Congress May Fix Web Site Rules


Earlier this year, David All and I wrote a section of the Open House Project calling for the House to review and rewrite arcane franking regulations as applied to member Web sites. According to Roll Call, it looks like this is actually going to happen. If you’ve ever been to a congressional Web site you’ve probably noticed the lack of interactivity, multimedia, and linking that is common in today’s Internet. That’s because of unwritten, nonspecific, arbitrary rules that are unevenly applied across member Web sites. Members can’t post YouTube videos, link to MySpace, ask people to Digg something on their site, or have a blogroll. All of that may be changing soon:

Regulations prohibit content that can be construed as an advertisement or as purely personal information, such as links to fundraisers or support for partisan causes. Now, the new phenomenon of social networking sites — and the increasing use of them by Members — is testing the application of such rules in a multimedia world.

House and Senate officials say several Members are not in compliance, though none apparently have been disciplined. It’s time, they say, to update the rules to match the technology.

The House Administration Committee has been drafting possible changes for months, as has the Senate Rules and Administration Committee.

“The Internet increasingly has become a more effective means of communication,” said Salley Collins, spokeswoman for House Administration ranking member Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.).

“Technology is continually evolving. Therefore, the rules themselves need to evolve so Members can utilize technology to the fullest,” Collins added.

Turning official member Web sites into actual interactive portals to engage constituents and talk to the member’s office is the next wave in change in the member-constituent relationship. Member Web sites have made leaps and bounds this year alone as hubs of information and they beginning in integrate interactive elements and break the boundaries of these now irrelevant rules. Here are a few numbers concerning what’s going on on member Web sites:

At least 44 members have blogs, 30 of which have been updated in the last month. Three of them have blog rolls.

At least 7 members use YouTube for the videos on their Web site. At least 8 members use Google Maps on their Web site.

And a few other members link to other sites like Flickr, Facebook, MySpace, Eventful, and iCal.

All of these tool should be approved for use. Member Web sites should also get rid of the ridiculous requirement to have a jump page if they link to a non-governmental Web site. People have been on the Web in large numbers for over a decade now. It is common sense that a link may take you to another Web site. We don’t need to be warned.

I eagerly anticipate the release of new rules so that members can finally engage with their constituents through their Web sites.