Hill Web sites improve their grades in latest review

Many Web sites for individual members of Congress have improved their services since last year, but the number of poor sites remained almost the same, the Congress Online Project concluded today when releasing its second annual study of congressional sites.

On a four-point scale, the 610 congressional sites got a grade point average of 2.30, compared with a GPA of 1.76 last year.

Fully half of the sites surveyed received a grade of A or B, five times as many as in a similar survey released in January of last year. But 25 percent of the sites still scored D or F grades, down from 32 percent last year.

On the House side, 73 percent of the award-winning member Web sites belonged to Republican representatives, and 71 percent of the survey's winners on the Senate side belonged to Democrats.

The project identified five attributes'audience, content, interactivity, usability and innovations'as the essential building blocks of an effective congressional Web site, said Nicole Folk, one of the report's primary authors.

Despite the overall increase in ratings, the study identified areas for improvement. For example, only 14 percent of senators' sites and 37 percent of House members' sites provided voting records.

Many members of Congress still think that listing their voting records online is like giving ammunition to their opponents, said Brad Fitch, deputy director of the Congressional Management Foundation. They may not realize that the national committees of both major parties and several other Web sites already publish House and Senate voting records.

The report gave gold awards to the Web sites of 10 House members, three senators, the majority staff of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the minority staff of the House Government Reform Committee and the House Republican Conference.

Silver and bronze awards went to 59 other sites, all of which received overall grades of at least A minus.

Congress Online studied the Web sites between August and November 2002, Folk said. Three of the sites receiving silver and bronze awards belonged to people who are no longer serving in the Senate.

The foundation and George Washington University sponsored the study with funding from the Pew Charitable Trusts. The report, Congress Online 2003: Turning the Corner of the Information Age, is available at www.congressonlineproject.org

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