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Friday, 9 August, 2002, 10:27 GMT 11:27 UK
US Congress drowns in e-mail
Capitol Building, BBC
US politicians are being deluged with e-mail
American enthusiasm for e-mail is causing problems for the country's politicians.

In 2001 the US Congress received more than 117 million e-mail messages, almost 330,000 per day.

Since 1999 the number of e-mail messages sent to the US Congress has increased by 186%.

In a bid to stem the tide many US politicians are turning to other forms of electronic communication to respond to requests for information and help.

Technology tsunami

While technology may not be helping to improve how we elect politicians, it is slowly forcing a revolution in the way that some citizens communicate with their elected representatives.

For US senators and representatives who inhabit Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, the move to use e-mail has created huge problems.

George Bush, AP
President Bush no longer answers e-mail
In March 2001 the George Washington University produced a report revealing that more than 80 million messages per year were being received in Congress.

A follow-up report released this month showed that although the rate of increase in e-mail messages is slowing, the numbers of messages being sent to Congress was huge.

The total of 117 million messages is up from the 80 million Congress received in 2000.

The huge total is generated by grass-roots campaigns which try to get people to e-mail all members of Congress and by the growing numbers of Americans that use the web to research local issues and then lobby their representative about them.

A separate study released in April 2002 showed that 23 million Americans e-mailed comments and questions to public officials, 13 million took part in online lobbying campaigns and 68 million looked at government websites.

Many of the messages are duplicates sent to try to force a quick response, others are simply spam broadcast to all Congress members in the hope of raising awareness about an issue.

Going offline

This year the numbers of e-mail messages reaching Congress looks set to grow by only 2.5% as the offices of the US politicians start to make more sensible use of technology.

Many US politicians are now improving response times by responding to e-mail with e-mail. Previously many replied to citizens' queries with letters.

Now some responses arrive in hours or days rather than weeks, removing the need to send repeat messages.

Some offices are responding to more than 50% of queries with e-mail which helps reduce the workload on secretarial staff and improves relations with constituents.

Other offices have simply turned off public e-mail addresses and instead have turned to forms on the website of the senator or representative.

This change means that lobby groups cannot spam all members of Congress with messages, ensures that citizens communicate with the right politician and gives the politicians a better idea of what their constituents are interested in.

The changes have also forced lobby groups to alter their tactics.

Instead of bombarding all members with the same message, many are now conducting much more focussed campaigns that target smaller groups of politicians with much better information.

The project to research how Congress is coping with e-mail is funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

See also:

05 Aug 02 | dot life
11 May 02 | Science/Nature
09 Apr 02 | Science/Nature
22 Jul 02 | Politics
19 Mar 01 | Americas
24 Jul 01 | Politics
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