Congress scores low grade on Net communication

A newly released report says Congress has done more harm than good in trying to use technology to communicate. Grassroots groups are still trying to change that.

Stephanie Condon Staff writer, CBSNews.com
Stephanie Condon is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.
Stephanie Condon
2 min read

Attempts by Congress and grassroots advocacy groups to employ different technologies to communicate with each other have done more harm than good, a new report says.

"The result has been misunderstanding, frustration, wasted effort, and even anger on both sides, which must be resolved to truly realize the tremendous opportunities for electronic communications between citizens and their representatives in Congress," according to a report from the nonprofit, nonpartisan Congressional Management Foundation.

After interviewing representatives on the Hill, their staffers, and their constituents for nearly 10 years, the group's report, "Communicating with Congress: Recommendations for Improving the Democratic Dialogue," concludes that both congressmen and advocacy groups need best practices for communicating effectively.

Tweet Congress, which is encouraging better online communication between congressmen and their constituents, pokes fun at members of Congress not on Twitter. Tweet Congress

The report recommends that grassroots organizations aggregate all of their communications on a particular topic or advocacy campaign to maximize their impact and ensure that "congressional offices can accurately understand the sentiments of their constituents." It also recommends implementing ways to easily identify the sponsoring the organizations, as well as a way to verify that the communications are sent from real citizens.

On the congressional side, open-source communications standards should be developed and made widely available, the report recommends, and made "both to accommodate the largest number of organizations and to allow even small grassroots groups to participate without the assistance of a third-party vendor."

Certainly, Congress has had its fair share of technical blunders. In September, the Web site for the House of Representatives crashed after record-breaking numbers of citizens tried to access the site to e-mail their congressmen and download the financial-bailout bill.

The legislative branch has made efforts, however--as have constituency groups and grassroots organizations--to get more congressional communications flowing on the Web.

The newly launched Tweet Congress is attempting to get more congressmen tweeting by enabling visitors to find out whether their representatives use the microblogging site. If not, it encourages users to contact their representatives to change that. The site uses the Sunlight Labs API, a project of the Sunlight Foundation transparency group.