Democrats take over Congress, but online presence lags

On the Web, Democratic Party's takeover of Congress has been rocky. HouseDemocrats.gov has been offline for more than a week. Images: Democrats offline

Anne Broache Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Anne Broache
covers Capitol Hill goings-on and technology policy from Washington, D.C.
Anne Broache
2 min read
More than a week after Democrats seized control of the U.S. House of Representatives, their main Web site has been offline for at least that long, and two other sites have been down for shorter periods.

HouseDemocrats.gov, according to a home page cached by Google on December 22, once spelled out the party's "New Direction for America," a wide-ranging agenda spanning economic policy, retirement, health care, national security, education and the environment.

But since at least the middle of last week, the site's red, white and blue motif was inaccessible, its visitors turned away by an unhelpful message: connection to the site's servers had failed.


Brendan Daly, a spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whose office is responsible for the site, said it has been offline while its servers undergo "revamping." He assured CNET News.com that the venture would go live again by next week--though he later revised that projection to before President Bush's State of the Union address on January 23.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's own site got off to a slow start. It was down for part of January 4, the day that she took hold of the gavel for the first time.

Daly did not comment on that occurrence, except to say the site underwent a "soft launch" last week and is slated for a relaunch in several weeks, complete with "a blog, RSS feeds, expanded kids' pages and more multimedia capabilities."

On Wednesday afternoon, the Web site for the House Energy and Commerce Committee, whose jurisdiction includes Internet regulations, was inaccessible. It was not online as of 6 a.m. PST on Thursday, but was back up by 7:30 a.m.

For now, the official sites for the speaker and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer are "chock-full of information" about the Democrats' plans, Daly said.

Does that mean proponents of a so-called "innovation agenda," a push that includes the ambitious goal of rolling out high-speed Internet to all Americans within five years, aren't embarrassed by the delays?

"It's part of the transition," Daly said in an e-mail interview Thursday. "Sometimes, these things take a little time."

Transitional hiccups were perhaps to be expected amid the power shift. A number of Senate committee Web sites still bear the names and photographs of their former Republican chairmen and membership.

But taking the Democratic caucus' site offline is a pity, said Carol Darr, director of the Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet at George Washington University.

"They're missing an opportunity to energize an influential online audience at a key time," she said. "People who log on to these sites tend to be activists who are looking for talking points they can share with their large networks of friends and colleagues."

CNET News.com's Declan McCullagh contributed to this report.