By policy interns Jacob Hutt and Eric Dunn
Social media and news releases are powerful examples of how technology can link citizens and elected officials. Congressional committees should publish informative content on their websites, but they should also make this content clear and accessible so that people can understand it. In this post, we take a look at how congressional committees make their websites work for constituents by releasing publications, reaching out to whistleblowers, and taking advantage of social media.
We looked at committee websites to see if they displayed reports from the committee, Congressional Research Service reports on committee-related material, the rules of the committee, or a comprehensive committee oversight plan.
The House Budget Committee was an exemplar of what we hoped to find. The website featured reports on its Laws and Rules page, information about how the federal budget process works, and a glossary of budget terms provided by the GAO. These are excellent tools that highlight how access to these types of publications can make committee websites more effective.
Another committee that stood out was the House Committee on Education & the Workforce, which included fact sheets on pending legislation in the committee. Notably absent from almost every other committee website, fact sheets are a great resource for constituents looking for a way to digest legislation. Unfortunately, generally speaking, non-committee legislative publications (CRS reports, memoranda, GAO reports, etc.) are difficult to find on committee websites.
Congressional committees should give constituents the opportunity to participate in government and provide a secure way for whistleblowers to report fraud and abuse. Only four committees offer forms for whistleblowers to report waste, fraud and abuse on their websites: the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, the House Committee on Financial Services, the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, and the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. All four forms remind whistleblowers that their information will be kept in confidence.
New media is a crucial way for representatives to keep the public quickly informed and fully engaged. We traced six different types of media on committee websites: a blog, a Facebook account, a Twitter account, a photo gallery, a podcast link, and an RSS feed/email list.
The House Armed Services Committee is one example of social media done well. Links to the committee’s Twitter and Facebook pages appear at the top of their website. A member of the public tuned into their Twitter feed or Facebook page would have easy access to all types of information. The pages are updated every few hours with legislative activity, links to live streams of hearings, and other committee news.
The House Ways and Means Committee also stood out for its unique use of media - including a podcast and Youtube channel - to connect constituents with the work it is doing.
Other websites haven’t quite found their way into the 21st century. The Senate Armed Services website is a prime example of a website that serves an important government function but makes it difficult for constituents to find social media pages.
The Best: House Armed Services Committee
Committees By the Numbers
- 14 of 21 House committees have a Facebook page, compared to just 2 of 20 Senate committees.
- 18 House committees have a Twitter feed; just 2 Senate committees have one.
- 5 House committee websites have a regularly updated blog. The Senate has none.
- Just 4 committees make documents available in non-PDF formats.
- Only 9 House committee pages featured links to a comprehensive oversight plan (as required by the rules).