- The Washington Times - Monday, March 3, 2003

WASHINGTON, March 3 (UPI) — At least half of congressional offices run successful Web sites, according to the second annual report of the Congress Online Project, released Monday by the Congressional Management Foundation.

In a review of 610 congressional members, committee and leadership offices, the project rewarded 75 "Mouse Awards" and gave 50 percent of the Web sites reviewed an A or B mark.

Republicans took home 60 percent of the awards both this year and last, and the Senate Web sites scored higher than those managed by the House.

The best Web sites, according to the report, effectively used five building blocks: audience, content, interactivity, usability and innovations.

A member's Web site that follows the project's recommendations should include material for constituents, news media, lobbyists and educators, and offer a variety of ways for constituents to interact with their members such as e-mail, polls and newsletters.

"Too many congressional Web sites are generic — they fail to reflect the personality of the member and the distinctiveness of the district or state. Rep. Kay Granger's site is not one of them," the report said.

Granger, R-Texas, received a Golden Mouse Award for the second time, with the Congress Online report citing the straightforward style of her Web site and unique features such as a staff directory and a Spanish language version of the Web site.

"It is an honor to once again receive recognition as having one of the best Web sites on Capitol Hill," Granger said in a statement. "My Web site truly belongs to the people of the 12th District of Texas and is a major part of my continuing efforts to offer outstanding constituent service."

Although the report said that congressional Web sites have significantly improved, 25 percent of the offices received failing grades for their Web sites.

The report said that those offices "have not yet understood the value of the Internet" and "these offices are missing a valuable opportunity to interact with more citizens than ever before possible, to streamline their operations and enhance their productivity."

"The poor Web sites tend to be very promotional in nature," said Brad Fitch, deputy director of the Congressional Management Foundation, "with photographs that take up three-fourths of the page or sometimes too much emphasis on technology."

Fitch said that a common problem in the failing Web sites was inattentiveness.

"When you look at a committee site and that latest hearing posted is 1998, it's a little sad," he said.

The report also outlined reasons that members of Congress should care about their Web sites and commit resources to them.

"The most basic benefit is that you're enhancing your service to your constituents," Fitch said. "It's like having a nonstop town meeting with your entire constituency. Good Web sites also demonstrate accountability."

Fitch said that the Web sites had improved over the last year because members are finally recognizing the impact of the Internet, and that many offices used Congress Online assessments from last year as a model of improvement.

Congress Online is a non-partisan program that was founded to "improve electronic communication between members of Congress and the public." The program has been funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts and is conducted by the congressional Management Foundation and the George Washington University.

The program was funded and planned for two years, but Fitch said that he hopes that the program will find the funding to continue and that it is important for Congress to have an independent project to review their Internet usability.

"They need a little extra help sometimes, a little prod in the right direction," he said.

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