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Skydiving Enthusiast Helps Transportation Committee Plunge Deeper Into Digital

National Journal
Christopher Snow Hopkins
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Christopher Snow Hopkins
Aug. 12, 2013, 12:09 p.m.

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.

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