Congressional Websites Need Improvement


The Congressional Management Foundation released their annual Golden Mouse Awards today for the best Member websites. The numbers, like our own “Tools for Transparency” project, are not too encouraging. The average score for our citizen powered project was 31.3755. The most common score for the CMF Golden Mouse Awards was a “D”, which is between 30 and 39.

The CMF study is a shade different from what we, with your help, were doing here at Sunlight. CMF uses the following categories to determine if a website is operated properly:

  • Audience – The office has “defined the audience” of the website and this is explicitly clear by the site design and features.
  • Content – Up-to-date information.
  • Usability – Design provides quick and easy access to information.
  • Interactivity – The site “fosters two-way communication”.
  • Innovation – Creative features “enhance visitors’ experience”.

CMF also has four “deal-breakers,” or areas where the website must excel to be a good or great website. These are:

  • Timeliness – Up-to-date information.
  • Usability – The site must be easy to navigate.
  • Issue Content – Keep constituents aware of legislative news and the Member’s actions.
  • Constituent Casework – Provide information and guidance of casework.

This year there were only 85 Mouse Award winners, chosen from Member, Committee, and Leadership websites. Of Gold Mouse winners 11 were House Member sites, 3 from Senator's sites, three Committee sites, and 1 Leadership site. the Gold Mouse winners for Member pages were: Representatives Brian Baird, Xavier Becerra, Marion Berry, Earl Blumenauer, Mike Honda, John Larson, John Linder, Carolyn Maloney, Jeff Miller, Dennis Moore, Charlie Norwood, and Senators Bill Frist, Pat Leahy, and Rick Santorum. The study has a run-down of why each individual site was selected and how the website excelled in specific categories.

The study also reports an interesting finding, that the highest percentage of "A" and "B" grades came from Members who won reelection in 2006 with between 50% and 55% of the vote. Members who failed to reach 50% of the vote had the highest percentage of "F" grades and Members who won win over 55% had the highest percentage of "D" grades. This cannot be a coincidence. As the study notes, Members who faced difficult reelection challenges and won "understand the consequences of not meeting constituent expectations online." Those who are in marginal districts and face tough reelection challenges often are more aware of the importance of a strong online presence.

Another interesting piece of the study was this chart comparing the features available on House and Senate pages:

You can read the full report here. You can also follow our "Are Congressional Websites Tools for Transparency?" project as well (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7).