Congressional Web Site Study Update


Some updates, new information, refinements, and so on in the congressional Web site investigation. Dale Neubarger, the chief of staff to Rep. Darrel Issa, emails this link to Issa’s 2008 earmark requests; I’ll do a separate post on it later, but that’s good news.

We also heard from Matt Dinkel, the press secretary of Rep. Mike Doyle, who sent us a link to a page which links to the committees on which Doyle serves–that moves Doyle up to a passing score. I think this was a fairly common problem–when members identified or linked to their committee assignments in their bios, they were missed. I’m currently re-reviewing those questions, and finding that particularly when members name their committees in the text of lengthy bios but don’t link them, our citizen journalists missed them.

Some other members also went from fail to pass: Rep. Jane Harman is the most embarrassing one–the initial release had her as an 8, and a very cursory review of the site shows that it wasn’t the design that caused the problem. We missed that one.

We also came across a few more members who list their earmarks, although they don’t call them that, which may be why citizen journalists missed them. One member’s pork is another member’s accomplishments. Rep. Jesse Jackson lists the federal grant awards under a link called “How I’ve Helped You” — each individual link lists the projects earmarked, the amount they cost, and the bills they were in. And Rep. Tammy Baldwin lists hers under the heading, “Major Accomplishments” — “Securing Federal Dollars” is first on her list.

I think a good deal of caution is in order when it comes to using information from the congressional Web site investigation. As we noted in the original release, “an important caveat is in order: sometimes information on Web sites can be extremely difficult to find.”

We’ll have more updates later, but I’ll close on this note. As one of our first rate Web designers who’s helping me with the updates just IMed me, “regardless of whether the sites actually have the info, if the average person can’t find it, it’s useless.” Let’s figure out what info they actually do have (and what they should have) first, and then we can worry about how it’s presented…