Hill shies from technology

The e-revolution may be taking over the private sector and even some federal

agencies, but members of Congress and their staffs resist using technology — to their own detriment, according to a panel of experts that met last

week.

Technology offers opportunities to immediately respond to constituents'

requests, but most members of Congress are leery of using e-mail, according

to Vic Fazio, senior partner at Clark & Weinstock and a former congressman.

"It

is difficult to tell who has sent an e-mail message and where it came from,"

said Fazio, who was on a panel discussing the impact of technology on the

dissemination of government information at last week's Federal Library and

Information Center Committee Forum. "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."

Many congressional staff members also fear using technology because

they worry that electronic documents and e-mail messages are not always

confidential, said Daniel Mulhollan, director of Congressional Research

Services at the Library of Congress.

"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 [of the newspaper] in the morning," Mulhollan said. "There is always

a chance that e-mail messages or information on your hard drive may be

subpoenaed."

Members of Congress and their staffs also worry about leaving behind

electronic documents that a member's successor could obtain to "create hay,"

Fazio said. "You may think a document was deleted from your computer and

it hasn't been. It has made people afraid to put anything in writing and

has impeded the conversation flow."

Despite concerns, Congress, along with the rest of the federal government,

will have to use technology to meet the public's demand for electronic access

and for electronic services, panel members said. "The public wants an immediate

response," Fazio said. "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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