Congressional Web sites need work: study

Congressional Management Foundation evaluated hundreds of Web sites<@VM>Gold Mouse Award Winners

The Gold Mouse Awards might not sound like a big deal, but with the Golden Globe ceremonies reduced to a press conference, we'll have to take what we can get.

In a study funded by the National Science Foundation, the Congressional Management Foundation evaluated more than 600 Web sites for both houses of Congress, their members and their committees, and found many of them lacking.

The overall quality of the sites 'continues to be disappointing,' the report ( concluded. More than 40 percent of the sites received a D or an F in the most recent report, and while the number of sites receiving Gold, Silver or Bronze Mouse Awards increased by 19, there were 20 more receiving a D or an F.

'We are glad to see the good sites getting better, but discouraged to see the bad getting worse,' Executive Director Beverly Bell said in a statement.

CMF is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization founded 30 years ago to promote a more effective Congress. It previously conducted studies of Web sites in 2002, 2003 and 2006. The most recent study was done with the assistance of Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, the University of California-Riverside and Ohio State University.

'Surprisingly few member sites offer much content on where the member stands on the issues of the day," said Dr. David Lazer, associate professor of public policy and director of the Program on Networked Governance at the Kennedy School of Government.
Among the report's major criticisms of member Web sites:
  • One-third of congressional sites still did not have a functional search engine.
  • Information about legislative issues with particular state or local interest was not available on 57 percent of member Web sites.
  • Twenty-six percent of member sites did not have links to sponsored or co-sponsored legislation. Of the ones that did, 23 percent did not reference the most current session of Congress.

Other key findings included:
  • Half of the sites that earned Fs last year received the same grade in 2006, and a full 63 percent of member sites that received a D in 2006 received the same grade or slipped to an F in 2007.
  • The most common letter grade in the Senate was a B compared to a D in the House. In the Senate, 33 percent fewer sites received a failing grade in 2007 than in 2006, but in the House, the percentage of failing sites nearly doubled, from 12 to 21 percent since the 2006 evaluations.
  • The number of substandard or failing committee sites increased to 44 percent, and the percentage of House and Senate committee (both majority and minority) Web sites scoring an F doubled between 2006 and 2007.
  • In 2006, Republican sites performed slightly better than their Democratic counterparts. In 2007, Democratic sites held a slight edge, with 61 percent of Democratic sites earning a grade of C or better, compared to 55 percent of Republican sites.
  • A surprising number of 110th Congress freshmen excelled out of the gate. Sixteen percent of new members received A grades, garnering them 2007 Gold, Silver or Bronze Mouse Awards.

Web sites were evaluated on how well they incorporate five basic building blocks identified as critical for effectiveness: audience, content, usability, interactivity and innovation. An objective evaluation framework was developed, while still taking into account important qualitative factors that affect a visitor's experience, including the quality and tone of the information presented; the usability and navigability of the site; its look and feel; and the degree to which the information meets visitors' needs.
House of Representatives

Rep. Tom Allen (D-Maine)

Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.)

Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.)

Rep. John Boozman (R-Ark.)

Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite (R-Fla.)

Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.)

Rep. Christopher Carney (D-Pa.)

Rep. Bud Cramer (D-Ala.)

Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D-Ind.)

Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (D-Calif.)

Rep. Mike Ferguson (R-N.J.)

Rep. J. Randy Forbes (R-Va.)

Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.)

Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.)

Rep. John Linder (R-Ga.)

Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.)

Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.)

Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.)

Rep. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.)

Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.)

Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.)

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.)

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.)

Rep. Hilda Solis (D-Calif.)

Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.)

Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.)


Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas)

Senator Chris Dodd (D-Conn.)

Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah)

Senator John Thune (R-S.D.)


House Committee on the Judiciary

(Chairman John Conyers Jr.)

House Committee on Science and Technology

(Chairman Bart Gordon)

House Committee on Ways and Means

(Chairman Charles Rangel)

Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources

(Chairman Jeff Bingaman)

Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (Minority)

(Ranking Member James Inhofe)


House Republican Conference
(Chairman Adam Putnam)

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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