May 13, 1997
Return to @the Capitol.
Scrutinize the work of several major Congressional committees in online forums with the chairs and ranking members.
Begin an ongoing dialogue with twelve new members of Congress.
Follow the first year in Congress of Freshmen Reps. Kay Granger (R-TX) and Jay Johnson (D-WI)
On the same day, May 5, both the longest serving member of the House of Representatives, John Dingell (D-MI), and one of the newest members, Jay Johnson (D-WI), launched their sites on the World Wide Web. Kay Granger, another freshman, established her homepage three weeks ago. These and other Representatives are a part of the growing number of elected leaders on the Internet.
"Across the country, the computer-based world known as cyberspace is rapidly joining the ranks of the union hall, the ward meeting, and the campaign volunteer coffee klatsch as the arena in which Americans debate, and act on, the political issues that affect their lives," Graeme Browning writes in his work Electronic Democracy: Using the Internet to Influence American Politics. "[T]he Internet has figured into every conceivable combination and permutation of the American political dialogue. When Senator Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., went to the Senate floor in June 1995 to protest the imminent passage of strict Net censorship provisions in a telecommunications reform bill, he carried a six-inch-thick petition signed electronically by 112,000 voters who opposed the provisions. As candidates for the Republican presidential nomination began to lock horns in public a few months later, a mind-boggling array of campaign sites sprouted on the Internet. Many major media outlets, including TIME magazine, CNN, and the Washington Post opened Net sites at the same time devoted to political coverage."
Reps. Granger's and Johnson's Web sites illustrated the different ways members of Congress are using the Internet to convey information and solicit feedback.
According to Congresswoman Granger, the site, located at http://www.house.gov/granger/, was created to fulfill fairly specific functions.
"We establish [the site] for three basic reasons," Granger said. "First we wanted to tell everyone on the Internet about the 12th District of Texas. We also wanted to tell our constituents, 'Here is what is going on in Washington.' And finally we wanted to give them the ability to give us feedback."
Granger added that the main function of the site is to educate the audience.
"As a former teacher, I was most interested in the educational aspects of the site," Granger said. "During the election we found through polling that between 8 and 15 percent of people in the district use the Internet and a large proportion of those are students, so I view the site as a service to those people on the Internet."
Johnson wanted to present visitors to his Web site with a cyberspace equivalent to his district and Washington offices.
"We have established a 'Virtual Office' on the Web page to allow folks who are good at using the Internet to have a convenient way to contact government organizations and agencies," Johnson said. "We want people to feel that whether they are calling the office or visiting us on the Internet they can go to their Congressman's office to get the information they need."
Johnson's Virtual Office, located at http://www.house.gov/jayjohnson/, allows constituents to setup a mailbox to ask questions and receive responses from his office. Johnson acknowledged that the Web site will only cater to part of his constituency.
"Right now, there is only a small segment of my constituents on the Internet," he said. "Really the Web page is a supplement to other forms of communications."
Although both Johnson's and Granger's staffs did all of the content development, for the actual implementation of their work they received assistance from the House Information Resources (HIR). HIR works to assist members and staffs to establish Internet sites, e-mail addresses and other computer work.
"We would provide the design and content and then we worked with House Information Resources to put the pages into HTML," said Lisa Helfman, a legislative assistant and the chief staffer responsible for developing Kay Granger's Web site. "Eventually we plan to take that part of the process too, but for right now we are going to keep the current situation."
The one aspect that both staffs are bracing for is the possible torrent of e-mail requests for information, tours and tickets.
"We thought about the possible increase in workload, but we feel it is important to get her out there interacting with the public, even if it means more work for us," Helfman said.
Both members seem to agree.
"I am looking forward to hearing from people through the Web site," Johnson said. "We've only been up for a short time so we'll see whether we get overwhelmed."
"You simply cannot have too much feedback," Granger said simply. "Whether it is at a town hall meeting or on the Internet, you have to listen to be a representative."