Congressional Websites Improve – But Many Lack Important Educational And Transparency Features, According To New Report
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressional websites are getting better, according to an analysis by the Congressional Management Foundation (CMF). The nonprofit organization graded 618 congressional websites and found the most common grade moved from an F in the 111th Congress to a B in the 112th Congress. CMF has been grading congressional websites since 2001 and issues biannual Congressional Gold Mouse Awards for the best websites on Capitol Hill for each Congress.
CMF conducted its analysis from June to September 2011 and today released its latest report, "112th Congress Gold Mouse Awards: Best Practices in Online Communications on Capitol Hill." The report identified recent trends related to online communications in Congress, including:
- A significant number of House and Senate Member websites lacked basic educational and transparency features including: links to bills sponsored and cosponsored, voting records, and basic information on how a bill becomes a law.
- House Members taking office in January 2011 had significantly better websites than Senators taking office in January 2011, with 61% of new House Members receiving an A or B grade, compared to 31% of new Senators receiving a similar grade. Nearly half (46%) of new Senators received a grade of D or F, compared to 17% of new House Members.
- While there was general parity overall in quality of websites between Democrats and Republican Member websites, the best websites tended to be Democratic Members.
Through its analysis, CMF also announced the best websites on Capitol Hill which will receive Platinum Mouse Awards. They are:
- Best Senate Member Website: Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK)
- Best House Member Website: Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI)
- Best Committee Website: House Education and Workforce Committee (Majority), Rep. John Kline (R-MN), Chair
- Best Leadership Website: House Democratic Leader, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)
"These Members of Congress are to be commended for educating citizens and achieving the highest degree of transparency and accountability in online communications," said Bradford Fitch, President and CEO of CMF. "In the 21st Century, a website is much more than a broadcasting tool for a political message - it's a virtual office and a window into our democratic institutions. These winners of the Platinum, Gold, Silver, and Bronze Mouse Awards understand the value of using the Internet to enlighten and serve constituents, and are examples for all congressional offices to follow," he said.
A total of 98 personal office, committee and leadership websites will receive a Platinum, Gold, Silver or Bronze Mouse Award. With the assistance and guidance of faculty from the University of California-Riverside, the Ohio State University, and Northeastern University, CMF staff assessed and graded 618 congressional websites from June 22 to September 2, 2011. Each website was given a numerical score, which was translated into a grade of A through F.
The criteria for website assessments have been developed and refined by CMF over the past decade based on survey research, focus groups with constituents, and interviews with key stakeholders to congressional offices. A total of 92 criteria were used to grade personal office websites, 66 criteria for committee websites, and 53 criteria for leadership sites. Reviewers assessed 10 categories of criteria: usability of website; timeliness of content; breadth and depth of information on issues; constituent services and casework information; promoting accountability to constituents; legislative process information; district/state information; floor proceedings information; availability of diverse forms of content; and availability of diverse forms of content channels. CMF reviewers also included social media components in the criteria.
CMF will release only the names of award winners (congressional offices that earned a grade of A-, A, or A+). Each congressional office will be notified privately of their grade and be provided with a customized report explaining their grade and ways to improve their website. This is the sixth round of Gold Mouse Awards CMF has issued since 2001. In 2009 CMF moved the Gold Mouse Awards to a once-a-Congress schedule, and the awards are now issued in the first year of a new Congress. Award-winning offices will be invited to an awards reception on November 16 at 101 Constitution Avenue, NW, Washington, DC.
Founded in 1977, CMF is a 501(c)(3) nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to helping Congress and its Members meet the evolving needs and expectations of an engaged and informed 21st century citizenry. Its work focuses on improving congressional operations and enhancing citizen engagement through research, publications, training, and management services. The Gold Mouse Awards and congressional website research is part of CMF's Partnership for a More Perfect Union, dedicated to enriching the relationship between citizens and Congress. The goal of the Partnership is to further meaningful civic engagement through education, re-establishing trust, and providing innovative and pragmatic tools to facilitate purposeful two-way communication between citizens and Congress.
The research was supported through grants from Bloomberg Government, CQ Roll Call, and the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).
- Both Nancy Pelosi and Paul Ryan are double winners this year. Rep. Pelosi's personal office website won Gold Mouse Award and the House Budget Committee, which Rep. Ryan chairs, won a Silver Mouse Award.
- The best Senate Member website in the 111th Congress and 112th Congress were from Alaska. 111th Congress Platinum winner - Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK).
- The only Member of Congress to win an award in every assessment since 2001 is Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA).
- 12 House freshmen won awards.
- 11 Members of Congress won awards who were graded D or F in the 111th Congress.
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