Congressional Websites Have Improved, But Still Lack Transparency


Policy Fellow Matt Rumsey wrote this post.

The Congressional Management Foundation announced its Golden Mouse Awards for the 112th Congress on October 23. The CMF began grading congressional websites in 2001 and announces the Golden Mouse Awards biannually to honor the best. Earlier this year, we conducted an investigation evaluating congressional committee websites.

Congressional websites have improved significantly since 2009, according to the  report. The most common grade jumped from an F up to a B between the 111th and 112th congresses. However, there is still room to grow in some significant areas. According to the report, many member websites “lack basic educational and transparency features.” Alternatively, while members have been quick to utilize social media tools, committees have been slower to follow suit.

The CMF found that, when searching for information on their policy positions or votes, constituents look first at their member’s websites. Despite this fact, many members have websites that do not provide useful information in a transparent way. For example, more than 40% of members do not post information about their votes, sponsored, or cosponsored bills. Additionally, 67% of member websites do not provide clear information directing constituents how to contact their member with casework requests.

In contrast,  most committees provide information expected by interested users in clear and readable formats. For instance, 90% of committees provide an archive of information on their hearings, and 78% have a video webcast feature. Committee websites lacked transparency in one major area- only 16% post information on individual legislators committee votes.

When it comes to social media adoption rates, the tables are somewhat turned. Individual members have taken to social media with gusto over the past two years, while committees are trailing behind. In 2009 only 21% of member websites linked to Facebook; that number is now 81%. Meanwhile, 71% of members link to a Twitter page and CMF found that 65% actively used the platform. Committees have been slower to adopt social media, with only 40% linking to Facebook and just 31% actively using Twitter.

During our own investigation, we found that, although there is wide variation in the quality of committee sites, there are some identifiable trends.

On the whole, House committee websites were superior to Senate sites. However, there was parity in certain areas. Both chambers lagged in making legislation, amendments, and markups available on their sites. Additionally, only four committees provided forms for whistleblowers to report issues. Like CMF, we found that committee sites had been slow to adopt social media, with the House being more advanced than the Senate. On the positive side,  every committee made it possible to view hearings online, although not all provided live webcasts.

The raw data from the investigation can be accessed here.