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Few Congressional Sites Meet CMF’s Approval

In upcoming weeks, expect much buzz on Capitol Hill about which Members will find themselves as the next Harry Reid, Bill Frist or Bernie Sanders.

But not for their political savvy, leadership potential or fierce independence. Rather, for their use of blogs, podcasts and interactive features.

On Feb. 26, the Congressional Management Foundation is expected to release its 2006 Gold Mouse Awards, which honor the best Web sites Capitol Hill has to offer.

CMF released a sneak-peak Monday, announcing that out of the 615 Member, committee and leadership sites studied last year, only 85 will receive a Mouse Award — that’s 13.8 percent of total Congressional sites.

“With the vast leaps in technology that are out there, the use of the Internet and people’s expectations for use of the Internet, we didn’t find across the board … the leaps we might have expected,” said Beverly Bell, executive director of the foundation.

While the winners won’t be announced for a few weeks, the CMF did provide some clues for those anxious tech-obsessed Hill staffers.

Eighteen sites received an A-plus rating, earning them a Gold Mouse Award. Twenty-seven others were given an A and 40 earned an A-minus, granting them silver and bronze awards, respectively.

Eighteen percent of this year’s winners also won in 2003, and only three Member sites have won all three years the awards have been given out (2002, 2003 and 2006).

“Clearly, there are some offices who have made their Web site part of their strategic plan, and that’s really what we recommend,” Bell said. “You don’t have a Web site for the sake of having a Web site.”

The awards might seem like a fun way to honor Members who maintain blogs, host chats and regularly post updates, but they actually come out of a lengthy report that studies how well Members use the Web to communicate with their target audience.

Since 2003, there have been vast improvements in technology, but the CMF was disappointed overall in what Members have done since then, Bell said. Many sites maintain outdated content and links, and some hadn’t even been updated since the last time the awards were released.

“We did not find consistent improvement,” Bell said.

Judges looked at five specific areas in their study: audience, content, usability, interactivity and innovations. Basically, the team tried to determine if Members and committees knew their audience and designed their Web site accordingly, with fun stuff to keep people interested.

Constituents weren’t necessary always considered the core audience. Many sites might be of interest only to staffers and inside-the-Beltway types, while others target specific groups. Tax lawyers likely are regular visitors to the Joint Committee on Taxation site, for example.

“Does it let people get what they want, interact with the office?” Bell said. “How user-friendly is it?”

The CMF staff hopes the report will provide Congressional offices with an incentive to update their Web sites, both for day-to-day usage and overall content.

The foundation is expected to study the improvements Members make to their sites this year and release a new batch of awards in 2008. Bell expects to release a greater number of honors next year.

“You keep your room clean when you know hall monitors are walking by,” Bell said.

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