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Congress' Quest to Unlock the Power of Email

BY Nick Judd | Tuesday, October 4 2011

Red tape is preventing some congressional offices from unlocking the power of email, according to a new report from the Congressional Management Foundation.

Here it is in 2011, and yet the report, released today, finds that 42 percent of staffers to members of Congress estimate that in some cases their offices will take more than three weeks to respond to a constituent email. If the office doesn't already have approved text to send out in response to a letter from a voter on a given issue, staffers will have to get new text approved — which could three weeks or more. That said, 86 percent of staffers now respond to an email from a constituent with a reply email, rather than a snail-mail message, the survey found. In 2005, only 37 percent of offices did so.

Slow responses, the report notes, can burn voters out on trying to engage with their members of Congress.

All of this comes as Congress is swamped by new messages, according to the survey: U.S. Senate offices reported a 548 percent increase in mail volume since 2002, and 58 percent of congressional staffers report spending more time handling constituent communications.

The whole report, based on data collected in 2005, 2010 and 2011,is available here.

A press release for the report notes that despite the uptick in constituent communication, congressional offices have not had an increase in staff in three decades.

"I don't know any industry in the world that could absorb as much as a ten-fold increase in customer interest and a zero increase in labor to support it," Bradford Fitch, President and CEO of CMF, is quoted as saying in a press release. "Under the circumstances, most congressional offices are doing the best job they can in just keeping up with the increasing volume," he said.

The Hill's article on this report noted that CMF is nonpartisan, but it didn't note the report's sponsors: Convio, Fireside21 and VoterVoice, all of which sell technology tools for constituent communcations, either to advocacy organizations or to members of Congress. Fitch joined CMF in 2010; he was formerly vice president of client services at CQ/Roll Call Group, which owns CapWiz, a software suite for advocacy organizations that includes a contact-your-congressman tool.