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Congressional Web sites making the grade

A report gives half of all sites an A or B, five times more than last year, despite nearly 25 percent receiving low marks.

Congressional Web sites are looking better this year, according to a new study by the Congress Online Project.

The , "Congress Online 2003: Turning the Corner on the Information Age," evaluated 610 sites of congressmen, standing committee and leadership Web sites, rating each on a 4.0 scale.

The report gave half of all sites an A or B, five times more than last year. Despite the improvements, many sites still lagged. Nearly one in four received a D or an F grade.

Sites receiving low grades failed to update their information, were difficult to use, and focused on promoting Congress members instead of informing people about their floor statements, voting records or committee assignments.

The study warned against self-aggrandizing language and using the Web as an advertising medium. "The only reason people make the active effort to come to your Web site is to find information that they want," the study's authors wrote. "The less your Web site seems like an advertisement of the Member's achievements--and the more it is an information resource--the more successful it will be."

The study said that the most effective sites provide updated information quickly and easily to visitors. They also let people interact with the office, using features such as e-mail newsletters and online town hall meetings.

In the House, Republicans again outpaced Democrats with their Web building skills, receiving 73 percent of the Mouse awards, which go to sites achieving an A. Last year, they received 79 percent. Democrats fared better in the Senate, landing 71 percent of the best Web site awards, up from 73 percent last year.

The study also found that newcomers and younger House members tended to use the Web better than their older or more experienced counterparts. "In the House, there is a clear decline in the quality of Web sites as the tenure and age of the member increase," the study said.