Congress Flummoxed by Web 2.0

Government is notorious for moving slowly, but when it comes to adapting to technology, government's pace can be downright troublesome.

Consider Capitol Hill efforts to update Watergate-era laws and Internet-usage rules from the 1990s for use in Congress in the 21st century.

Many members of Congress and their staffs routinely participate in Web 2.0 at YouTube, Digg.com and Facebook, despite the fact that current congressional communication rules do not allow members to post any official communication (i.e., non-campaign material) on a Web site that is not House.gov or Senate.gov.

This means that every senator or representative who uses Web 2.0 sites to communicate with constituents is in violation of the rules, creating a perfect opportunity for an unscrupulous ethics committee chairman to enforce the rules selectively.

To prevent such an occurrence, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, California Republican, asked the Franking Commission to update the system. (The Franking Commission is a panel of the House Administration Committee and oversees rules on congressional mail and other communications.) In the process, Mr. McCarthy initiated a widespread discussion that shows just how out of touch many political elites are when it comes to the Web.

When he first asked Rep. Michael E. Capuano, Massachusetts Democrat and commission chairman, if it was permissible for him to post YouTube videos on his official congressional site, Mr. McCarthy was told to go ahead and post - and ignore the outdated rules.

But Mr. McCarthy persisted in his questioning, prompting Mr. Capuano and other House Democrats to start considering an update to the regulations. At the same time, their counterparts in the Senate - led by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat - also have been drafting a proposal.

It is encouraging to see this process begin, but the current proposals for new rules take several steps in the wrong direction by arbitrarily treating the Web differently than other media.

Continued...

Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield, creator of NewsBusters and president of Dialog New Media, an internet marketing and design firm, left NewsBusters at the end of 2013