served as communications director for Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., and later under House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich. Before coming to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Billimoria spent a year in the private sector working in crisis communications.
In 2005, he cofounded a club for Chicago Bears fans inside the Beltway. "For years, the Washington, D.C., area was a barren wasteland for Bears fans," the club's website explains. "In the land where people still played Cowboys and Indians each week, there seemed to be no room for fans of the noble Bear. Though hundreds lived in the area, each drifted, like tumbleweed, searching for a home to watch their beloved team. But they were lost."
That is no longer the case. On game day, club members gather in the Union Pub, in Northeast Washington, to worship at a "shrine to Ditka," which consists of a photo of gruff former coach Mike Ditka, three candles, and a pint of lager.
When not swilling beer at Union Pub, Billimoria is tumbling through the troposphere. "I go skydiving on occasion," he said.