Congressmen wary of e-mail

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The new soap box

Members of Congress are leery about using technology to correspond with constituents, according to panelists who spoke Thursday at the Federal Library and Information Center Committee Forum.

One reason? "It is difficult to tell who has sent an e-mail message or where it came from," said former California Rep. Vic Fazio, now a senior partner at Clark & Weinstock. "Most members are not interested in the views of those who don't vote for them or have the potential to vote for them, so when an office is inundated with messages, it is sometimes easier not to respond."

Confidentiality is another reason. Daniel Mulhollan, director of Congressional Research Services at the Library of Congress, said many Congressional staff members are fearful of using technology because items created electronically are not always confidential.

"I have been told by several staffs that they have a policy not to create anything electronically that they wouldn't want to see printed on the front page in the morning," he said. "There is always a chance that e-mail messages or information on your hard drive may be subpoenaed. What is happening at the White House is a perfect example." [The case of missing White House e-mail, March 24, 2000]

Despite concerns, Congress, along with the rest of the federal government, will have to implement technology in order to meet public demand, panel members said.

"The public wants an immediate response," Fazio said. "There is increasing pressure on Congress to use technology. Those who utilize technology to keep in touch tend to be the ones who get re-elected. There is a change in attitude taking place."


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