Study finds Congress has made strides toward handling the streams of e-mail that clog members' cyberspace
Members of Congress have made strides toward handling the stream of e-mail messages that clogs their portion of cyberspace, according to a new study.
Although the volume remains at staggering levels the House and Senate received 117 million inbound messages in 2001 both sides are taking advantage of information technology solutions, such as filters and Web-based forms, an Aug. 7 special report by the Congress Online Project found (www.congressonlineproject.org). Also, the growth rate of e-mail reaching the House has slowed this year.
"Congress is becoming more competent at taming the e-mail monster," said Brad Fitch, deputy director of the Congressional Management Foundation, the Congress Online Project's parent organization.
The report updates a study released in March 2001 that described how members were "literally drowning in a sea of email," Fitch said. Now they seem to have swum to the surface just in time to deal with an ever-growing demand.
Consider the following: Last year, 13 million Americans participated in an online lobbying campaign, 23 million sent comments to public officials about policy choices, and 68 million visited a government Web site, according to an April 2002 report by the Pew Internet and American Life Project.
On a typical day in 2001, House offices received 234,245 messages, Senate 88,009.
"More people are going online," Fitch said. "It's just that Congress is getting better at handling those communications."
A number of measures are contributing to this rosier picture. More offices are answering e-mail with e-mail, replacing their public e-mail addresses with Web-based forms, and using filters to weed out spam.
Further reducing the overload, private-sector and grassroots communities have become more sophisticated and better at helping constituents tailor messages to individual members instead of the entire institution.
"Groups are getting smarter about how to e-mail Congress," said Bob Hansan, president and chief executive officer of Capitol Advantage, which creates online tools for special-interest groups. And "Capitol Hill is finally getting the message that electronic [messaging] is here to stay and they're learning to manage it."
The payoffs have been great. The House experienced a "surprising" drop in the rate of e-mail growth during the past six months, according to the study. The number of inbound messages is projected to increase by 2.5 percent this year, in contrast with a 78 percent surge in 2001.
The Senate, however, is not expected to see a similar respite. Its e-mail volume is estimated to go up 24 percent, 2 percent more than it did last year.
Experts attribute this to it being a transition time for the Senate, which is upgrading its e-mail system. It also has been slower to adopt Web-based forms than the House and probably gets more spam, Hansan said.
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