On the Hill, more Web sites making the grade

Congress Online gold mouse winners

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.): carper.senate.gov

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.): leahy.senate.gov

Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.): reid.senate.gov

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.): www.house.gov/blumenauer

Rep. John Boozman (R-Ark.): www.house.gov/boozman

Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.): www.house.gov/fattah

Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas): kaygranger.house.gov

Rep. Melissa Hart (R-Pa.): hart.house.gov

Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.): www.house.gov/larson

Rep. Richard Pombo (R-Calif.):

Rep. George Radanovich (R-Calif.): www.radanovich.house.gov

Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.): www.house.gov/shays

Rep. Nick Smith (R-Mich.): www.house.gov/nicksmith

House Energy and Commerce Committee (majority): energycommerce.house.gov

House Government Reform Committee (minority): reform.house.gov/min

House Republican Conference: www.gop.gov

Congressional Web sites improved dramatically over the past year, but the number of poor sites remained almost the same, the Congress Online Project concluded last week in its second annual study.

On a four-point scale, the 610 congressional sites got an average grade of 2.30, compared with 1.76 last year. Grades improved in every category: by chamber, party, committee and individual member. Winners got gold, silver and bronze mice awards.

Half the sites surveyed got an A or B grade, five times as many as in a similar survey released in January 2002. One-quarter of the sites scored D or F, down from 32 percent last year.

On the House side, 73 percent of the award-winning member sites belonged to Republican representatives, and 71 percent on the Senate side belonged to Democrats. House committee sites won more kudos than their Senate counterparts.

Audience, content, interactivity, usability and innovation are the essential building blocks of an effective congressional site, said Nicole Folk, one of the report's primary authors.

Despite overall improvement, only 14 percent of senators' and 37 percent of representatives' sites displayed voting records. Many members of Congress still think that putting their voting records online is handing ammunition to their opponents, said Brad Fitch, deputy director of the Congressional Management Foundation, although both parties' national committees and other Web sites already publish voting records.

Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), one of the gold mouse winners, organized his voting record particularly well, Folk said.

Sites of individual House members declined in quality as the members' tenure and age rose. 'This trend in Congress tends to mirror trends outside,' the report said. 'Younger people are generally more likely to have integrated technology into their personal and professional lives.'

Going for the gold

That did not hold true in the Senate, where the researchers found no correlation between Web-site quality and senators' age or years of service.

Gold mice went to 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 mice went to 59 other sites, all of which received overall grades of at least A'.
Congress Online studied the sites between August and November 2002, Folk said. Three sites receiving silver and bronze awards belonged to ex-senators Jean Carnahan, Fred Thompson and the late Paul Wellstone.

The report did not list low-ranking congressional sites because the researchers saw their goal as 'rewarding the best practices rather than punishing the worst,' said Kathy Goldschmidt, another primary author.

The researchers, however, did list some common mistakes:
  • Lack of a strategic plan

  • Failure to allocate enough resources to build a good site

  • Making the site the responsibility of a single staff member.

The foundation and George Washington University sponsored the study with funding from the Pew Charitable Trusts. Although the Pew grant was for a two-year study, the researchers are seeking funds to continue their work, Folk said.

The report, Congress Online 2003: Turning the Corner of the Information Age, is posted at www.congressonlineproject.org. The study's authors also plan to post information about training workshops for Capitol Hill webmasters.

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