How Is Congress Keeping Up with Email?
By Alicia McBride on 10/20/2011 @ 10:14 AM
If you ever send an email to your members of Congress, it’s well worth your time to pay attention to Congressional Management Foundation. Their reports on how congressional offices perceive different forms of constituent communications, and what’s working and not working in that area, are invaluable to me and many others at FCNL who are trying to help you be the most effective lobbyist possible.
The foundation’s latest report examines whether congressional offices are changing the ways they respond to communications from their constituents because of the enormous influx of email the offices receive. The report documents some shifts in the ways offices are using technology and reallocating resources to respond to constituents, but it also shows ways that “ ‘old school’ habits on Capitol Hill are inhibiting the potential for Congress and citizens to have a more robust, active and meaningful relationship using online technologies.”
Here’s a quick summary of the key findings of the report.
- Mail volume in congressional offices continues to increase exponentially- by hundreds of percentage points since 2002. Yet congressional offices do not have more staff to deal with this increase.
- Congressional offices are using email to reply to constituent email. In this survey, 86% of offices are now replying to email with email.
- Constituent communications are consuming more time from congressional offices.
- Constituent mail is taking a significant amount of time to respond to whether or not there is a prepared text available. Offices try to get a response to constituents within two weeks, but response times can be slower.
- When it comes to answering constituent mail, the biggest problem still remains controversial between staff and managers. Is the time lag because of mail volume, or because it takes a long time for a response to get approval? It depends on who in the office you ask.
In addition to this summary, a couple of interesting points jumped out at me from the report--which I encourage you to read if you are interested in finding out more about this issue. One is some differences between House and Senate offices. Senate staff were more likely to feel strongly that responding to constituent communications is a high priority (78% of Senate respondents strongly agreed that it was a high priority, vs. 57% of House respondents.) This could have to do with the number of staff the offices have to deal with communications, or the particular offices surveyed, but it's also possible that this is pointing to a real difference in how communications are perceived. I hope that future reports from the Congressional Management Foundation will follow up on this finding.
I was also interested to read that CMF sees advocacy campaigns run by organizations like FCNL as the main reason for the increase in congressional mail volume in the past 8 years. Given this finding, it's easy to understand why some staff react negatively to these campaigns. This landscape and perception makes it more important than ever that, even when FCNL or another organization sends an email asking for you to take action, you think about what motivates you and why this issue matters in your community. If you include some of that information in your message, rather than just putting in our talking points and clicking "send," you increase the chances that your communication will make a difference to your member of Congress.