Report says Congress needs lots of help with Web sites

Brookings Institution judges congressional Web sites to be 'suboptimal'

Although a few congressional Web sites are exemplary, many are “suboptimal,” and Congress needs to do more work to improve Web sites and share best practices for Web 2.0 technologies, according to a new report from the Brookings Institution think tank.

Brookings has been reviewing congressional Web sites for quality since 2006. In its most recent review with the Congressional Management Foundation in April, it gave the Platinum Mouse Award top honors for Web site excellence to the House Science & Technology Committee, the House Republican Conference, and the individual sites of Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.)

Despite those superior examples, and despite the fact that many lawmakers say their sites are important communication tools, the quality of many of those sites is “suboptimal,” according to the Brookings authors Kevin Esterline, David Laser and Michael Nablo in the "Improving Congressional Web Sites" report, dated this August.


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Among members of Congress, “Web site design often appears to be at most a secondary priority, best practice standards do not appear to drive existing design practices, and there appears to be few attempts to learn about best practices within the institution, either top-down from the leadership or in a decentralized way through social networks,” the report states.

As a result, Congress “seems to be stuck in a suboptimal equilibrium with respect to communication technology,” according to the report.

The authors blamed the inconsistent quality on the lack of any institutional mechanism to educate incoming lawmakers and to evaluate congressional efforts and drive improvements.

“Overall, it appears that there is no established mechanism within the institution driving new technology adoption,” the study said. “Congress as an institution fails to harness any collective process for adopting Web technology innovations or for learning about and using best practices.”

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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Reader comments

Tue, Aug 31, 2010 Michael D. Long Knoxville, TN

The mission of federal agencies is to perform essential functions, not to independently craft IT development standards. What information requiring external communication should be performed using standard formats that are applied to all agencies. Having each agency (or carried to extremes, multiple offices) create their own standards for site design is nothing short of waste and abuse. Most federal agencies can have the Web communication needs met by implementing a content management system which can be maintained by clerical staff for content edits. Such a system should be developed and maintained by a central agency, such as the GAO, and treated the same as a standard form. The fact that this subject has even been raised as a topic of debate points to the gross inefficiency and waste prevalent in the federal government.

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