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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Write Congress!

In our chapter on Congress, we note that staffers spend a good deal of time responding to constituent mail. Our chapter on interest groups shows that one major advocacy tactic consists of generating such mail. In this light, see a new report from the Congressional Management Foundation exploring how email and the Internet are affecting office procedures in Congress. (Full text is available here and here). Key findings:

  1. Mail volume in congressional offices continues to increase exponentially. Senate offices reported a 548 percent increase in mail volume since 2002 (including one office that reported a 1,422 percent increase from 2002 to 2009); House offices reported a 158 percent increase. All offices reported a significant spike in volume in 2009 when Congress considered many high-profile issues.
  2. Congressional offices are using email to reply to constituent email. An increasing number of congressional offices are answering incoming email with an email in response, rising from 37 percent in 2005 to 86 percent in 2010.
  3. Constituent communications are consuming more time from congressional offices. A majority of staff report they spend more time on constituent communications than two years ago (58 percent); and 46 percent report shifting resources to manage increased volume.
  4. Constituent mail is taking a significant amount of time to respond to whether or not there is a prepared text available. A sizable percentage of staff (42 percent) report it requires more than three weeks for the office to draft and approve a response to a constituent raising an issue that previously has not be raised, and 41 percent report it requires more than a week to respond to a constituent email even if a prepared text response has been drafted and approved.
  5. When it comes to answering constituent mail, the biggest problem still remains controversial between staff and managers. While senior managers and staff primarily responsible for answering the mail agree on the top three challenges to quickly responding to constituent communications, they do not agree on the most significant problem. Senior managers state that the mail volume is the biggest challenge (35 percent); but, "mail staffers" report that "the review and approval process" is the biggest obstacle (41 percent).