Today, thanks to the office of our local congressman, Henry Waxman, we toured the Capitol, visited the congressional chamber, and rode the special subway for legislators in a small group of a half-dozen average people. Although I write about the virtual state, I'm also interested in the built environments and face-to-face interactions that characterize the institutions of governance and tend to take advantages of the generous privileges accorded to me as a constituent.
One of our hosts in the course of the day was Michael Hermann, who currently serves as the webmaster for Waxman's official Internet site. Herman admitted that the congressman's home page was in need of a major overhaul, since it currently lacks many of the features of more web-savvy sites, such as RSS feeds and digital video. Hermann also described the hassles of updating the site in its current non-dynamic state, since each web page still has to be edited individually, given its outmoded file structure. When I asked him about responding to e-mail, he emphasized the common sense principles of identifying yourself as a constituent and avoiding "blast" e-mails with form letters such as those engineered by MoveOn.org.
Next week, Congress will be back in session and Waxman will be chairing important hearings for the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on the White House's intervention in the EPA's new ozone standards. The AP reported in "White House Played Role in Smog Rule" that the EPA's own website showed evidence of 11th hour meddling by the Executive Branch, because parts of a memo to the EPA chief "were included in the rule's preamble posted on the EPA web site," and NPR described in "White House Overrules EPA on Air Quality Standards" how "documents detailing the interference" were posted on "the official government website for new regulations." Unfortunately, journalists for neither news agency provided a link to the actual website in question, unlike the standard practice of current events bloggers so it's difficult to read the digital rhetoric from this vantage point.
Unfortunately, the EPA website is difficult to navigate, and its search functionalities for "ozone" brought up largely documents that were irrelevant to the controversy and years old. Regulations.gov was even worse and brought up unreadable e-mail chains such as this among its top results.