Campus Notebook: Foundation Awards Congress’ Top Websites

Posted October 24, 2011 at 6:41pm

Ninety-eight Members of Congress have stellar websites while the rest leave something to be desired, according to a report released Monday.

After studying the websites of leadership, lawmakers and committees in both chambers, the nonprofit Congressional Management Foundation picked the 112th Congress’ winners of the Gold Mouse Awards, given to Members with the best websites.

Four Members were deemed standouts, winning platinum awards. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) won for the best House website, and Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) was honored for the best Senate site.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) won for the best leadership website, and House Education and Workforce Chairman John Kline (R-Minn.) was lauded for hosting the best committee website.

The remaining 94 received gold, silver and bronze Mouse Awards.

The quality of Congressional websites — their usability, breadth of information and timely updates — has grown since the Congressional Management Foundation first rated them in 1993. That year,
90 percent of all Capitol Hill sites received grades of C, D or F. In 2003, 50 percent of these sites received grades of A or B.

“Now there are signs that Congress really does ‘get’ technology and the value to individual Members, the institution of Congress, and constituents,” noted the introduction to this year’s report, which shows that the most common grade was a B.

Still, there is room for improvement, with more than one-third of websites in the 112th Congress receiving a D or an F. In the Senate, nearly half of all new lawmakers received such marks, while 17 percent of new House Members got failing or near-failing grades.

New media consultants in the Washington, D.C., area are unimpressed with Congressional websites as a whole.

“An online presence is everything these days,” said Mike Kapetanovic, managing director of the firm Reef Light Interactive, adding that most of the Congressional sites he’s seen have lacked adequate tools for constituent engagement. “Having a website that helps [Members] communicate and engage with constituents is only going to help them.”

The Congressional Management Foundation does not reveal the names of the losing offices. But CEO Brad Fitch said the Members with the lowest grades have something in common: They are longtime officeholders.

“For many senior lawmakers, legislative priorities become their top priorities,” Fitch said.

Ken Ward, CEO of online consulting firm Fireside 21, agreed. Fireside 21 is used by more than 135 House offices.

“When Members have safe seats, I think those folks are less likely to innovate, whether it’s online or with social media or something like that,” Ward said. “They play it a little safe and conservative.”

There are exceptions: Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), the longest-serving House Member, is a Gold Mouse Award winner this year.

But Fitch said it was worthwhile to consider how newer lawmakers in the
112th Congress, among them 12 House freshmen, tended to win the most awards.

Members of Congress with histories of working in the private sector or state legislatures also tend to have a strong Web presence.

Begich, for instance, has long been interested in using the Web as a way to communicate with the people he serves, dating back to his days as the mayor of Anchorage, Press Secretary Julie Hasquet said.

Younger Members with a finger on the pulse of the “technological age” also have an advantage, Ryan spokesman Kevin Seifert said.

“Having a boss who is a younger Member, who is willing to use tech innovations, definitely helps us in our online strategy,” Seifert said.

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